Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39 (2014)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright focused on economic development, infrastructure, crime & community policing & watch groups, & education

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www.facebook.com/dick.alcombright
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www.mayoralcombright.com
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Mayor Richard Alcombright gives a tour of his office to Sullivan Elementary School students. (Gillian Jones / New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript)
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"New Mayor Alcombright eases into job"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, 1/13/2010

NORTH ADAMS -- At least one Sullivan Elementary School student was initially disappointed with her trip to the mayor's office earlier this week. She had been anticipating a visit with President Barack Obama.

"When do we get to see Barack Obama's office?" asked Paige, a kindergartner in Betsy Elder's after-school program "Our Hometown."

A few minutes later, she was happy to see Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and peppered him with other questions.

"Do you have any animals?" she asked. "I do. I have a cat, a dog and a bunny."

A first-grader piped in that she had voted for Alcombright in their school election, while another asked if the job of mayor was everything he had thought it would be.

"Everything and more," a smiling Alcombright answered.

With just over a week in office under his belt, the mayor said he's quickly seeing why former Mayor John Barrett III logged so many Saturday hours.

"It's a good day to play catch up with everything. I was here for a few hours on Saturday," he said Monday, just prior to the visit with the Sullivan students.

The visit was part of a series of trips by the students to local government offices, as well as to the police and fire stations, local ambulance service and the post office.

Alcombright knows the next two years in office won't be as easy as his interview by Elder's students -- he's up against a tough economy, the promise of reduced state aid, numerous infrastructure issues with municipal buildings, along with aging water and sewer lines and a growing crime problem.

Like Obama, the new mayor is facing a time when his pre-election agenda must be reconciled with the pile of issues placed on his desk every morning.

"The No. 1 agenda item I'm focusing on is economic development," Alcombright said. "Over the next three months, I'm going to be meeting with community and business leaders to start the process and get a feeling for what this community wants to become. We need to have some community ‘visioning' exercises to start off the discussion."

Debate about the proposed Walmart Supercenter slated for the city's former gravel bank is a good example of the "visioning" process, he said.

"The conversations, both for and against the Walmart, are telling us what people want to see in the community and what they don't want to see," he said. "It's an example of the kind of process that needs to happen."

Another hot-button issue for Alcombright is the escalation of crime in the area, particularly break-ins and burglaries.

"Crime is escalating, and I believe for the most part that it's drug-related," he said. "But we must remember that it's not limited to North Adams. It's increasing all over Northern Berkshire."

With a limited police force of 20 officers and three reservists, the mayor said, he's working with Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco to find grant funds for increased community policing.

"I think adding police officers is easier said then done," he added. "We can add them, but the issue is having the funds to sustain them. I know the commissioner has been working with several neighborhoods to put community watch groups in place."

Alcombright hopes to address the issue of crime and community watch groups at the Feb. 5 meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at the First Baptist Church on Main Street.

During his transition process, Alcombright said, he "gained a lot of insight" into the city's infrastructure issues.

"There's a dire need for a new public safety facility, while the city yard needs a tremendous amount of work," he said. "The yard really needs to be relocated, and the building they use has really outlived its usefulness."

We're working on finding a suitable spot."

Another pressing issue, the mayor said, is the fate of the city's transfer station.

"We need to figure out what we're going to do with our trash in the future and what the transfer station is going to become," he said. "I'm also aware that the majority of our water and sewer pipes are very old. The pipes on Massachusetts Avenue date back to the 1880s.

"We're having significant water main breaks in that area, and if wasn't for the talents of Guy LaBonte and others in the city yard, we'd have major problems. They're hand-crafting pieces to retrofit today's pipes to match up with pipes from the 1880s."

There's also the issue of what will happen with the city's schools over the next 15 to 18 months, as the state undertakes a feasibility study of local school buildings.

"Our schools are bursting at the seams now," he said. "Whether we remain a K-7 or move to a K-8 formula, it's clear that it's going to mean renovations and expansions for some of the buildings. It's going to mean a significant amount of bonds for the city. We'll have to see what the best options are."

He has also charged the school district with "remarketing" itself as a viable educational option to families in neighboring communities, in order to attract school-choice students and increase state aid.

"It's a lot to grasp, but I think the learning happens fast in this office," Alcombright said. "In the banking world, you have the luxury of having more time to make decisions. I have issues now that require a yes or no answer right away. I think it's been interesting for some of the staff because my yes and no answers have come with about six or seven ‘why' questions. I don't know everything yet."
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TIEO4LRKN891AGNCH
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http://iberkshires.com/story/33476/Mayor-Alcombright-Vows-Collaborative-Administration.html
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http://iberkshires.com/story/33528/Mayor-Alcombright-Settling-Into-Corner-Office.html
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http://iberkshires.com/story/33595/New-North-Adams-Government-Holds-First-Meeting.html
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"Alcombright to talk at coalition's forum"
The North Adams Transcript, 2/4/2010

NORTH ADAMS -- The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will present "A Conversation with Mayor Dick Alcombright" on Friday, Feb. 5, from 10 to noon at First Baptist Church, as part of its monthly forum.

Alcombright will spend a few minutes talking about his immediate and long-term plans for the city before the discussion turns to how to increase the safety of neighborhoods, including the potential of neighborhood watches.

Child care is available for participants: Contact Liz Boland at the coalition office, (413) 663-7588. Coalition forums are free and open to the public. For more information, call the above number.
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www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=33881
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North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright talks about his time in office during an interview at City Hall. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)
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"Alcombright stays busy in first month"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, February 10, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- In his first 30 days in office, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright has been in back-to-back meetings -- ironing out plans for a multimillion-dollar streetscape project set to kick-off this spring, forming a new merchants group and a committee to revamp plans for the Mohawk Theater, working on public safety issues and talking with Walmart officials about a proposed supercenter's designs.

"At first I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to jump into anything, but I realized that all these little things are quite important," Alcombright said Tuesday, during an interview in his office.

A main concern for the mayor has been the $3.5 million stimulus-funded road project which will resurface all of the city's major entrances -- Ashland, Church, West Main, River, Beaver and Union streets, West Shaft Road and Massachusetts Avenue. The project is slated to begin in late March.

"All of this construction is going to be going on at the same time as the Hadley Overpass construction and will also coincide this summer with a streetscape project that will include work at most of the city's major intersections," Alcombright said. "I've been in talks with Peter Niles, MassHighway's district 1 manager, and officials from the state Department of Transportation about the stress this is going to put on traffic."

The streetscape project, slated to begin this summer, will include the replacement of intersection lights, sidewalks and make changes to street lights and utility polls along the Route 2 corridor as well. It was part of a $2 million grant announced by the late Senator Edward Kennedy during a visit to the Mohawk Theater in 2005.

Traffic has already become congested at Main Street's western intersection near City Hall, as crews work diligently on the Hadley Overpass. Construction, which often forces the two-lane bridge to a single-lane during daily work hours, delays traffic up to 20 minutes on some days.

"With all the work going on this spring, we're going to be asking people to have a lot of patience," the mayor said. "We've gotten MassHighway to post a detour sign on Curran Highway for cars -- their initial concern was truck traffic taking the alternate route and getting stuck under one of the bridges."

He said communication will be key in the coming months, and the city is finding ways to make information available to individuals on a timely basis.

"I think with weekly posts in the newspapers, posts on the city's Web site and use of our reverse 911 call-system, which we've already used, we should be OK," Alcombright said. "The resurfacing should go quickly, but it's virtually all going to happen at the same time."

He's charged the City Council's community development subcommittee, headed by Councilors Lisa Blackmer and Michael Boland, to work on a marketing plan for the city.

"Their first step is to form a merchants group," Alcombright said. "It will be similar to Downtown Development Inc., but one that reflects the entire business community. I think business is bigger than just the downtown -- we have 40 independent merchants at the Eclipse Mill and plenty of light manufacturing."

He said the city has plenty to offer light manufacturing companies, noting a recent tour of Deerfield Tool on Walden Street and planned visits to Berkshire Aluminum and Morrison Berkshire.

"I've never discounted light manufacturing as an option for the city -- there's still plenty of old mill space and room at the Hardman Industrial Park," he said. "I also see so many opportunities for technology and culture -- the two go hand-in-hand."

Boland also has taken the lead to reconvene a Mohawk Theater commission to determine the best plan of action for the historic art deco theater that came into the city's possession during the early 1990s.

"I think back then, the plan we have was really at the forefront," Alcombright said. "But there was also no competition. There wasn't a Mahaiwe, a Colonial, a Barrington Stage Co. or a Topia Arts Center. At the same time, I think we have a great opportunity right now because there have been so many advances in technology that many of these venues don't have."

He said the plans for the theater must include a way for the city to sustain it while successfully marketing it and making use of the space on a regular basis.

"The city can't own a theater that isn't up and running," the mayor said. "It needs to be a community theater, but involve more than performing arts. It needs to be marketed for conventions and utilized. We need to figure out what its niche will be. We need to consult with the other theaters and use what's worked for them and what hasn't as a starting point."

He'll be pleased if a plan is completed by the end of the year, he said.

Supporters from the community are pitching in as well. Glenn Maloney and Brian Miksic have been diligently working with the NorthAdamsIdeas.com to boil down community-solicited suggestions and get started on some "quick and cheap" projects at the beginning of March. Ideas have included uses for green space, murals and benches in the downtown.

"Benches won't bring more people to the downtown, but they will give the impression that we're visitor-friendly," Alcombright said.

He's also not bothered by the recent request by Wal-Mart to postpone its hearing with the city's Planning Board -- he sees it as a good sign.

"I met with Wal-Mart executives last month," he said. "I explained that the design problems aren't just a Planning Board issue, they're a community issue. By extending out their hearing, it tells me their taking time to redo their plans."

The company is also working with the city's engineers and the Hoosac Water Quality District on the extension of the city's sewer system to the current Walmart location on Curran Highway to solve septic issues at the site.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/TGUBLB3OVN4ECL2SE
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"Loomis’ salary raises eyebrows"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, February 10, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- The $40,000 salary Lisa Loomis is paid as the mayor’s administrative assistant has raised some eyebrows at City Hall, causing some to question why her pay is $6,000 more than the base salary spelled out in the city’s compensation plan.

However, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright says he believes the salary is justifiable based on Loomis’ past experience as the office manager of the Transportation Association of Northern Berkshire, more commonly known as Berkshire Rides.

"The pay is commensurate with her experience and with the salary at her previous job," he said Tuesday. "If you want to attract talent, then you have to offer competitive pay scales. This salary recognizes her talents, so I didn’t think it was a stretch at all. She has vast experience with running and scheduling a busy office, working with and filing federal grants and working with vendors."

According to the city’s compensation plan, the mayor’s secretary, which is a grade s20 in the plan, has a base salary of $34,000. Outgoing secretary, Toni Vitali, who retired on Dec. 31, was making $41,371 after more than 20 years in the position.

"Toni actually stayed on for a week after her official retirement date to help acclimate Lisa to the office -- to show her where all the files were and set her up in the systems," Alcombright said. "As far as I’m aware, Toni has officially retired and is no longer on the city’s payroll. This move has actually had a negative net impact on the city budget."

He also plans to rectify the situation in the coming months, developing a new grade for the position to adequately reflect its responsibilities.

"When the new fiscal year begins in July, we’ll be adding a new s20A grade, which will be for the mayor’s administrative assistant," he said. "It will have a base salary of $40,000 for the first year."

The rest of the compensation plan will also be scrutinized by the new administration, to ensure that wages are appropriate for other positions within the city.

"We won’t be adjusting everything, but we want to make sure the salaries are relevant to the work being done," Alcombright said.

City Council President Ronald Boucher said Monday that he’d spoken with the mayor at length about Loomis’ salary, after the pay bump had been brought to his attention.

"In all fairness, she came with experience and that’s worth something these days," he said. "When the mayor looked at the compensation plan, he considered her as coming in under the category of having five to nine years of experience."

Boucher also understands the need to create a new pay grade for the position, which over the years has become much more than a secretarial position of answering phones and taking memos.

"It’s more along the lines of a personal assistant," he said.

But both men said they can understand why the salary has caused some contention.

"I think it’s a natural thing that happens in any workplace, when a new hire is brought in at a higher salary than those who have been working there for years," Boucher said.
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/TE3JRNOFQUJI5NH81
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"Auditor hired for insurance complaint"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, 2/10/2010

NORTH ADAMS -- An independent auditor, recommended by two state offices, has been hired to comb through three years of the city's insurance records to determine whether or not the city has been paying its share of employee health benefits.

"This really is the elephant in the room," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said referring to accusations made by the city's eight unions over the last year claiming underpayments on the part of the city. "We're putting a third set of eyes on this and are going to determine whether or not the city has been using the best practices in paying its share of insurance costs."

Tom Scanlon Jr., of Scanlon and Associates from South Deerfield, came at the recommendation of the state Department of Revenue and the state auditor's office, he said.

"This is the same auditor who has worked with Pittsfield and Westfield on similar matters," Alcombright said. "He'll look at the current fiscal year and the previous two to begin with."

Scanlon has been charged with the tasks of determining whether or not the city has any financial liability and to look at the city's accounting practices with the health insurance trust. The city's records are audited annually by Marlow and Associates.

The unions, led by the North Adams Teachers' Union, have charged that the city has overcharged employees by $2 million over the last several years. The unions have suggested that the city has paid on actual insurance premiums and charges, while employees have paid on projected insurance costs -- thus skewing the agreed 70/30 split in favor of the city.

"With this, we'll be able to find out if there is any truth to the claims that the city has been paying less than its 70 percent," Alcombright said. "Scanlon will also advise the city on best practices for administering the health insurance trust fund, comparing our accounting methods to those of other self-insured municipalities."

Alcombright has also formed an insurance committee comprised of himself, business manager Nancy Ziter, Holly Taylor -- the city's insurance broker from TrueNorth -- and Scanlon.

"Nancy Ziter will be sharing all of the information she provided the union with to Tom Scanlon," the mayor said. "She'll also be working closely with Holly Taylor to look at the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans already being offered, along with options from Berkshire Health Group, the GIC and MIIA [insurance offered through the Massachusetts Municipal Association]. We want to present the best options for our employees."

He hopes to have results from Scanlon by late March or early April.

"If the audit finds that the city is in error, than we will rectify the situation," Alcombright said. "If not, then it will be up to the unions to take things from there -- arbitration or litigation. What we're doing is examining this responsibly. All eight unions are coming back for contracts this year, and we need to establish a good relationship with them."

Charges of improper payments into the city's health insurance trust surfaced last year after the North Adams Teachers' Union hired Boston Benefits to analyze the city's health insurance options in comparison to those offered by the state's Group Insurance Commission. The unions had been at odds with former Mayor John Barrett III, who had failed to sign-off on paperwork that would have allowed the unions to join the GIC on July 1, 2009.

Barrett opposed the GIC option, saying it would ultimately cost the city more money and leave employees vulnerable to arbitrary premium and co-pay increase for three years. The GIC has since raised rates and co-pays despite plan member complaints. He also vehemently denied that the city had not paid its 70 percent share of insurance costs over the last five years and provided paperwork showing that in some years, the city had paid more than 70 percent of its share.

After arbitration between the city and the teachers' union failed this summer, the union formally grieved the matter to the North Adams School Committee, which listened to a presentation by the union in November. The school committee has since referred the matter to the mayor's office.
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/TEMNJKSVS68B6B6I3
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www.iberkshires.com/story/33929/North-Adams-Researching-Insurance-Claims.html
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www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=34075
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http://iberkshires.com/story/34089/Alcombright-Calls-for-Regional-Collaboration.html
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"High cost of a loss: Ex-Mayor John Barrett III outspent his challenger by nearly 35 percent in his failed bid for re-election."
New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, March 4, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright won the city's corner office last November, but former Mayor John Barrett III will go down in the city's history books as having run the most expensive campaign on record. The mayor's race is also the most expensive in the city's history, with the two candidates spending a combined $133,468.30.

The former mayor outspent his opponent by nearly 35 percent.

"This is the biggest one I can think of," Assistant City Clerk Nancy Canales said Wednesday afternoon. "The only one I can think of that would come close over all these years would be the races when Paul Babeu challenged [Barrett]."

Barrett's total campaign expenditures of $76,621.94 are double what he spent in his 2001 race against Babeu. The former mayor spent $32,010 in his 1997 campaign against Babeu and about $38,000 in his 2001 bid, which included $10,000 in legal fees from a lawsuit against the former Web site, northadamsfree.com.

According to finance reports filed with the clerk's office, Alcombright spent a total of $56,846.36 of the $60,007.26 raised by his campaign. Barrett's campaign, which began the race with $22,494.24 in his campaign chest, raised an additional $56,862.23.

"I think this is a race where money didn't really matter much in the end," Barrett said Wednesday. "Sure he raised more money than me, most of which I believe was raised through Bo Peabody's connections and people associated with the charter school. Every one of my political adversaries also made a donation, but at the end of the day, I think he could have won without those connections and all that spending." He added, "I'm not bitter about losing, because I don't take it personally. I saw what happened later on in other elections around the commonwealth. There was an angry nature among the voters."

He said a phone poll, conducted in May by his re-election committee, reported a 69 percent favorability rating, with only 22 percent of those polled giving negative reviews.

"But at the same time, when the same people were asked if they favored change or experience, 52 percent chose change. Only 36 percent chose experience," Barrett said.

He also credits Alcombright with running a solid campaign that reached younger voters through social networking sites and other online sites.

"I had a long talk with David Plouffe, the president's campaign adviser, when he spoke at MCLA. He told me that I needed to use the Internet," Barrett said. "I should have listened to him and the young people working on my campaign. Dick reached an audience that never went to a debate, read an editorial or story about the campaign. But they connected with him over the network he formed. I never reached that audience."

Alcombright did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

According to campaign finance reports, covering Oct. 16 to Dec. 31, 2009, which were filed with the clerk's office this week, Barrett spent close to $30,000 in the final weeks of the campaign compared to Alcombright's $12,144, which includes expenditures for the Jan. 1 inaugural celebration.

Barrett's final fundraising push also outpaced his challenger, raising an additional $15,447.16 to Alcombright's $5,420.
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North Adams' Former Mayor John Barrett III
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"Both sides come up short on insurance trust fund"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, March 19, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- An independent review of the city's health insurance trust fund by a South Deerfield accounting firm has found that it has been underfunded by $1.1 million over the last two years by both sides of the recent debate surrounding the fund.

The report, prepared by Scanlon and Associates LLC, was commissioned by the city to investigate allegations made by the city's eight unions that the city had not paid is full 70 percent share of health insurance premium costs.

The unions, led by the North Adams Teachers' Association, also alleged that they have overpaid the fund over the last five years by as much as $2 million.

"This report shows that the city did not pay its full 70 percent," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said Thursday evening after releasing the results of the report. "It clearly shows that the funding was an issue and that it was a trend. It also shows that the city didn't fully fund the trust this year either. We need to find a way to fund the trust for fiscal 2010 and how to fund the trust going forward."

While not surprised by the findings, he said the financial impact in the current fiscal year could exceed $500,000. Additionally, if the city maintains its current insurance benefits and funds the insurance trust as mandated by law, the insurance budget may increase by $700,000 in fiscal 2011.

"I expect that discussions of a settlement with the unions will probably evolve over the next 30 days," Alcombright said. "We haven't gotten that far in discussions with the Public Employees' Committee yet. We're also entering negotiations with all eight of the city's unions, so we're in the midst of discussing new health care plan options."

According to the report, the trust was underfunded by $1,113,712 over a two-year period -- with both the city and employees paying less than their required portions.

In fiscal 2008, the city underpaid its contributions to the trust by $601,086, while employee contributions were underpaid by $27,968. In fiscal 2009, the city underpaid its contributions to the trust by $451,747 with employee contributions falling short by $32,911.

However, former Mayor John Barrett III said he recommends holding off on any settlement that he says could potentially "bankrupt the city."

"The unions charged that they had overpaid the fund by $2 million -- the report doesn't show that. It shows that both sides underfunded the trust," Barrett said Thursday. "The bottom line has always been that the city paid all of the trust's bills when they came in -- including the runout claims that came three months after the close of the fiscal year. We never asked the unions for any of that cost."

He continued, "I've always said that if you were to shut down the trust today, the city would have to have $1.1 million -- three months of premiums at about $360,000 a month -- to cover the runout account for bills that come in. That's all this proves."

Barrett also contends that the trust was overpaid for several years, including 2006 and 2007, which accounted for a surplus of funds that were used to pay costs and resulted in lower employee premium increases of 1 1/2 percent to 2 percent in the following years.

The report attributes the shortfall in employee contributions to city accounting methods that did not reconcile actual employee plans against the plans calculated in estimates at the beginning of the fiscal year.

"There was an audit for the employee plans in place, but it was not meticulous," Alcombright said. "When a person shifted from a family plan to a single plan, or from a single plan to a family plan, the city's accounts did not reflect this. One recommendation from Scanlon and Associates is that the city revisit and revise this accounting method."

The city carries some 190 individual health insurance plans, 90 individual-plus-one plans and 68 family plans. The review did not take in to account surviving spouse plans, where the individual pays 50 percent of the health insurance costs, or COBRA plans, where subscribers pay 100 percent of premium costs.

"One of the reasons Mayor Lamb first initiated the city's self-insurance plan back in 1983 was that it gave the city flexibility in keeping rates low, as well as keeping the cost down," Barrett said. "That was the whole reason for it. This year, if the city goes out and seeks new plans, they're going to be shocked by what it's going to cost them."

Susan Chilson, president of the North Adams Teacher's Association and a member of the city's Public Employees Committee, said that the unions are pleased with the "transparency and progress being made by the new city administration," despite the report showing a shortfall in employee contributions.

"I think it comes down to the way the numbers were calculated from invoices," she said. "My perception from this afternoon's meeting is that everyone is happy that we've been listened to. What was promised to us has been fulfilled 100 percent. Does that mean that everything is perfect. No. We don't have an agreement at this point, but we're very happy with the way the conversation is evolving. When experts in the field were needed, they were consulted and they listened to us as well."

Alcombright said the independent audit was part of a three-phase process, which included identifying whether or not the city had any liability. The process also includes settling the issue with the unions should a liability be identified and then finding the best financial resolution for the city, he said.

"While this is a daunting fiscal challenge to this city, it is one of many that we must face as we create the 2011 budget," he said. "Insurance costs are crippling city budgets all around the state, and I am hoping that the employees of North Adams will work with this administration to minimize the impact of this situation."
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/T8C7TBSM5ACQ9UTIV
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(related link): http://iberkshires.com/story/34352/Report-North-Adams-Underfunded-Insurance-Trust-by-1.1M.html
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"Complicated business"
North Adams Transcript, OPINION: Editorial, March 19, 2010

The Alcombright administration is wise to move cautiously before taking any action regarding the revamping of the city’s medical insurance trust fund (Transcript story, Page 1, Friday).

Despite the findings of an independent accounting firm released Thursday, the city should move slowly and carefully, as this is a very complicated business, and nothing is cut and dried -- least of all what the city may or may not owe its unions for allegedly not meeting its obligation to pay 70 percent of costs.

While Scanlon and Associates LLC of South Deerfield found that the city underfunded the trust fund in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 by over $1 million -- and the city’s unions underfunded it by about $60,000 during the same time period -- this was not really a new revelation. The city has been running the trust fund on deficits some years -- and surpluses other years -- for the entire 28 years of its self-insurance program.

A review of fiscal years 2006 and 2007 -- or any other given two-year period -- could find that the city overpaid the insurance account by $1 million -- or at least returned that amount to employees through reduced rates.

The bottom line city taxpayers should be most concerned with is that the trust fund has been fully funded over the 28-year course of the insurance plan -- and in fact had a surplus of more than $200,000 at the end of fiscal 2009. The insurance bills have been paid.

Whether they have been paid at the specified rate of 70 percent by the city and 30 percent by employees is another matter, and one a two-year review of claims cannot determine -- it would take an audit of the entire life of the plan to come up with those figures. To determine if the unions have indeed been shortchanged, such an audit should, in fact, be done.

What is clear in all this is that the city has used what some have called "creative accounting" over the years to reconcile its trust fund balance -- choosing to deal with the unprocessed claims from the last three months of each fiscal year in the next fiscal year’s budget. The fund therefore has had a "running deficit" each year, the amount of which depends on what those claims total (the total cannot be known until the claims come in, usually three months into the next fiscal year).

Scanlon and Associates has recommended the city should instead set up a separate "liability account" to deal with the unprocessed claims, rather than roll the claims into the year-end fund balance once they come in.

Perhaps they are right, and the fund should be set up that way. However, doing that all at once at this time would abandon the past practice of 28 years and place the city in a position of having to come up with the entire deficit amount immediately in what is a dire budget year. Money would have to be taken from other accounts -- such as the school, police, fire or DPW departments, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The time to set up such an account, if ever, should be in a year when the trust fund is running a surplus and when the city can afford it, not during a Great Recession, when state aid is being slashed and communities are struggling to survive.

It has certainly been no secret how the city has operated its medical insurance trust fund over the years. Each year, the fund has been audited, and over the life of the fund, each year, the account has been balanced. The state Department of Revenue has never questioned its operation. The City Council and its Finance Committee have always been apprised of surpluses and deficits as they have arisen. To abandon the way the city has handled this fund based on a review of two years in which insurance claims were remarkably high would not be fiscally prudent.

Mayor Richard Alcombright appears to recognize this and is right to be negotiating with city unions to move forward responsibly -- and with both the city’s and its employees’ best interest at heart -- as they determine the best possible insurance plans for the future.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/TPJGVFJK14EIUQ1MG
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"Mayor Alcombright addresses Council on insurance trust fund"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, March 24, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright and the City Council discussed the independent accountant report on the city's medical health insurance trust for the first time on Tuesday night, and Alcombright outlined the steps the city needs to take to rectify the situation.

Alcombright explained that because the city has been paying on the actual costs of the employee insurance claims and not the projected premiums for the last two years, the independent report found that the city needed to both start funding the projected premiums as well as what it didn't pay on them in 2008 and 2009.

This was supposed to add up to a "run out" amount in the account that could cover any extra insurance claims or existing claims that haven't been reconciled should the city leave the insurance.

This run out is supposed to cover between three and four months of bills as well as some excess which could be used to lower employee premiums.

Alcombright started by saying he wanted to refute claims made by the "former administration" which said the city paid all of its bills and funded the run out while never asking employees for more money to accomplish that.

"The city did pay all its bills, but it did not fully fund the trust," Alcombright said. "The city did not ask the employees for additional money because they had already paid their 30 percent. So while the city was paying the bills -- and I don't think anyone questions that -- the trust was never fully funded."

He added that because the trust is governed by the Massachusetts General Laws, claims of "creative accounting" in the past are not valid because you cannot get creative with the law.

As an example, he pointed to a case involving the town of Wareham in August 2009. The town told the state Department of Revenue that it could not afford to pay on the projected premiums and asked if it could only pay on the actual costs for the time being. Alcombright said the DOR refused the request because it violated the state general laws.

The independent report outlines the steps the city needs to take to rectify the situation, Alcombright told the Council, and those include reviewing the laws that govern self-insurance trust funds to clearly understand the legal ways to fund the trust and begin fully funding its 70 percent share of the projected costs.

Alcombright said the city is going to start negotiating with the city's eight unions on Wednesday to work out a way to resolve the underfunded 2008 and 2009 contributions. He said this could result in a temporary shift in percentages with the city handling a larger amount, a "premium holiday" for employees or a larger, one-time contribution to the trust.

But first, he said, the city needs to work out a way to start properly funding the trust in the future.

"We need to determine the underfunded amount for fiscal year 2010 -- which could be as high as half a million, but I believe is closer to $396,000 -- which we would have to one-time fund this year," he said. "I have no idea where that would come from, but at the minimum, we would have to begin properly funding by April."

However, he said, the department of revenue may allow the city to file special legislation to begin proper funding in 2011. He added that he did not know if the city could incur any penalties for not properly funding the trust.

City Councilors Gailanne Cariddi and Michael Bloom both questioned the possibility of an official audit of the trust fund's books to accurately determine the amount the city may need to put into the trust. Alcombright said that would not greatly change the amount from what the independent accountant report stated, and that an official audit would cost close to $50,000.

He added that if a civil suit were ever brought against the city over the matter, the statute of limitations can only go back six years into the account's history.

In the end, Alcombright said he wanted to send the report to the Finance Committee for further review and to officially apprise the committee of the situation. From there, he said, the city will discuss with the unions ways to recoup the underfunded amounts.

The council voted 8-1 in favor of sending it along with only Al Marden voting no. He said that since the report is final, all that matters now is how the city rectifies the situation.

"As we all know, insurance costs are crippling communities all over the Commonwealth, and North Adams is no different," Alcombright said. "Right now, our insurance costs, if properly funded, account for 11 percent of our annual budget. From 2001 to 2008, insurance costs rose over $1 million. As part of the process as we move forward, we're going to be doing a comprehensive review of internal processes and working with employees to find quality ways of providing insurance at lower costs."
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To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail rhutton@thetranscript.com.
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www.iberkshires.com/story/34404/Alcombright-Talks-Priorities-at-Berkshire-Chamber-Event.html
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www.iberkshires.com/story/34445/North-Adams-Insurance-Bill-at-500K.html
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www.iberkshires.com/story/34352/Report-North-Adams-Underfunded-Insurance-Trust-by-1.1M.html
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www.iberkshires.com/story/34618/North-Adams-City-Council-Accepts-Insurance-Report.html
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"City to settle insurance issue"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, 4/14/2010

NORTH ADAMS - The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to back - and press the mayor to follow - the recommendations of a report by an independent municipal auditor, which found the city had underfunded its medical insurance trust by $1.1 million over the last two years.

"It's as Mayor [Richard] Alcombright said during our meeting a few weeks ago - we need to look forward," Councilor Michael Bloom, chairman of the Finance Subcommittee, said during his report to the council. "Despite questions of why and how this happened, the city must move on."

The report by Scanlon and Associates of South Deerfield recommends that the city bring up to date its fiscal 2010 payment owed to the trust, rectify the $1.1 million shortfall and bring its head-count procedures for employees who are insured in line with those used by the insurance providers to avoid errors.

The report examined fiscal years 2008 and 2009 and showed the city did not pay its full 70 percent of premium costs into the trust fund - an amount that has been an item of contention between the city and its unions for over a year.

"The mayor informed us that the state Department of Revenue was satisfied with the Scanlon report's findings and that it would not be requiring any further audits," Bloom said. "The mayor is working to reach a settlement with the unions, carefully reminding them that even a settlement of 50 percent could be financially devastating to the city."

While the city does not owe the money to the unions, but rather to the trust fund, it could be used to lower insurance premiums in future years.

Bloom noted that in addition to settling the $1.1 million deficit, the state Department of Revenue is requiring the city to deposit $396,000 into the medical insurance trust - the amount needed to bring the city's share up to date for fiscal 2010 - before June 30.

In addition, the state is requiring the city to deposit $125,000 into its Medex account, which covers retired employees - a result of the Medex line item being reduced from the required $525,000 in fiscal 2009 to $400,000 in the current fiscal 2010 budget.

"The mayor warned that we may have to use the city's excess capacity, raise certain fees and institute a .75 percent local meals tax or a sewer user fee as ways to raise revenue to meet this," Bloom said.

Councilor Keith Bona, who attended the March subcommittee meeting, said the one thing he found interesting was the fact "that there is no clear understanding" as to how the trust fund was underfunded.

"When we asked the city treasurer [than acting treasurer Nancy Ziter, the city's business manager] how it happened, she said she didn't know," he said. "But we're looking forward. We're putting things in place, so hopefully, this can't happen again."

In other action during Tuesday's meeting:

Gregory Ornarato and Christopher Gelinas were sworn in as permanent full-time officers of the North Adams Police Department.

Paperwork submitted by Councilor Michael Boland creating a local Youth Commission was sent to the General Governance Subcommittee to be put into ordinance form. The ordinance is set to return to the council on May 11.

Recognized Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for its continual support of the community with its 18th annual community clean-up day on May 1. This year, the city is joining with the college to create a "Community Day," during which residents can volunteer to clean up the college or participate in service sites around the city.
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"Panel discussion focuses on bringing economic resurgence to area"
By Meghan Foley, North Adams Transcript, Friday April 16, 2010

WILLIAMSTOWN -- While an economic resurgence is coming to North County, getting there will be a challenge.

That was the consensus during a panel discussion with David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and Donald P. Atwater, executive director of Berkshire Community Action Council, Wednesday night at Williams College.

Because the entire county’s economic base has been historically industrial, it now faces the question of how to move to a more knowledge-based economy as industry declines, Rooney said.

"How do we create economic opportunities for folks and give them the tools they need to be successful?" he asked. "Not every person in the county will go to a four-year college, and acknowledging the different paths people will take is the first step. The second step is where to get those jobs in the county, and how do we train people here for them?"

According to Rooney, there are four key sectors in Berkshire County: the "creative economy," renewable energy production, manufacturing and plastics/advance-material work.

It’s important to continue to grow those sectors in the coming years, he said.

Collaboration among communities is a vital part of growing the economy, all three panelists agreed.

"We have 30 towns and two cities here, and they need to stop competing," Atwater said. "We need to strengthen our relationships."

Rooney said a self-sustaining community is very rare anywhere in the United States, and it’s the responsibility of each community in the Berkshires to look to its neighbors -- to see the mosaic formed by itself and its neighbors and how it fits into that mosaic.

Williams College junior Williams Lee, who moderated, asked the panelists if there were past instances in which collaboration broke down.

Alcombright said people hate to see the public sector compete with the private sector, which has been happening over the years in local property management.

"In North Adams, the culture that developed over time was the city managing properties such as the Windsor Mill and Heritage State Park, and renting space out to businesses below market rate," he said.

Rooney said, "We shouldn’t provide incentives for a company to move from one community in Berkshire County to another community in Berkshire County. Those things that happen today are really to our detriment. We should encourage new business and entrepreneurship."

Lee then asked about the impact of the cultural tourism industry on North County.

Atwater said while it tourism provides jobs, getting people into those jobs can be difficult.

"We deal with about 8,000 families where one-third are elderly, one-third are working poor and one-third are single parents -- mostly mothers with at least one kid," he said. "We work with single parents on basic skills they can work into any career, but the problem is finding child care. There isn’t enough child care out there in Berkshire County to meet the demand and get some of these people back to work."

Rooney pointed out another challenge is the physical infrastructure of the county and getting people to work who don’t have cars.

One thing Berkshire Community Action Council does is try to give people a sense of community spirit, and construction and beautification projects contribute to that, Atwater said.

Alcombright said the North Adams Housing Authority’s action to change the name of the Greylock Project to Greylock Valley Apartments to change its image helped create that community spirit. He said establishing a neighborhood watch group, increasing police patrols of the area, and installing a new playground at the Greylock apartments also helped.

"These sort of things are cheap, highly visible, and give people pride to wake up tomorrow and do something better," he said.

The discussion, sponsored by the college’s Lehman Council for Community Engagement, is part of Spring Into Service, a week-long event leading up to the Great Day of Service on Saturday.

From 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, over 100 students are expected to volunteer with different organizations and projects throughout North County.
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To reach Meghan Foley, e-mail mfoley@thetranscript.com.
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The building at 306 Union St. in North Adams has been vacant and condemned for several years. (Scott Stafford/New England Newspapers)
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The multiunit rental building at 306 Union St. has been vacant and condemned for several years. The backyard is strewn with trash and debris. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Building a blight on city: Mayor wants it razed"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 19, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- A seven-unit rental property on Union Street which has been vacant for years and condemned since 2007 -- a focus of anxiety and concern for neighbors and city officials -- was sold earlier this month for $250.

Both the seller and the buyer of the blighted property have been cited or sued for questionable or fraudulent business practices, and one of them seems to be evading authorities.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said he has serious concerns about the property and wants the building torn down.

"It's just a big, old ugly building that should come down," he said. "I can't imagine how it would be economically worth saving. And for people coming into town along that corridor, it just sends the wrong message."

The property was taken by the city for more than $12,000 in back-taxes and other fees last year.

The deteriorating building is full of -- and surrounded by -- broken furniture, old clothes, children's toys and other abandoned possessions, trash and debris left by former residents and vandals. Neighbors say it is frequented by undesirable elements of the populace. The building's systems -- plumbing, electrical and heat -- have been ripped out by thieves and vandals. The front and side porches seem close to collapse. The building can easily be entered through a number of different access points. The front door, for example, is not locked.

It was sold by notorious landlord Richard Doherty. He is in default for not responding to a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley alleging fraudulent real estate practices.

According to Northern Berkshire land records, Doherty sold the property at 306 Union St. to the 306 Union Street Nominee Trust, which is operated by Michael Hernandez, for $250 on April 8.

In the lawsuit filed by Coakley's office against Doherty, it is noted that Hernandez took part in one of Doherty's allegedly fraudulent mortgage schemes in 2006 by selling a property to him for $268,000 -- 60 percent more than its market value of $167,500 -- and then paying Doherty a kickback of nearly $70,000.

The lawsuit offers evidence that Doherty would buy a property at an inflated price and take out a mortgage loan for the purchase. In doing so, he would typically misrepresent the property's value and his other real estate holdings and debts. Then he would walk away and leave the properties and structures to deteriorate, having a negative effect on the surrounding neighborhoods and the city's tax rolls.

Hernandez has also been cited for unethical real estate activities. In January 2007, Hernandez's license to sell real estate in Vermont was revoked for engaging in duplicitous practices when trying to sell a house in Stamford, Vt.

The revocation ruling filed by the Vermont Real Estate Commission shows that Hernandez told a prospective buyer that the property never had any water supply problems, when he knew that the home's well water had been contaminated with coliform bacteria for at least five years and was unfit for human consumption.

Alcombright is slated to meet with Hernandez this week to discuss his concerns and Hernandez's plans for the structure.

Attempts to reach Doherty were unsuccessful: His place of residence has been unknown for over a year. Even the attorney general's office can't locate him. His presence is sought at a hearing in Suffolk County Superior Court on April 27, when the court is slated to decide how much money Doherty will have to pay in penalties and restitution.

Hernandez did not respond to numerous messages seeking his comment for this article. His office on Eagle Street is locked and seems vacant, the interior disheveled and dusty.

One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she used to live in the Union Street building.

"It was a dump then and it's a dump now," she said.

Ariel Sutain owns NoAMA, the former Delftree Mill just west of the dilapidated structure.

"We've been actively engaged with the city to get that house removed for some time," Sutain said. "It's been deteriorating for years, the police have been there numerous times, and it's in the main gateway into the city. It's outrageous."
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To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.
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"Landlord has issues with story"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, April 21, 2010

To the Editor:

Regarding the Transcript story of Monday, April 19 ["House draws concern"]: The property at 306 Union St. was purchased by a trust. I am not operating a trust. I am the trustee for a trust. Trusts simply do not have operators.

Over the last four months, I have called Mayor [Richard] Alcombright and Community Development Director Jay Green, who both did not return my call. After the transfer, the mayor told me he did not know how to establish the viability of remodeling the building because he was never in the construction business. I did talk with the building inspector, who told me the only structural problem with the building was the front porch. It needs to be rebuilt.

Manny Serrano from the Board of Health just asked that the trash be removed. He told me the trash was not from the building -- neighbors in the area have been throwing their trash on the property.

When I talked with the Fire Director Steve Meranti, he told me in his opinion the building was structurally sound and worth an investment.

[Reporter Scott] Stafford’s facts about me and [former building owner Richard] Doherty are not clear. I did not pay a kickback to Doherty in a previous transaction. I will restate what I told Martha Coakley’s office: Doherty and Harold Dupee invited me to the Century 21 office and asked me to agree to some crazy transaction. I asked my attorney, Jim Sisto, to review the proposal suggested. I did not agree to Mr. Doherty’s and Mr. Dupee’s arrangement, and I did not involve myself or my business with them, other than selling Doherty a building in a legal transaction.

Ariel Sutain called me and told me he wanted the city to remove the building [at 306 Union St.] and give him the property for free. He told me he had wanted to buy the building, and he seemed upset that the trust had obtained the building at a low price. He could have purchased the building if he was willing to pay but was relying on the city and the taxpayers to do it for him. He simply wants to take advantage of the North Adams taxpayer. He told me that he "is not happy with City Hall, and the current administration should adhere to his requests. They are just as difficult to deal with as the previous administration."

I talked with artists -- residents that live and work in the X-Tyal mill lofts. The people I talked with told me they had a need for good housing and they would support the building being remodeled.

I did not make any comments to Scott Stafford because in my experience with The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript, they fail to print my comments in the context they were intended. This article proves again to be a fishing expedition for front page news.

The facts about the issue in Vermont were not presented truthfully. I missed a hearing in Vermont and so I lost by default. The facts were heard by an ethics panel in Massachusetts, and I was found not to have been in violation of any rules.

I find it hard to believe after being born, raised and schooled in North Adams that writing an article about Mike Hernandez would be front page news for the people who read the little newspaper we have.

The article has two paragraphs about the property at 306 Union St. and several about me. He should have written a story about me. The truth is, I have been an active community member my entire life. My family, friends and business are deeply rooted in Berkshire County. I am well known and well liked because I am fair, and I do not lie.

Anyone with questions or comments can contact me at (413) 664-8003.

Mike Hernandez
North Adams, Massachusetts
April 19, 2010

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"North Adams, unions reach deal"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, April 23, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- As of July 1, the city's employees will receive their health insurance benefits through the Municipal Interlocal Insurance Association (MIAA) -- which will cost the city $500,000 less than its current self-insurance system.

The move comes as part of a settlement between the city and its eight unions, rectifying a $1.1 million shortfall in the city's payments to its health insurance trust fund over a two-year period.

The settlement, jointly announced Thursday afternoon by Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and members of the Public Employee Committee, includes a lower premium split for employees and a new low-cost insurance carrier.

MIIA, which provides health insurance to 60,000 employees in 125 municipalities and public agencies around the state, is offering the city's employees the same health care plans at a price reduction of about 6 percent. MIAA will also take over the city's trust fund responsibilities until fiscal 2013 -- when new employee contracts go into effect.

The new insurance plan's cost saving for both union and non-union employees, combined with a reconfiguration of the split of health insurance premium costs between the city and its employees for a three-year period, comes out to be the equivalent of paying $800,000 into the trust fund, according to Alcombright.

"The employer-employee split will be changed from a 70 percent city cost and 30 percent employee cost to a split of 77 percent and 23 percent in fiscal 2011. It will become a 75 percent and 25 percent split in fiscal years 2012 and 2013," he said.

In return, the unions have agreed to drop any grievances and litigation against the city regarding the repayment of missing funds to the health insurance trust fund.

"This is the best possible outcome for both the taxpayers of North Adams and for our employees," the mayor said. "If we had fought this in court, we may have had to come up with millions of dollars to repay the fund, plus extensive legal costs. Instead, we have reached an amicable and mutually beneficial agreement with our employees and are extremely happy to put this issue behind us. We have bigger and better things in North Adams to move on to."

The settlement is the end result of an independent audit by Scanlon and Associates of South Deerfield, initiated by Alcombright, which identified a $1.1 million shortfall in the trust fund. The Scanlon report examined fiscal years 2008 and 2009 and showed the city did not pay its full 70 percent of premium costs into the trust fund -- an amount that has been an item of contention between the city and its unions for over a year.

North Adams Teachers Association President Susan Chilson said the unions were "thrilled with the settlement," which repays employees for past overcharges and protects the city's budget.

"It also helps to restore our faith in our local government, a faith that had been shaken in recent years," she said.

Police Association President Brian Kelly said the unions are "grateful to the mayor for treating us with dignity and respect and for bringing this to an amicable end."

"During the negotiations -- about 15 hours worth -- we felt everything was very transparent," he said. "We received all the information we requested, in a couple of days, which we weren't used to. We've put a very ugly situation in the past."

City Council President Ronald Boucher said he was happy to see the issue come to an end.

"I applaud this administration, which inherited this mess," he said. "You didn't point fingers, you just kept looking straight ahead."

Although the city will not pay any actual money into the trust fund as part of the settlement, it will must pay "run out" costs of the current trust fund.

"To get out of the business of self-funding insurance, we will need to pay the run out costs associated with our current plan," Alcombright said. "I want to stress, that if the plan had been properly funded in the past, those dollars would have been there. Because of the underfunding, we will have to infuse up to $800,000 to pay those costs."

He said he is currently going over the city’s options, which includes amortizing the cost over a five-to-seven year period, with the state Department of Revenue.

"In order to carry this on the city’s balance sheet, it will take special approval from the state Legislature," Alcombright said. "I have put this in front of both state Rep. Daniel Bosley and state Sen. Benjamin Downing, who are both supportive of it."

In addition, the city is required to deposit $396,000 into the health insurance trust -- the amount needed to bring the city’s share up to date for fiscal 2010 -- before June 30, as required by the DOR. The city is also required to deposit $125,000 into its Medex account, which covers retired employees -- a result of the Medex line item being reduced from the required $525,000 in fiscal 2009 to $400,000 in the current fiscal 2010 budget.

The city is not expected to see its health insurance costs increase in the next budget, Alcombright said.

"Our budgeted line item for insurance in fiscal 2011 will be approximately the same as if we had we stayed self-insured and funded our share as legally required," he said. "Our costs for fiscal 2011 will be $3.54 million. For fiscal 2010, the cost was budgeted at $3.45 million, which if you include the missing $525,000, comes out to be almost the same amount."

However, he said, the city’s fiscal 2011 budget is not yet balanced.

"Because of other revenue items in the budget, we’re still about $1.2 million short. We’re still working on it, though," he said.
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From left, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, PEC representative of the North Adams Police Department, Brian Kelly, North Adams Teacher’s Association president, Susan Chilson and Fire Department #1781’s vice-president, Matt LaBonte, are seen announcing a settlement between the city and its eight unions. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)
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"Senior citizen slams the mayor"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, April 22, 2010

To the Editor:

OK NA folks, we are three months into the Dick Alcombright regime and already he has caved into the unions. He is thinking out loud of a property tax override to balance his giveaway to the NA union employees’ insurance fund.

The Dick Alcombright motto seems to be why fight it when you can just give away the store. Right Dick? We, the elders of the city, are tired of the city unions running the show. It’s time for this to stop! It’s time the North Adams City Council stands up for the people.

John Barrett balanced the books for 26 years without an override, and Dick Alcombright is in office for just over two months and already has serious cash flow problems. Well Dick, where do you suppose the unemployed city homeowners and those on Social Security are going to get that money -- or that thought maybe hadn’t occurred to you? Might be they can borrow it from the Hoosac Bank.

Dick Alcombright is way in over his head and hasn’t a clue as to how to run a city; that’s already a seeable fact. Dick, since you can’t figure it out, then please quit before you totally destroy the homeowners and steal away the elders’ homes. On the same note, it would be nice to have a city council that stood up for the people instead of rubber stamping every little thing the front office asks for.

Now where is all that change? Hmm. Where is the manufacturing base that was coming with an Alcombright election?

And about Main Street: Are those new businesses filling up the empty shops yet?
All Dick Alcombright wanted was a city pension for his retirement, and the suckers of this city fell for it hook, line and sinker when they voted for him, thinking that he was his father.

Any seniors or others wishing to help out with the above endeavor by joining forces, please join me at loom121@yahoo.com.

Philip Carbin Sr.
North Adams, Massachusetts
April 20, 2010
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"Alcombright deserves a chance"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, April 28, 2010

To the Editor:

When I first read Mr. Carbin’s letter, "Senior citizen slams the mayor" [Transcript, April 22], I felt that it was so outrageously misguided that it did not merit a response. After some thought, I knew that I could not remain silent.

My first thought was, how can anyone judge a person’s performance after only three months on the job and come to the conclusion that "Dick Alcombright hasn’t a clue as to how to run the city." You ask, "where is the manufacturing base that was coming with an Alcombright election? Are those new businesses filling up the empty stores yet?"

Surely Mr. Carbin, you must know that the storefronts on Main Street have also been vacant for quite some time. I would think that it would have been more appropriate for you to question the former mayor about these concerns. If you think that Mayor Alcombright could have brought in jobs and filled storefronts in three shorts months, you’re in a dream world.

As far as the city having a serious cash flow problem, as you state, ask the previous administration what happened to the free cash account before Dick took office.

Mayor Alcombright has proven his ability by serving on the City Council with distinction for a number of years. If Mr. Alcombright was so incompetent, as Mr. Carbin would like you to believe, why was he consistently the top vote-getter during his many campaigns?

Mayor Alcombright did not cave into the unions.

Because of Mayor Alcombright’s ability to work with the city employees in an open and honest manner, he has saved the city of North Adams in excess of $500,000. The unions appreciated the fact that Mayor Alcombright agreed that they were overcharged by the previous administration, and they were willing to come to a mutual agreement.
If Mayor Alcombright did not gain the trust of the city’s unions, the city of North Adams could have been in a dire financial situation. The unions realized the fact that the city would have been in financial ruin if they perused this matter in the courts and therefore agreed to work with Mayor Alcombright. This crisis was inherited, not caused by Mayor Alcombright.

Former Mayor Barrett adamantly denied underfunding the city’s insurance fund. This independent audit proved that the insurance fund was indeed underfunded. The audit only covered the past two years. Had it gone any further, who knows what the amount would have been. Mr. Carbin, you should be thanking Mayor Alcombright for saving your tax dollars, not criticizing him for spending them.

It was clear that the citizens of North Adams wanted a change when they elected Dick Alcombright for mayor. Dick took it upon himself to run for mayor at a time when the city was facing a very difficult financial situation. The fact that Dick chose to run at all speaks volumes of the man. It’s time for the naysayers to give the people’s choice a chance.

Robert Canale
Clarksburg, Massachusetts
April 26, 2010
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"Back off, Alcombright critics"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, May 1, 2010

To the Editor:

This letter is to the following people who have put our Mayor Richard Alcombright down.

First, Al Norman, kindly stay out of the city of North Adams’ business. You are from Greenfield and have no right to butt your nose into what goes on here.

Second, Tony Israel and your friends of North Adams First, there will be a Super Walmart built here whether you want it or not.

Third, Ariel Sutain, how dare you insinuate that Mayor Alcombright’s administration is just as difficult to deal with as the previous one? You are entirely wrong. Mayor Richard Alcombright has an open door policy and definitely nothing like the last administration.

Fourth, and last, Philip Carbin Sr., I am a senior citizen of North Adams. I got married here and brought up a family here, of which my son is a veteran of the Iraqi war. How dare you insinuate Mayor Alcombright did something with the charges that you insinuated in your letter to the Transcript? He is not going to quit, and the City Council does not rubber stamp every little thing the front office asks for.

Mayor Richard Alcombright is a fine, respectable, honest and caring man, and on what you said about all he wanted was a city pension for his retirement you are way, way off base.

I want you to know that I voted for this man and am very proud of it.

Lastly, Mayor Richard Alcombright is more of a man than all of you put together.

You all must have very dull lives if all you know or have to do it put down a fine man like our great Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Shame on each and every one of you.

Why don’t you take up a hobby like coin or stamp collecting?

Better still, try volunteering at a veterans hospital.

Carol Levesque
North Adams, Massachusetts
April 29, 2010
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/TG8M80T405AQKE1N8
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North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright
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"Meal tax may see increase Alcombright seeks .75% hike"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, April 23, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright will ask the City Council on Tuesday to implement the .75 percent local-option meals excise tax, which could garner $150,000 in additional revenue for the city.

If approved, it would be added to the state’s 6.25 percent meals tax, bringing the rate up to 7 percent for every dollar spent at a city restaurant.

"We are looking at the budget and are finding ways to raise revenues," Alcombright said Friday. "The meals excise did come up last year, at the same time as the hotel and motel option, but the previous administration did not want to implement it at the time, although it was said that it would most likely have to be implemented this year."

As a councilor last August, Alcombright joined Councilor Lisa Blackmer in voting against the 2 percent hotel/motel excise tax increase, opposing its implementation because the hotels had not been consulted, and neighboring Williamstown had not yet put the increase in place.

"I did not support the hotel and motel increase at the time, more in principal than in spirit," the mayor said. "I thought we needed more time to research the issue and that we had not reached out to people in the industry at the time."

In preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, Alcombright said he has spoken with a majority of the city’s restaurants to hear their input on the proposed meals tax increase.

"I talked to eight or nine restaurateurs, including the owners of the Hub, Taylor’s, Village and Gramercy Bistro," he said. "I didn’t speak to the local franchises like McDonald’s, just the local owners, and only one was not happy with the possibility. I got a good feeling from everyone else -- they don’t really see it as being an impact."

The increase will be nominal, adding only a few cents to a meal, he pointed out. The impact on local consumers is expected to be about 1 cent on a $2 cup of coffee; 7 cents on a $10 pizza and 37 cents for a $50 dinner for two. For a person who spends $25 a week on meals, the increase for an entire year would be about $9.75.

The revenue generated by the increase would be paid to the state as part of the meals tax and returned to the city in quarterly installments.

Alcombright noted that 80 of the state’s 351 municipalities have already implemented the meals excise increase, and many more are expected to approve it prior to the July 1 deadline. Williamstown’s upcoming town meeting warrant will include articles for the implementation of the local excise options for hotels and motels, along with the .75 percent meals tax.

"One of the things I intend to do is to dedicate a percentage of the newly found revenue back toward cultural and tourist development initiatives," Alcombright said. "We recently heard at City Council that a new website could cost $15,000. Where do we find the money to do that? How do we rebrand the city? We can use a portion of these funds to create a website and brochures. We can use this revenue to grow the city through better marketing.

That should help local restaurants, hotels and motels, he said, adding, "We should be doing something with these revenues to help put tourists and patrons in their chairs and in their beds."

However, he said, the timing of the meals tax approval is critical.

"This is an issue that needs to go to the finance subcommittee and be passed to a second reading. I’m hoping that we can have it back and approved for the first meeting in May," he said. "We need the approval right away, so we can implement it on July 1. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until the beginning of the next fiscal quarter, Oct. 1, to implement it."

The council meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
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"Mayor suggests override to balance budget"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, May 12, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Painting a grim fiscal picture Tuesday night, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright broached a Proposition 2-1/2 override as a means of balancing the city’s fiscal 2011 budget.

Alcombright presented three different approaches to solving the city’s financial woes, which he said are the result of years of the previous administration’s draining of reserve accounts and free cash to pay off recurring debt.

"Over the last three fiscal years, the city has used $3.4 million from the reserve accounts and essentially depleted our free cash account," the mayor told the City Council. "In that time, we’ve seen our local receipts drop by 10 percent and state aid cut by 17 percent."

He said no matter what strategy the city uses, residents will see a property tax increase of at least 10 percent. He said the city can raise taxes that much by increasing them to its levy limit, which it hasn’t done in many years.

He said his proposed $40.4 million draft budget would still fall $817,073 short of being balanced, even if the city raised property taxes to the levy limit, increased water rates by 10 percent and instituted a sewer fee equal to 42 percent of a property’s water use.

"We would still need to use over $800,000 from the city’s watershed account," Alcombright said. "It would result in a monthly increase of about $27.25 per homeowner. However, it would leave us with very few options for the future. The watershed account is at $1.2 million right now, and I’d rather see that money put towards a capital project."

Alcombright will publicly present the draft budget and his solutions for balancing it on Tuesday, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the Drury High School auditorium.

He said the city has about $300,000 in its free cash account -- less than any other municipality in Northern Berkshire -- which will be transferred into the stabilization account. At its height, the city’s free cash account had $1.3 million in fiscal 2008, while at its lowest point, the account dipped to $479,000 in fiscal 2005.

Under the first scenario presented by the mayor, the average homeowner, with a $140,000 home, would see an overall annual increase of $327 -- about $183 in property taxes, an additional $26 in water bills and an average sewer bill of $118.

However, he presented two other fiscal scenarios, each raising revenue through a Proposition 2-1/2 override.

"If we were to raise $1 million through a Proposition 2-1/2 override, we would be able to raise our tax base and essentially fix this problem," he said. "We’d also eliminate the need for a sewer fee, a water rate increase and the utilization of what precious little reserves we have left."

The override would raise property taxes by 19 percent, increasing the average tax bill by $330 annually, he said.

A third proposal, -- a "worst case scenario" in which the Legislature gave less aid than projected -- would need $1.5 million in revenue. An override in that case would hike the average property tax bill by $408 a year, Alcombright said. It would not require a sewer fee, water rate increase or any funds from city reserve accounts.

"I would not recommend this scenario," he said. "But we need to consider not just how we get through this fiscal year, but how do we plan for all that lies ahead? We have significant infrastructure problems. We’ve had 21 water breaks this year. We have a new educational model that can raise costs significantly in the future. We have cut $700,000 from this budget already, and I will not be recommending cutting the budget even further."

Although councilors took the presentation in stride -- congratulating the mayor for his straightforward approach, some voiced concerns about the increases to businesses and residents.

"I give you credit for putting yourself out there -- this has the potential of pushing the commercial rate over $33 per thousand dollars of valuation," Councilor David Bond said. "It’s an increase of almost $4 per thousand."

Councilor Alan L. Marden echoed Bond’s concerns, questioning if the city has the ability to adjust the residential and commercial tax-rate split in the future, noting that a commercial business with an assessment of $1 million would be subject to an additional $4,000 to $5,000 in taxes.

"We have that right when the city sets its tax rate in November," Alcombright said. "Everyone will feel this increase."

Councilor Keith Bona asked what would happen if voters failed to approve an override.
"Then we’ll have to go with the first scenario -- increasing water rates and adding a sewer fee," Alcombright said. "We’ll have to use the watershed funds as well. But what I’m hearing from the state is that it’s going to get worse next year. We’ll still have as much as a chance at balancing the budget next year, without the smoke and mirrors."

Robert Cardimino of East Quincy Street criticized Alcombright for not cutting more from the budget -- laying off workers, cutting services and instituting furloughs like the state of New York.

"People have asked me that -- why I won’t consider a volunteer fire department or cut the police budget," the mayor said. "I say that 60 percent of this city’s housing stock was built before 1930 and burns quickly once a fire starts. We have a hospital, MCLA, nursing homes and several high-rise buildings. We need rapid response, and we’re already at bare bones in these departments."
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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Related:
www.iberkshires.com/story/34901/Alcombright-Offers-Bleak-Budget-Scenarios-Advises-Override.html
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"Alcombright, Barrett clash over North Adams budget: Current mayor: I ‘inherited a mess' with finances"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, May 13, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Former Mayor John Barrett III is upset that Mayor Richard J. Alcombright is saying the root cause of the city's fiscal crisis is based on several years of "mismanagement" and that Alcombright "inherited a mess" from the previous administration.

Barrett said Wednesday that the city's fiscal crisis was caused by the loss of about $4 million in state aid beginning in 2003, not by his fiscal management. He said his philosophy was not to tax the people more to make up deficits.

During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Alcombright said the city would have to raise property taxes by at least 10 percent, up to its levy limit, and he broached the possibility of needing to raise $1 million through a Proposition 2 1/2 override as one solution to balance his proposed $40 million fiscal 2011 budget.

Alcombright attributed the fiscal crisis partly to a 17 percent cut in state aid over the last few years and partly to Barrett's use of $3.4 million to pay off recurring debt. He said that strategy drained the city's reserve and free cash accounts.

Barrett said he used those accounts because the city was facing dire times, and the City Council, which included Alcombright at the time, approved of doing so.

"I have not said a word for 4-1/2 months and have tried to return very quietly to private life, but after seeing some of the comments made by the mayor and a few of the city councilors, I feel I have to speak out -- he's saying things that are very untrue," Barrett said in a telephone interview.

"Clearly for 26 years I balanced the budget every year and finished in the black," he said. "I never had one finding against me in any audit performed by an outside auditing firm -- never had one finding by the state Department of Revenue, never had one finding by a state auditor."

Barrett said he and Alcombright obviously have different philosophies of fiscal management.

"The way in which we balanced the budget, we never once taxed the people to build up the city's reserves," he said. "There's a clear, fundamental difference in philosophy -- it's not about mismanagement but a difference in philosophy. The reason why the city is in this fiscal crisis is the same reason that every other community in the state is facing a fiscal crisis -- a loss of state aid."

Alcombright agreed Wednesday that he has a different fiscal philosophy and that the loss in state aid contributed to the city's financial woes.

"It's a total difference in philosophies," he said during a telephone interview. "During the last three or four budget cycles, when I was a member of the council, I always asked why we didn't increase the water rates and increase taxes just a little bit more as a way to retain our reserves and use them for other things. Last night, I did state that a lot of this was caused by cuts of 17 percent in state aid, but I believe a lot of this would have been avoidable if we had been a little more creative with our fees and taxes and maintained more of our reserves." He added, "I feel things have been mismanaged. I don't think there is any fine line between being mismanaged and misappropriation -- a term I have not used. As for myself and [the other councilors], I can honestly say for the last five budget sessions that are most memorable in my mind, we always asked to see the city's revenues but were never provided with them as part of the budget process.

"While it was part of our purview, we never knew if there was a deficit or a surplus. It was [Barrett's] style of management that he would balance the budget through the year and utilize cash reserves to do it. It is that management style that put us in the cash position that we are in -- one of the worst in the state."

Barrett contends that the city doesn't need to raise taxes to the levy limit or look to a Proposition 2 1/2 override and sewer fee to balance the fiscal 2011 budget.

"There's still $2 million available in the reserve accounts and close to $900,000 he [Alcombright] can raise in taxes," he said. "What the city is facing can be solved without any Proposition 2-1/2 override, but it does mean a further tightening of the belt. This isn't a new idea -- this crisis is something I talked about during the campaign and one of the reasons I wanted to stay in the position for two more years."

Alcombright said the city also has had to contend with fallout from underfunding its medical insurance trust fund, which he maintains could have cost the city millions in litigation fees if the local employee unions had sued.

"What he isn't considering is that we have to raise taxes to the levy limit because of the medical insurance trust," Alcombright said. "It is what it is. It's a different management style. I don't know what he would have done this year -- nor have I asked him. I tried not to be a critic, but I'm also not going to stand there and let something I inherited fall on my shoulders. I don't want to play politics with this. I want to move forward."

Barrett said Alcombright's financial team includes many of his former employees -- business manager Nancy Ziter, assessor Christopher Lamarre and auditor David Fierro. He noted that during his 26 years in the corner office, the city invested over $100 million in its infrastructure, including new bridges, road rehabilitation, two new schools and a water filtration plant.

"[Alcombright] said I neglected the city's infrastructure and caused this fiscal crisis? This is the first and last time I will comment on this, but I cannot allow him to try to get away with these statements, which are not true," Barrett said. "The bottom line is that every bit of this so-called mismanagement happened on his watch -- Alcombright approved those budgets, along with [city councilors] Ronald Boucher and Michael Bloom. I'm not going to be used as scapegoat to raise taxes."

During his one meeting with Alcombright, four days before the new mayor assumed office, Barrett said he offered his help in any future circumstances.

"All he has to do is call," Barrett said.

Alcombright said he may take him up on the offer in the future, but doesn't believe this is the right time to do so.

"In the one time that we met during the transition, which occurred after we had four or five appointments rescheduled by his office, he did offer to be helpful," Alcombright said. "However, the more I got into this and met with my finance team and DOR, and the more I got to understand and saw the problems we were having, I didn't want to go there.

"He and I are miles apart on our management styles. I'm handling a problem that I walked into and don't feel as if I have to go back to him with any fiscal questions."
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Develop North Adams will place 10 benches in the downtown this summer, including four in Veterans Memorial Park before Memorial Day. (Courtesy Photo)
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"Benches are coming back to downtown with Develop North Adams project"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, May 14, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- With only two board meetings under its belt, Develop North Adams is starting out at a gallop, rolling out a green space initiative that puts benches back in the downtown by Memorial Day and has a growing list of projects that it will undertake this summer.

The newly formed nonprofit is in talks to take over the summer-long art program, DownStreet Art; working with the regional employment board to use stimulus funds to employ youth in the city’s public works department during the summer; collaborating with Mass MoCA to ensure local vendors are represented at the Wilco Solid Sound Festival this August and bringing concerts to the Noel Field Athletic Complex with local radio station WUPE this summer.

Four benches will be placed in Veterans Memorial Park before Memorial Day, with six others slated for "pocket parks" that will be created or rehabilitated on Eagle, Main and Marshall streets, according to Brian Miksic, board president.

He said the nonprofit has already raised $8,000 in private donations for the six-foot-long black steel benches and green space.

"We want to make it clear that what we’re doing is a green space initiative -- replacing green space in the downtown and benches," Miksic said. "It’s all bundled into one. We’re making gathering places for people as a way to grow the community. Benches are something people find important."

The city has not had benches in the downtown for well over a decade, after former Mayor John Barrett III banned them after years of complaints from business owners about excessive loitering of city youth and in some instances, drug deals.

According to DevelopNorthAdams.com, a private donation of $1,000 entitles the sponsor to dedicate a bench in honor of a person of their choice, pays for a bench, its shipping costs and installation. A portion of the donation also goes into a fund for landscaping costs for the new pocket parks.

"We’ve received donations of all sizes already," Miksic said. "The response has been fantastic, and we haven’t really rolled out the fundraising component yet. People have been calling us."

A total of 10 benches have already been ordered, but only four will be put out before Memorial Day at the request of the donors, he said.

Plans for pocket parks are currently being developed, with the aid of local landscapers, for the vacant lot on Eagle Street, once home to the Tropical Gardens building, and Hobart Park on the corner of Main and Ashland streets.

"We want to redevelop these areas into usable green space -- not just put in trees and bushes," Miksic said. "This first phase is not that expensive and can even be carried out by volunteers. We’ll be putting benches in these areas as well and have benches reserved for Main and Marshall streets."

The group hopes the visibility of the pocket parks will spark community interest as it launches a fundraiser to keep the initiative going and also spur interest in taking care of other areas, such as the playground on Houghton Street.

"There’s four planters there and there used to be nice shrubs and mulch, but the city hasn’t been able to maintain all of the parks because of short staffing," he said. "Trimming some shrubs, pulling some weeds and putting down some mulch can really clean up an area and make an amazing difference. It’s not all about spending money."

The group is also in talks with MCLA and Jonathan Secor, the college’s director of special programs and a member of Develop North Adams, about collaborating with or taking over DownStreet Art.

"We’re having ongoing discussion," Miksic said. "Michael Boland is also in talks with the regional employment board about using stimulus funds to create summer employment in the summer for kids. We’re hoping to employ nine kids, 30 hours a week at $10 an hour. There will be qualifying guidelines, but it would allow [Department of Public Works Director] Paul Markland to double the size of his crew and upkeep the places he just can’t get to on a regular basis."

They’re also partnering with WUPE to bring in a summer concert series, similar to Concerts on the Lake in Pittsfield, on Thursday nights at the Noel Field Athletic Complex.

"We believe it will start in August, after the SteepleCats season is over," Miksic said. "We’re still figuring out the details and what types of concerts to host; we want it to be music that many people can enjoy."

There’s also the beginnings of a collaborative effort with the city and Mass MoCA to ensure that not only does the three-day Wilco Solid Sound Festival run smoothly, but that local vendors have a presence inside and outside the venue.

The group is also focusing on assisting the city with its current events, such as the annual Northern Berkshire Food Festival and downtown celebration and on its long-term goal of bringing business to the community and marketing its spaces.
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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"A message for the mayor"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, May 14, 2010

To the Editor:

This is an open letter to Mayor Alcombright.

Mr. Mayor: How can you even think of raising taxes? The poor people of this blue collar city are already without jobs and hanging on by a thread. Many are living on welfare already.

I haven’t had a pay raise in two years -- and what about senior citizens? Where do you think we’ll get money to pay more taxes -- whether they are property taxes, water taxes or a sewer fee?

A 10 percent tax hike? Are you crazy? You won’t win a second term if you raise taxes.

Sarah Miller
North Adams, Massachusetts
May 12, 2010

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"Mayor to present ‘State of the City’ address"
By The North Adams Transcript staff, May 14, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright will present a "State of the City" address and draft fiscal 2011 budget review at a public meeting on Tuesday, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the Drury High School auditorium.

"The reason for this meeting is to promote many of the great things that are happening in the city but also to bring to light some of our major challenges," Alcombright said in a news release Friday.

"As we move into this coming fiscal year, we are facing further cuts in state revenue, and our reserves are at dangerously low levels," he said. "While we have looked hard at our expenses and are working to create more efficiency in government, the reality is that our conversations now need to center on revenue. I need to get this information out to the community in a way that is productive and with results that will be fiscally responsible."

He said the program will consist of a Power Point presentation that will include budget numbers, rationale as to the city’s fiscal condition and several scenarios that may move the budget and the city forward.

Alcombright gave part of the presentation to the City Council during its meeting on May 11, saying that the city may need to consider a Proposition 2 1/2 override. He said a much more detailed presentation would be given to the public.

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"City has to be self-sustainable"
The North Adams Transcript, May 17, 2010

To the Editor:

Regarding the fiscal crisis in North Adams and the comments made between John Barrett and Mayor Alcombright, as published in the Transcript on May 13. The citizens of North Adams should keep in mind the following:

During the election, Mayor Alcombright’s critics cited his potential plans to raise taxes as one of his biggest downfalls as a candidate. In fact, many of his supporters, including myself, were concerned that this issue might cost him the election. Still, Dick was always upfront and honest regarding his thoughts or philosophies on managing the city’s budget. I personally heard him say over and over again to crowds large and small, in my home and the homes of others as well as during the mayoral debates which gathered many, that it would likely be necessary to raise taxes in the city because of the ongoing cuts to state aid.

A large component of Alcombright’s platform centered around the idea that the city of North Adams cannot continue to rely so greatly on state aid when recent history showed a steady decline in these funds for North Adams as well as other communities throughout the commonwealth.

Dick argued that our city must find a way to be somewhat self sustainable in an economic climate that continues to show an increasing decline in state aid to North Adams. He repeatedly asserted that an increase in taxes would likely be needed to deal with the city’s current financial crisis as well as to be proactive and protect North Adams from probable future cuts to state aid.

To many voters, Dick’s potential plans to raise our taxes was not the most popular position for him to take. Just the same, he spoke honestly and openly about it, choosing not to make promises during the campaign that he knew he could not keep if or when elected. For this argument, he was criticized by John Barrett and Barrett’s supporters. This was cited as one of the biggest reasons why we should all cast our vote for John Barrett.

Fast forward, May 2010. The former Mayor Barrett now states that the city’s fiscal crisis was in fact caused by cuts to state aid of about $4 million since 2003. Yeah, we already know this! Dick Alcombright has been telling us this for at least 12 months. The question is, if Mayor Barrett knew this, why did he not raise taxes in an attempt to solve the impending fiscal crisis before it got as dire as it is today? His "philosophy" didn’t include taxing the people to make up for the deficit. Well, why not? Instead, he chose to handle the problem by using the city’s reserves.

Well folks, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a wound requiring stitches and yes, it most certainly can be called "mismanagement."

John Barrett claims that Mayor Alcombright should look to the $2 million still remaining in the city’s reserve accounts to get through this crisis. To many voters, that option sounds a lot more attractive than an increase in taxes to the levy limit or, worse yet, a Proposition 2-1/2 override, but it is that kind of irresponsible financial management strategy that got us here in the first place.

Also, we should all keep in mind that Mayor Alcombright has only mentioned the Proposition 2-1/2 override as a possibility at this point. However, should that become necessary down the road, try to remember that the override option was written into that legislation for those times when communities are facing dire times.

Nobody, I’m sure, is over the moon excited about a possible increase in taxes or a city sewer fee, but those possible solutions being discussed by Mayor Alcombright are proof that his management style is more responsible and more realistic than that of the former Mayor Barrett.

Shannon Roberts
North Adams, Massachusetts
May 14, 2010
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Mayor Richard J. Alcombright speaks during the ‘State of the City’ address and draft budget presentation Tuesday night at Drury High School. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)
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"Mayor in address: Taxes will rise"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, May 19, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- The message was clear during Tuesday night’s "State of the City" address -- city taxes will rise by at least 10 percent in the coming fiscal year, whether or not a Proposition 2-1/2 override is used to raise revenues and balance the projected $40.4 million draft Fiscal 2011 budget.

"If we don’t assess a fee, we’ll have to put in a tax. At the end of the day, we still have to raise the money somehow," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright told a sparse crowd of about 60 people during the address and draft budget presentation in Drury High School’s auditorium.

"A Proposition 2-1/2 override could pass or it could fail," he said. "If it should fail, I would go immediately to the City Council and ask them to institute a water fee increase and a sewer fee. At some point, later in the year, I would then have to go back to the council to ask for transfers from reserve funds to balance the budget."

The meeting, which rehashed figures from last week’s City Council meeting, was also broadcast live on Northern Berkshire Community Television Channel 17.

Alcombright said his proposed $40.4 million draft budget would still fall $817,073 short of being balanced, even if the city raised property taxes to the levy limit, increased water rates by 10 percent and instituted a sewer fee equal to 42 percent of a property’s water use.

City resident Robert Cardamino peppered Alcombright with questions ranging from whether or not the mayor would continue to allow board and committee members to access health insurance through the city and why a sewer fee is necessary.

"The city already pays a $980,000 sewer charge to the Hoosac Water Quality District. We’re already being charged for that. I think we’re dancing around the bottom line here," Cardamino said. "You can balance the budget with what we have in reserves. What I want to know is why you want to build up the city’s revenues on the back of the tax payers?"

The mayor said that any revenues raised through taxes or fees wouldn’t be used to "pad reserve accounts" but would only enable the city to meet its fiscal obligations in the next year.

"Right now, we raise about $350,000 in sewer fees from Clarksburg and nonprofits like the college and hospital, which are all assessed at 100 percent of their water usage," Alcombright said. "All of that goes to the Hoosac Water Quality District. The other $650,000 is raised through property taxes. By instituting a sewer fee, we could raise that money and shift the taxes back into our budget."

All of the funds would go into a sewer enterprise account and would be paid out to the water district -- any leftover funds would go to sewer infrastructure repairs, he said.

The mayor stressed that any decision about removing board and committee members from the city insurance would be made after the completion of a voluntary financial review of the city’s books by the state Department of Revenue.

"They will be coming to us with recommendations," Alcombright said, stating that the decision to allow any board member to carry city health insurance was made by prior administrations and is allowed by the state.

Although several residents voiced concerns the increased tax rates would create a burden on homeowners and the business community, the mayor stressed that the city is being required by the state to raise the tax rate to its levy limit -- bringing in an additional $840,000 in revenue.

"We are being required to do this as long as the $880,000 from the Medical Insurance Trust is on our books," he said. "We have to carry this as an operating expense and can’t use a debt-exclusion override for it, like we could a capital expense. The good news is, we expect that the run-out payment to Blue Cross Blue shield will come back less than that $880,000, and any surplus returned to the city will be applied to that amount."

He said the anticipated payment to Blue Cross Blue Shield is about $650,000. That amount -- used to pay for the last two months of health insurance payments owed by the city as it switches from a self-insurance system -- is expected to be paid off within three to seven years. At that time, the city will no longer be required to tax to the levy limit.

"It might not change the tax rate at that time, but we won’t have to tax to the levy limit," the mayor said.

Alcombright also stressed that he’s unwilling to strip more than the $700,000 he’s already removed from the upcoming budget -- through a mixture of capital expenditures and staff cuts in the North Adams Public Schools -- and is not willing to cut city services any further. He said the school department has eliminated the equivalent of 5-1/2 teaching positions, two teaching assistants, and the equivalent of 2-1/2 custodial positions through attrition and retirements.

"Nobody’s asking you to cut more," Cardamino said.

Alcombright replied, "We don’t have the money for the budget we need. If we use our reserves, we’ll be right back here next year. We need to have our services -- we can’t cut our police force even more, and I won’t go to an all-volunteer fire department. The reality is, if I use what we have, I’m still going to have to cut another $1.8 million from the budget. The council can do it, but I won’t."
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To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.
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"$15.7M school budget OK'd"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The North Adams Transcript & The Berkshire Eagle, June 3, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- A tight $15.7 million North Adams Public School budget, approved by the city's School Committee Tuesday night, once again preserves programming and activities without instituting fees for local families.

Although the budget is up 1.44 percent over Fiscal 2010, Superintendent James E. Montepare said he eliminated $750,000 from the budget to keep it as close to being level-funded as possible. The budget does not account for any raises for faculty and staff, which are still in negotiations, except for guaranteed step-increases.

"Overall, 1.44 percent is a modest increase," he said Tuesday. "It's a budget that keeps the integrity of our programming intact, despite a projected 4 percent decrease in Chapter 70 state aid. The state is currently trying to backfill that amount with stimulus money."

Current projections have the state providing $13,983,605 in Chapter 70 aid, down from $14,868,490 in aid for fiscal 2010. Earlier projections had put state aid at $14,150,113.

"If we were to cut further, all of our worst fears would come true. We would lose our after-school programs," Montepare said. "We would have to charge for services such as our preschool program, institute fees for activities and sports and see our class size increase to 30 to 35 students per classroom."

The $750,000 in cuts include the elimination of $125,000 or 45 percent of the district's school materials budget and the equivalent of 4-1/2 teaching positions, two teaching assistants and the equivalent of 2-1/2 custodial positions.

"In reality, we're only looking at losing two teachers right now," Montepare said. "With retirements, we've been able to find positions for two of the teachers, the two teaching assistants and the two custodians."

School Committee member William Schrade, Jr. questioned what supplies the schools would be forced to go without.

"Nothing, we hope," Montepare said. "We're hoping that we'll have enough funds left over at the end of the school year to purchase half of next year's supplies out of the current budget."

Schrade also questioned a level-funded utilities line item and an increase of $345,647 for teaching services.

"We have no increases for heat and utilities. Those are items that constantly increase. Is that rational?" he said.

Montepare said one reason for the level-funding was the district had converted both Drury High School and Brayton Elementary School to natural gas, which costs significantly less.

"Natural gas is projected to decrease in cost as well," he said. "We're also still locked in at a price of $1.96 a gallon for oil, and I plan to top off our tanks so we'll enter the school year in good shape."

The increase in teaching services was attributed to guaranteed step increases.

"We have to project how many teachers will move up to the next step," Montepare said. "Last year, we had to make up $300,000 of teacher raises with school choice funds as well."

Teacher salaries are based in part on their educational background and the number and type of degrees they hold. State law requires teachers to earn a master's degree in education and earn a set amount of professional development credits each year.

"A 1 percent raise for a union is equal to about $90,000 more in the budget," he said.

Any raises resulting from negotiations with teachers, assistants or other unions in the district would have to be made up with additional cuts or additional revenue sources, such as school choice funds.

Montepare was unable to estimate how much was left in the school choice account on Wednesday, but said revenue projections for the coming school year were about $225,000. The funds -- which are payments for students coming into the school system from other districts -- are earmarked for student programs and educational services.

One of the largest decreases in the budget, a drop of $135,000 or 13.5 percent, was in the line item for "other than public schools" -- tuition paid to residential programs for special education students up to the age of 22. The district is anticipating $859,768 in tuition payments for the next fiscal year.

"We have 17 students in residential programs. Those placements can cost anywhere from $90,000 to $250,000," Montepare said. "The decrease is the result of a few students aging out of the system and a few who have come home and will be receiving services from BFAIR instead."

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"Irresponsible budget in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 15, 2010

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright submitted a budget proposal at Tuesday's City Council meeting of more than $35 million, and included a statement that he wanted a water and sewer fee. When I got a chance to speak, I suggested several areas that could save the city over $100,000.

I suggested eliminating health insurance for two councilors, one being Michael Bloom, to save the city over $14,000. Then I suggested that Ron Plock's job, whatever it is, be eliminated and save another $35,000. Then, we have a full-time animal control officer with an SUV that we can do without and save over $50,000.

When I asked that this insurance for Councilor Bloom be eliminated Councilor Al Marden interrupted and said this was a personal attack on Councilor Bloom. This was not an attack, it was to inform taxpayers of the abuse of public officials. This is what Councilor Marden and other councilors should be doing. The mayor also tried to defend this practice by stating it's been going on for decades. Maybe so, but now is the time to stop it. Council President Boucher also chimed in to agree with Councilor Marden. This is what they want to keep hidden from the taxpayers of North Adams.

The mayor and the finance committee have to use some of the excess money the city has on hand. For example, there is $800,000 in the school reserve fund that's not being touched. There is $1.5 million in the land sale fund and $330,000 in the city's reserve account -- let them use some of this money. There are also many places in the everyday workings of the city where money can be saved.

I will reveal to the council some of my proposals at the next meeting. Taxpayers deserve better; if it embarrasses the mayor and the councilors, too bad. They need to start looking out for the taxpayers of this city. If they want more details and suggestions, I will be more than happy to sit down with them. Any takers?

I am also disgusted with the mayor because every time there is a problem he blames the former mayor. Alcombright's financial solutions are to tax and spend without regard to those who are carrying the burden. He doesn't realize many people in this city cannot afford any more taxes or fees. They are worried, scared, and fed up with him, and he has only been a mayor for a short time.

It's time to make some hard decisions. Cuts have to be made across the board. We are all in this together and we should all bear the burden, not just the homeowners but city employees and city services as well. I ask everyone who is concerned to call the mayor's office at 662-3000 and let him know how you feel. Also call the councilors, maybe they will listen. If not, the election is coming and the next change might be a big surprise to them.

ROBERT CARDIMINO
North Adams, Massachusetts
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"Mayor's budget under fire at City Council meeting"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, June 23, 2010

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright’s $35.9 million operational budget for fiscal 2011 came under fire Tuesday night from city resident Robert Cardimino, who challenged spending items and funding choices.

Alcombright has proposed using some $900,000 from the city’s land sale account, along with a 10 percent property tax increase, a 10 percent water rate increase and the institution of a sewer fee to fund the budget.

The mayor stressed during the meeting that his recommendations would only pay down debt for the upcoming fiscal year and that in fiscal 2012, the city would be facing a similar debt without the option of using reserve funds to take care of it.

"While I personally detest using reserve accounts to do this, I cannot support the option of a Proposition 21Ž2 override that would send commercial tax rates through the roof," he said.

However, his solutions to balance the budget weren’t good enough for Cardimino, who brought forth his own suggestions.

"I think that you should ask city workers to forgo pay increases this year, raise taxes at a minimum, use the school department’s reserve account which has $800,000 in it and use the city’s $300,000 in free cash to pay down debt," he said, commenting on the budget. "I also agree that the building fund should be used."

Cardimino also challenged a $40,000 salary for the mayor’s administrative assistant, Lisa Loomis, saying she only works 27 hours a week. He also chastised the city’s Department of Public Works employees, who he claimed work only six hours a day and abuse their jobs by riding around in city trucks and reading newspapers when on the job. He also noted over $25,000 spent on dog kennel fees for dogs picked up by the city’s animal control officer.

"We can also cut Councilor Michael Bloom’s health insurance, which would save us $20,000 a year," Cardimino said. "We also need to cut an $18,000 clothing allowance for city employees. What other industry pays for a clothing allowance?"

Alcombright answered him, stating that the school department’s school choice fund did not have $800,000 in it and that the city could not use it outside of the school budget.

"Last year, the city had to tap that fund when the state suddenly cut the circuit breaker fund for special needs programs, which we are required to have by law and need to sustain," the mayor said. "Another cut like that can cost us -- $500,000 is not a lot of money."

He also pointed out that the city had moved the $300,000 to its stabilization fund to save it, on recommendation of the state Department of Revenue.

"We had one of the lowest free cash amounts in the state," Alcombright said. "The state recommends that we have between $1.3 million to $1.8 million in free cash. It was a cold slap in the face last week when the town of Cheshire transferred $325,000 out of free cash to balance their budget."

He added, "In regards to Lisa, she works 40-plus hours a week. She is often in the office before me and in the office past 5 p.m."

The mayor also stated that the city is examining its policies on health insurance offerings to elected officials, which is allowed by law.

Cardimino then challenged him, stating, "Weren’t you told by the state that North Adams is the only city to offer health insurance to councilors?"

"No," Alcombright replied. "Many communities, such as Greenfield and Northampton offer insurance to not only their councilors, but also to their school committee members."

Councilor Lisa Blackmer said that municipalities traditionally cover the cost of uniforms for employees for police and fire firefighters.

"This is for city workers at the transfer station and city yard," Cardimino shot back.

Council President Robert Boucher added that Williamstown also provides clothing allotments to its public works employees.

Cardimino also challenged Alcombright on his statement that the Department of Revenue can require the city to tax up to its levy limit.

"As I understand it, they have no authority," he said.

Alcombright replied, "That is true in most cases. What I’m saying is that in order to carry the $800,000 deficit from the medical insurance trust into the next year on the recapitulation sheets, we have to tax up to the city’s levy limit which is 10 percent. This is not a usual circumstance."

The mayor reiterated that while he detested using the city’s land sale account to pay down debt -- which requires approval of a home rule petition by the state Legislature -- it is the only alternative to a Proposition 21Ž2 override.

"Our financial woes are a result of continued state cuts of 4 percent to both local and school receipts -- about $723,000; failure to meet budgeted local receipt numbers over the last two fiscal years; over utilization of reserve accounts, mismanagement of the medical insurance trust and the failure to follow state guidelines for our free cash and stabilization accounts," he said.

The council passed the budget unanimously, along with a home rule petition asking that the city be allowed to use its land sale account to reduce debts that do not qualify for the account’s use under state law.

Councilors also passed a 10 percent increase to the city’s water rate, effective on July 1, which raises the rate from $3.18 per hundred cubic feet to $3.50. The average quarterly bill will increase $6 or a total of $25 per year.

An order establishing a rate for sewer use was passed to a second reading, with 8 councilors in favor. Cariddi cast the dissenting vote.

"We are not establishing a fee, but setting a rate," Alcombright said, referring to a city ordinance that already allows for a sewer fee. He expects to hold a special meeting to set the rate during the first week of July.

In other action, an ordinance establishing a youth commission was unanimously passed to a second reading, while the council unanimously accepted a pair of orders accepting Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 32 B, sections 9E and 18, which relate to retired employee health insurance plans. The city has been following the guidelines for several years, but never formally adopted the state laws.
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"Alcombright: Despite smell, city drinking water safe"
Transcript staff, 7/22/2010

NORTH ADAMS - Mayor Richard Alcombright, in response to several phone calls regarding water quality issues, sent out a news release Wednesday outlining the reasons for taste and odor issues in the city water supply over the past week.

"First, I would like to assure the public that while some areas of the city are experiencing taste and odor issues, please know that our water is tested daily at the water treatment plant and that our water supply is certainly safe to drink," Alcombright said. "With this very long stretch of hot weather, algae in the reservoirs give off nontoxic chemicals that can cause an earthy-musty taste and smell."

The city Water Department with the assistance of water treatment plant employees, have begun treating the reservoirs with copper sulfate, a chemical designed to kill the algae, Alcombright said, noting that the chemical needs to be added in small doses over a period of time.

The mayor said workers at the treatment plant have taken other steps in the filtration process to help reduce taste and odor issues.

"Finally, the city crews continue the system flushing program, which will help to refresh the supply in both low- and high-service areas," he said.

"It has been reported by the treatment plant that at their site, the taste and odor issues have been resolved, and with continued use and flushing, there should be citywide improvement over the next couple of days," he said. "Once again, I want to assure the public that our water is safe to drink, and we should be back to normal over the next several days."

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"Mayor Richard Alcombright looks back on his first year in office"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, December 24, 2010

This is the first in a two-part series on North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, reflecting on his first year in office and upcoming projects and plans for the coming year.

NORTH ADAMS -- In his first year in office, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright faced many challenges, but he says there were also many positive accomplishments along the way.

"I think I’d describe my first year as being everything from euphoric to disappointing," he said Wednesday, during an interview at his office. "It was euphoric in the sense that we did a lot of good things and disappointing in the sense that every spare minute was spent with my face in the budget book."

Alcombright had the daunting task of taking over from John Barrett III, who had served as mayor a record 26 years and was known for his handling of the budget.

"The fiscal management piece of this office was a little overwhelming in the sense that it took up so much of my time and of the administrative team’s time," Alcombright said. "I feel like I haven’t fulfilled some of my goals for my first year because of it. I think we’re at the beginnings of where we want to be, though."

One of the first challenges of his tenure began even before he took the oath of office at the beginning of January -- the city was already at odds with its unions over shortfalls in the city’s medical insurance trust account.

"I began work on the medical insurance trust issue right after the election -- attending meetings and getting a grasp on what was happening," Alcombright said. "I had said during the campaign that it was something we would tackle immediately. We had the outside audit by Scanlon and Associates, which proved what we thought and created a good settlement with the unions. The settlement was not without significant costs, but it would have been much worse if we had gone into arbitration."

As part of the settlement, the city moved from a self-insured plan to a fully-insured model and no longer manages its own insurance system for city employees.

Alcombright said he kept his campaign promise of making the city’s budget process more transparent with a "open-door" policy, which led to about 15 public meetings with the City Council’s finance subcommittee, during which every line item of the budget was mulled over.

"I also brought the budget to the people -- holding a public meeting at the high school to explain the budget to the residents more directly," he said. "We also created a more comprehensive document, which showed the city’s revenues for the first time. It showed how the cuts of 18 percent in state aid were affecting our revenues and the overall budget."

While there wasn’t a whole lot that could be cut from the budget, the mayor said, he did reduce capital accounts, including eliminating a $4,200 expense account from his own office and returning the two vehicles assigned to his office to the city car pool.

"As part of the budget process, I wanted to show the residents our financial options," he said. "I wasn’t in favor of a Proposition 2 1/2 override, but I wanted to put it out there as an option. I wanted people to understand why we would be instituting a sewer fee and why the depletion of our reserve accounts was necessary."

The decision to raise taxes by 10.4 percent -- the largest increase in recent years -- wasn’t an easy decision, he said.

"I think that was one of the hardest things to do because we had to do it," Alcombright said. "I can apologize for the impact that it’s having on our residents, but I can’t apologize for the process. We needed to do it."

Although the mayor and the City Council have received criticism for their decisions regarding the budget and the medical insurance trust settlement, Alcombright said comments in a financial-management-review report for the state Department of Revenue helped him confirm that the tough decisions made this year were the right ones.

"In the review, we were commended for making tough decisions in the face of such financial stress," he said. "It also recommended that the budget procedures we used this year be adopted as an ordinance. It was very gratifying to know they thought that the process we embarked on this year should be the norm."

The recommendation to adopt the new budget process is the mayor’s answer to his critics, many of whom questioned whether he would be able to handle the budget process.

"When I was running for office, it was said that I didn’t have the financial expertise for this position, despite all my years in banking," Alcombright said. "I think this recommendation shows that I came into this office with the needed expertise, especially since the state thinks my process is a good way to do it."

Despite all the financial challenges heaped onto his plate in the first few months in office, the mayor said there have been many positive accomplishments peppered throughout the last year, including:

* The strengthening of relationships between Northern Berkshire communities;

* The creation of a veterans agent for North Adams, Adams and Williamstown;

* The city’s takeover of its water treatment plant from a private firm;

* The expansion of city events through Develop North Adams, a nonprofit group;

* Beginning the process of creating a master plan for the city.

"One of the things I’m really proud of is the regionalized veterans agent," Alcombright said. "We’re really reaching out into the community like we haven’t been able to in the past, and we’re proving more and better services to our veterans. It’s our first real collaborative effort.

"And I have great respect for all the town administrators -- Peter Fohlin in Williamstown, Jonathan Butler in Adams, Michael Canales in Clarksburg and Christine Dobbert in Florida. I look forward to more collaborations with them."

He said he believes the decision to end the contract with United Water and bring the water treatment facility back under the city’s management was a good fiscal move.

"We expect to save the city about $30,000 to $40,000 at the end of the year," he said. "I think it was a well-thought-out decision. I also think the city will benefit immensely from bringing Tim Lescarbeau on as superintendent of public services. He’s a civil engineer and has a lot of expertise. We got a bargain, based on what he was making at United Water, even though it might not look like it on paper."

The city also hired a new treasurer, Aubrey Dumas, and a new assessor, Ross Vivori, in recent months. Vivori replaced Christopher Lamarre, who left the city to take an assessor position in Great Barrington.

"Ross Vivori is a lifelong resident of North Adams," Alcombright said. "We had 14 applications, and we interviewed six people for the position. We had two sparkling interviews of the six, and it was a really difficult decision to make, but Ross had the project-based experience we were looking for -- and he was a Realtor in the past as well."

The mayor said he is also proud of the expansion of community events through the help of Develop North Adams, which included a "Hometown Holidays" campaign with city merchants, events planned around the Wilco Solid Sound Festival with Mass MoCA in August and the addition of benches in the downtown.
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Part two of the series will run Saturday.
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"Mayor looks to new year of challenges, opportunities"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, December 24, 2010
This is the second of a two-part series with Mayor Richard Alcombright, reflecting on his first year in office and upcoming projects and plans for the coming year.

NORTH ADAMS -- With his first year in office almost behind him, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright is looking forward to the New Year, which he believes will bring many financial challenges but also a host of opportunities to grow community events and market the city.

"The first thing on my agenda is to hire a new chief administrative officer to replace Jay Green, who will be leaving us shortly," he said last week during an interview in his office. "We’re also going to begin reviewing the budgets for the city and school department, both internally and with the City Council’s finance committee -- within the first week or two of the New Year. My financial review team is also going to begin taking a comprehensive look at the first six months of the year and examine where our expense accounts are."

The mayor also anticipates receiving the city’s audit report from Scanlon and Associates in the next few weeks, which will be a jumping off point to begin discussions for the fiscal 2012 budget.

"We’re going to begin the next fiscal year with a $1.2 million structural deficit," Alcombright warned. "In the next few weeks, we should also have some idea from the state Senate of where our revenues are going to fall.

"State cuts are looming. They could be anywhere from 6 percent to 12 percent in the coming year."

With just over $300,000 left in the city’s reserve accounts, the mayor anticipates having to make tough cuts in an already tight budget.

"I don’t anticipate taxes rising as high as they did this year, but we are going to be making cuts to the budget," he said. "Everything is on the table. There’s not a lot that we can do, so there is a possibility that we will have to cut positions. The former administration was able to control costs through attrition, but I really don’t have that option. At the same time, I can’t afford to lose more people -- we’re going to have to scrutinize everything and make some very careful but tough decisions."

Despite the looming fiscal issues, the mayor remains upbeat about the coming year, especially with the opportunities he sees coming down the pipeline -- such as the start of construction on the Walmart Supercenter in the late spring or early summer and improvements to city infrastructure.

"We’re going to continue working on plans for the armory, and we’re going to see some very nice improvements at Windsor Lake and Historic Valley Campground in the coming year," Alcombright said. "Wilco will be returning to Mass MoCA this summer, from June 24 to June 26, so we have another opportunity to expand on community events. We’re in talks of opening up some of the city’s fields for ‘light camping’ to accommodate those coming to the Solid Sound Festival. We’ll also have another summer of DownStreet Art, and Sidewalk Sam will be coming to the city for a much larger project."

Sidewalk Sam is a street artist who will participate in the drawing of a huge mural in the Mass MoCA parking lot behind Big Y. The entire community will be invited to take part.

The mayor also hopes to announce revised plans for the development of the Mohawk Theater in March.

"I didn’t think the original plans were sustainable," he said. "I don’t believe the original plan had enough partners involved, and I don’t think it should be managed by the city. We’re currently in discussions and are formulating what I believe is a more sustainable plan for the future."

The city will also see the completion of several projects, including the ongoing streetscape project in the downtown and the final phase of the Harriman and West Airport runway expansion -- a runway safety area required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We’re also going to begin working really hard on the formal planning process next year and on marketing the city better," Alcombright said. "I recently applied for a grant to allow us to embark on a ‘branding’ effort for the city. We do not sell ourselves well and because of that, we sell ourselves short."

He said the city will continue working on a master plan in the coming year, holding a joint meeting of the City Council, Planning Board and the Zoning Board to go over an initial planning document put together the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission through a District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) grant.

"The document contains five or six elements of a master plan," the mayor said. "We didn’t get the master planning grant that we were hoping for through the last round of funding, but we’re hoping that we’ll get another DLTA grant in the upcoming round of funding that will allow us to continue working side-by-side with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. We’ll also be hosting community ‘visioning’ sessions, as part of the master plan process, over the next several months."

The city also will receive a report from the state Department of Justice in the next few months, following an audit of the city’s buildings for compliance with the American Disabilities Act in November.

"It will be interesting to see what the report has to say and the community’s reaction to it," Alcombright said. "As part of the audit, we recently re-appointed and re-established the city’s Disability Commission."

While the city will be dealing with tough financial times for the next few years, he said he remains optimistic.

"We’ll be entering the future without any reserves, but any little bit of revenues we have left over will go towards rebuilding what we need, which will be a good thing," he said. "It’s not the time to sit back -- we can build some good things for the future."
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The Steeple City Plaza in downtown North Adams. Leaders plan to revitalize the city by building a downtown conference center, adding artists’ residences and redeveloping vacant properties. (Gillian Jones/New England Newspapers)

"City leaders outline revival"
By Glenn Drohan, New England Newspapers (The North Adams Transcript & The Berkshire Eagle), January 11, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- The city, Mass MoCA and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have created a nonprofit partnership designed to stimulate local economic development through bold initiatives centering on culture, education and tourism.

The Partnership for North Adams unveiled a multi-pronged plan Monday to move the city toward self-sufficiency through private and public investment, creating jobs, developing new housing and a downtown conference center, promoting renewable energy, and establishing an "educational enclave" in historic vacant buildings east of the downtown.

Specifically, the partnership has proposed:

* Building housing developments near Mass MoCA and MCLA that would serve tenants in the fields of art and education.

* Filling vacant properties such as St. Francis and Notre Dame churches, Conte Middle School and others nearby with educational programs through partnerships with MCLA and other institutions.

* Commissioning a world-renowned architect to build a conference center and meeting place capable of serving 200 to 300 on the south side of Main Street.

* Creating a small community wind farm with six to eight turbines on the ridge line east of the city to supply local power.

* Enhancing the riverfront along the south branch of the Hoosic River to provide development opportunities, recreational space and a new "gateway" into the city.

"It's been 25 years since the idea of Mass MoCA was first proposed. It's time for a grand new idea," said John B. DeRosa, president of the partnership. "We need to take the next step."

No timetable was specified for the initiatives, which are not set in stone but will evolve as discussions take place and new partnerships are explored and developed, DeRosa said.

He and founding members Joseph C. Thompson -- Mass MoCA's director -- and Mary K. Grant, MCLA president, joined Mayor Richard J. Alcombright at a morning news conference at DeRosa's offices at Mass MoCA. They said the plan calls for advancing public-private partnerships that will lead to 100 new jobs, 100 new market-rate houses, 100 new residents, 10 megawatts of renewable energy, and $100 million of private investment.

"This is not about making a plan and putting it on a shelf. This is about finding specific projects and moving on them," DeRosa said.

He stressed that private investment will be the key to moving the initiatives forward, getting properties back on the city's tax roles and spurring business development.

"The public sector can only do so much," Alcombright said. "Thirty-six years in the banking business tells me that nothing ever grows without private investment."

The partnership said it will seek private investors willing to commit "seed money" for the economic development initiatives. Several investors have been identified, and the partnership intends to announce a board of directors within the next weeks comprising all sectors of the North Berkshire community.

The city will take the lead on redeveloping neighborhoods, at first targeting market-rate and moderate-income housing projects in the River Street area and near the college through federal and state housing programs and private investors.

In the River Street area, the focus will be on an "art cluster" housing for artists and museum interns. There are roughly 30 vacant lots in the neighborhood, mostly owned by the city, which have been created over the past two decades by tearing down deteriorating houses and removing blight.

Near the college, the focus will be on housing for students, faculty and college retirees, primarily in the Ashland Street neighborhood, as part of "an integrated living and learning community."

MCLA will be the lead partner in redeveloping vacant properties off East Main and North Church streets into a "downtown campus," seeking educational partners to create programs in fields such as graphic design and architecture. The idea is not only to re-use the buildings but also to retain "the essential character of the architecture, including the church steeples, which are part of the visual identity of the city," according to the partnership.

Among the buildings identified as either owned by the city or available for sale are Conte Middle School, St. Francis Church, the former Notre Dame Church and school, the First Methodist church, a former funeral parlor and a former dentist's office.

Mass MoCA will take the lead in attempting to build a downtown conference center, drawing on its contacts in the international art world to attract interest.

While the project would require significant investment -- and likely an agreement with the owner of the Steeple City Plaza shopping area -- the partnership believes it could secure investment from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

Thompson said he is excited about the prospects of building a small, beautifully designed conference center that could aid the city's lodging and downtown businesses.

"It's not about signs. It's not about kiosks. It's about developing commerce, activity and a destination," he said. "The downtown is not densely enough developed -- there's too much parking and not enough buildings. This kind of development would do wonders."

The partnership plans to enlist private partners to use tax incentives and other programs for a small wind farm east of the city off Route 2, where preliminary studies have indicated wind power is viable. A private limited liability company, along with Mass MoCA, MCLA, North Adams Regional Hospital and the city, could own the turbines, and all power would be used locally.

Plans also call for the partnership to collaborate with the Hoosic River Revival Coalition to develop the corridor along the south branch of the Hoosic, including the expansion of the Noel Field Athletic Complex and the creation of riverside parks. The coalition has been developing a master plan for the river and working with U.S. Rep. John W. Olver's office to secure federal grant funding.

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North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright delivers his State of the City address at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. (Ryan Hutton/North Adams Transcript)

"Three topics dominate Mayor's State of the City address"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, January 12, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- While he said the coming fiscal year looks "bleak at best," Mayor Richard Alcombright pledged to do everything in his power to move the city forward in the coming year during his State of the City address to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Alcombright said three topics will dominate his agenda for the coming year, and all three will have significant impact on the city’s future and ability to grow. They are planning, branding and marketing the city and fiscal management.

"I want to be certain that the momentum we have with planning continues," he said. "Planning for the city in conjunction with regional efforts will bear significant fruit over time. We cannot step back from this process. We owe it to ourselves to continue to entertain ideas and welcome input."

To do so, Alcombright said, the city must become a player in the regional game at a high level.

He said the city has applied for a small grant to begin a new branding effort for North Adams as he said he has always felt "we do not market ourselves well."

"We cannot continue to sell ourselves short by saying we can’t afford this or we can’t afford that," he said. "There are communities all over this country that are doing unique and interesting things to grow. I truly understand that people in the city are hurting for all of those people, we should be making every effort to find ways to stimulate growth and investment."

Alcombright added that he will continue fiscal oversight of the city’s finances in an open and transparent way. As the city enters the FY 2012 budget process, Alcombright said North Adams faces a $1.2 million structural deficit. Combined with a 8 to 10 percent cut in state aid, that comes to a nearly $2 million total deficit he said. It will not be pretty, he added, but through discussions, the city will find solutions and make adjustments.

"So what is next, and what gives us hope that things are getting better?" he asked. "I will continue to aggressively move our planning processes forward to be certain we are well positioned for what the future might hold."

Alcombright said he remembers the day, almost exactly one year ago, that he stood in the City Council chambers and was sworn in as mayor of North Adams.

"I remember thinking that day ‘My God, what have I gotten myself into?’ " he said. "I wasn’t thinking that with regrets, fear or second thoughts, just having a pretty good understanding that what was ahead of me was daunting to say the least."

He said he remembers facing issues including the medical insurance trust , significant blight problems, a disengaged business community, detachment from the rest of North County, the need to become less reliant on state aid and the lack of a formal planning process for 40 years, as well as statistics that showed North Adams was one of the poorest communities in the state and had some of the lowest cash reserves in the state.

While the medical trust settlement will cost the city $1 million over three years, Alcombright said he was glad it was less than the $2-3 million the city could have been liable for.

"I took pride in settling what I maintain has been the largest and most grossly under-reported fiscal fiasco North Adams has ever encountered," he said. "The city will feel the effects of this for several more years to come."

Alcombright said he also took pride in overseeing the completion and continuation of many projects in the city, including the rehabilitation of the city airport, repaving the major corridors of the city, rehabilitation of the downtown sidewalks, streets and lighting, adding benches to the downtown and the continued work on the Hadley Overpass. The vast majority of this work, he said, was done with federal and state money with very little burden on the taxpayers of this city.

"Throughout my campaign, I stressed that there was no money to spend but plenty of time to plan," he said. "North Adams is a beautiful place with plenty of community interest. Despite all we have going for us, we have not grown. All indicators will show that despite all the growing arts and cultural community, this fine city has continued to decline."

With that decline, he said, comes issues one would find in an urban area many times the size of North Adams, and he added it will not improve until the local economy grows.

To help grow the economy, the city received a district local technical assistance grant last spring, and Alcombright said he wants to use it to have the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission look at all of the city’s prior plans that have been "gathering dust" in City Hall. North Adams has not had a master plan or formal planning process since 1973, he said, and he wants BRPC to come up with a new document that will be the catalyst to re-engage in planning with residents and North County neighbors.

"I am truly looking forward to this coming year and please remember, my mind is always open and my door is never closed," Alcombright said in closing.

To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail rhutton@thetranscript.com.

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"Fuel help may still be short"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, January 28, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- The state’s heating assistance program just received an additional boost of $8.6 million from the federally-funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP) program, but the amount trickling down to the Berkshires isn’t enough to meet the growing demand, according to the executive director of the Berkshire Community Action Council.

"The release of funding is a good thing, but the sad thing is that we’re still about $2 million below the level of funding we’ve received over the last couple of years," Executive Director Donald Atwater said Wednesday. "We’ve also seen the need in the county increase. We’ve already taken in over 10,000 applications -- about 1,500 more than last year."

Last winter, the agency spent about $8 million on heating assistance, providing help to some 8,500 households around the county. The program provides assistance to those heating with oil, propane, kerosene, natural gas, electricity, wood and wood pellets.

The average benefit to households this winter is about $700, and that will increase slightly from the latest influx of federal aid, Atwater said.

"It’s not a lot when you consider the average oil tank holds 275 gallons -- about $852 worth, based on our contracted price of $3.10 per gallon of oil," he said. "The increase will probably pay for less than another 100 gallons of oil.

"Our thought is this latest increase will get most people through to the middle of February, when things usually start warming up. With that in mind, we’re hopeful the weather will get better and we won’t have any more of these days where the temperature is minus 15 degrees."

While the additional funds will help struggling families with the cost of heating, he said, the funds will have to be spread out among the agency’s ever-growing list of clients.

"Our numbers have been rising steadily over the last few years -- we’re seeing on average about 1,000 new applications a year," Atwater said. "In 2008, we helped 6,300 households. It increased to 7,700 households in 2009 and 8,500 households in 2010. Those numbers are for the entire duration of the program, which runs from Nov. 1 to April 30. Here we are on Jan. 26, and we’re already at 1,049 new customers -- new first-time people who have never applied before. We still have February, March and April to go, so we still have time to qualify even more households."

Households must meet federal guidelines to receive assistance. A single individual must have an annual income of less than $30,751 to qualify. For a household of two, the annual income level would have to be less than $40,213. For a household of three, the annual income must be less than $49,675, while a family of four would have to make less than $59,137 annually.

Benefit levels vary, depending on family sizes and whether the qualifying household rents an apartment or owns a home.

Atwater attributed the increasing number of needy households to a still-lagging economy.

"It really is the economy -- more people are losing their jobs and more people are unemployed," he said. "People are also going without raises."

He added, "You also have to stop and think about how our local economy has changed over the last few decades. Sprague and General Electric are gone. We’ve seen the overall average wage in this area go down. We’ve been left with an economy in which most of our employment opportunities are service-based jobs, which are not the best paying jobs."

He noted that the recent federal appropriation for LiHEAP, currently at $4.14 billion -- including the recent release of $200 million in emergency contingency funds and an additional $1.6 billion released on Jan. 11 -- is still far short of last year’s level. In fiscal 2010, Congress released a total of $5.1 billion for the federally-funded program, which is distributed to states, territories and tribal councils through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It’s a challenging thing, and it’s scary to think of what is going to happen in the future as the federal government struggles to deal with a $3 trillion deficit," Atwater said.

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"City Council responds to antics in Open Forum"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, March 9, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Council President Ronald Boucher put Open Forum speakers on notice at the beginning of Tuesday night’s meeting, telling them they’ll now have to register with him prior to the start of a council meeting if they want their two minutes.

They’ll also have to tell him what topic they plan to speak about before the meeting.

"Disrespect of this council or any city official will not be tolerated," Boucher said. "The voice of our residents is important, but a degree of respect must be shown. It is a privilege, not a right, to address this council body."

He said the new rule, which will go into effect at the next meeting on March 22, is in response to events that happened during the Open Forum at the council’s February 22 meeting. At that meeting, council critic Robert Cardimino compared Mayor Richard J. Alcombright to convicted felon Bernie Madoff while holding up a picture of Madoff in front of the public access video camera.

The offense wasn’t the first for Cardimino, who has previously been banned from Council Chambers by Councilor Alan Marden when he was president. The council’s two-minute time limit for Open Forum is also known as the "Cardimino Rule."

It also wasn’t Cardimino’s first offense under Boucher’s presidency. He’s held up signs -- only visible to the camera -- on which he has questioned the mayor’s character at previous meetings. Last year, he held up signs calling the mayor names, including "Despicable Dick," while questioning Alcombright’s policies. He has also openly attacked Councilor Michael Bloom for being on the city’s insurance plan, argued with Councilor Lisa Blackmer during a discussion of an agenda item and spoken on topics other than the agenda item on the table, despite being gaveled by Boucher.

"Some people who appear before this council believe the First Amendment protects their right to say anything they want," Boucher said. "I have no problem with residents who want to voice their feelings in a respectable manner."

Alcombright addressed the issue later in the meeting, stating that while the council has supported his administration, he feels that the continual grandstanding and personal attacks upon himself and several City Councilors over the past 15 months need to be addressed in a firm and timely manner.

"I do not agree that Open Forum time should be used to push personal agendas," he aid. "I have a thick skin. However, I will not continue to come to meetings where I am openly mocked and ridiculed.

"Mr. Cardimino has been allowed to publicly compare me to Bernie Madoff while holding up a photo of him. He has held up signs that have called me ‘Despicable Dick.’ I’m sure I’m not the only one who held their breath several months ago as he walked up to the council president with a large rock which was concealed in a bag during the meeting."

Alcombright was referring to Cardimino’s presentation of a 130-signature petition against the city’s sewer usage fee.

Alcombright encouraged Boucher to stop the "personal libelous and slanderous attacks."

"I will not be bullied out of this room," the mayor said. "However, I have issue when my credibility is attacked. I have worked hard to establish my reputation -- 36 years in the banking world and 19 years on the McCann School Committee. I encourage you to take swift and decisive action to stifle or ban these commenters."

Cardimino, speaking during Open Forum, criticized the new policy, which will be presented as a change to Council Rule No. 11 at the March 22 meeting, saying it was a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.

"As far as respect, it’s a two-way street," he said. "I have been insulted by the council president. At the same time, you’re elected officials -- open up the door."

Cardimino also said he has the right to publicly ridicule the mayor, pointing to editorial cartoons which satirize elected officials, including President Barack Obama, on a daily basis.

"If I want to draw a comparison to Bernie Madoff, I can," he said. "You’re violating my constitutional rights."

Boucher said he’d challenge him on several points.

"You go ahead and challenge me," Cardimino responded, angry that his two minutes had ended after being interrupted by Boucher. "You’re in violation of your own policy, which says there will be no response to Open Forum speakers."

To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.

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"Enough is enough"
The North Adams Transcript, Editorial, March 10, 2011

It’s about time City Council President Ronald Boucher took action to curb the antics of the persistently pugnacious Robert Cardimino, who has been a thorn in council proceedings, off and on, for more than 30 years (Transcript story, March 9).

While Mr. Cardimino sometimes makes valid points, he has too often resorted to making them through personal attacks and attempts to belittle government leaders. Council presidents over the years have, to our mind, been too lenient in dealing with him -- allowing him to rant and get off topic more often than not. In many cases, he should have been gaveled out of order or removed from council chambers, if necessary. Under council rules, he has the right to speak, but he doesn’t have a right to break the rules, which he has done, time and time again -- and gotten away with it.

On the other hand, we would hate to see Mr. Cardimino banned from council meetings. He is among only a handful of local residents who attend on a regular basis, and if he weren’t there, we’d venture to guess the council would lose a large part of its public-access television audience -- no doubt many tune in just to see what Mr. Cardimino will come up with next.

The workings of local government can be quite dull at times -- witness the hour-long presentation a couple of weeks back on the three-year process of developing a master plan (here’s our plan on how to come up with a plan -- yawn).

Public input is often needed to liven things up or to present questions and issues councilors may not be aware of or may need to pay more attention to. But when such input disrupts meetings or threatens to turn them into a comedy hour, action must be taken.

We believe Mr. Boucher’s new rules -- and firmer hand with the gavel -- can return decorum to the proceedings while still allowing public discussion.

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"Cardimino bites back"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, March 12, 2011

To the Editor:

This is in response to the March 9 article "Council responds to antics in Open Forum." The old story goes, the first casualty of a news story is accuracy.

Council President Boucher telling speakers at open forum they will have to register with him in writing, and state what topics they plan to speak about: This is censure. That’s what a totalitarian government does, Mr. Boucher.

Regarding "respect of the speakers," especially from you Mr. Boucher: When I was recognized to speak at the Open Forum, you said, and I quote, "the Cardimino show." Is that respect? That’s happened more than once. Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.

Now, for the accuracy of the Feb. 22 meeting. I did not call the mayor Bernie Madoff. What I said was. "Whose watching the store, Bernie Madoff?" That was in regards to the city workers plowing private driveways.

As for Alan Marden banning me from the council chambers, that never happened. And couldn’t happen even if he wanted to.

As far as the signs go, I didn’t hold up the signs only visible to the camera. The signs did question the mayor, but only one said Devious Dick. That nickname stems from the meeting held at Drury High School when the mayor told everyone the Department of Revenue told him he had to "tax to the maximum." That’s not true. The DOR can only recommend; they cannot demand. Devious Dick said that on different occasions, and once was at a council meeting.

The mayor spoke at the last meeting for about 10 minutes about my ridiculing him and comparing him to Bernie Madoff. Well, Mr. Mayor, you’re lucky you are not a Republican or you would be ridiculed every day in the local papers. And get it right, Mr. Mayor -- not "Despicable Dick;" the sign said Devious Dick. If you don’t like that nickname, then "man up" and tell the taxpayers like it is and you won’t be ridiculed.

As far as the rock goes, I presented that as a "joke." With a smile on my face, I said let’s see you get blood out of this. Councilor Boucher still has it. It was in reference to the mayor and the council raising our taxes 12 percent, water fee 10 percent and sewer fee is 100 percent. I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.

It’s about time the mayor and council started representing the people in North Adams and respect the Constitution of the United States of America, especially the First Amendment.

Now the editor is weighing in on the rules of the council [Enough is enough, March 10]. He only tries to cite when I am in violation, which I am not. Asking hard questions in bringing to light some of the back-rooms decision that embarrassed the mayor and council is not breaking the rules. Although they don’t like it, too bad.

The rules are broken at the meeting by the councilors themselves. You ought to watch the meetings and see for yourself. At the March 8 meeting, during Councilors Concerns, the mayor is allowed to speak for 10 minutes -- a violation of council rules. Councilors Concerns are for councilors only. The mayor is a guest of the council meetings like everyone else that attends. If he has an ax to grind, he has to do it at Open Forum with two minutes like everyone else.

As far as insults go, Mr. Editor, you have tried to belittle me with such insults as cantankerous, vociferous, perpetually argumentative and persistently pugnacious. How do you figure you can cast the first stone? Your readers expect more from your paper than insults. How about some investigative and accurate reporting of the antics by our government officials?

I know you are pro-Alcombright, but you should be printing what’s going on with this administration. Maybe your paper will gain more respect; your circulation might go up. Don’t spin the facts. The mayor is digging his own hole. He’s not fooling everyone. People are disgusted, angry and worried about the direction the city is heading. Raising taxes and fees will not encourage business to locate here and will drive taxpayers lower into poverty.

I would like to thank Councilor Harpin for questioning the mayor. She is my kind of councilor. I could go on and on, but enough is enough for now. The city needs a watchdog, but so far you or your reporters are not one of them.

Robert Cardimino
North Adams, Massachusetts
March 11, 2011

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"North Adams mayor will seek return"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The North Adams Transcript & The Berkshire Eagle, April 8, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright is hoping voters will once again rally behind him, as he seeks a second term in the corner office.

He'll officially announce his candidacy tonight at 5 at the Eagle Street Pocket Park, next to Persnickety Toys. A small public reception, on the second floor of Desperado's, also on Eagle Street, will be held after the announcement.

"It's two years to the day, today, that I announced I was going to run [for the first time]," Alcombright said Thursday. "It was a big day for me, not only because it was a change in career, but a change in lifestyle as well. The timing is really reminiscent to my first announcement."

He said he chose tonight, as opposed to the actual anniversary of his first announcement, as a way to allow his supporters more flexibility to attend the event and reception.

The location of today's announcement holds some special significance, Alcombright noted.

"I think the pocket park is symbolic of some of the things we've accomplished during my first term in office," he said. "For me, it's symbolic of some of the small things we've done and of the new things happening in the city -- a new openness. I think it represents the reinvigoration of a spirit of volunteerism in the city and signs of growth we've seen on Main and Eagle streets."

He added, "The park also is symbolic of the birth and growth of Develop North Adams, the resurgence of our merchants' group, our move toward becoming a green community and our commitment to a more green environment in the city. The location speaks on a lot of levels -- from how we got here to where things are moving along to in the city -- all with the help of a lot of energized people."

Nomination papers for the position of mayor as well as for the city's nine council seats are available at the city clerk's office. The nomination forms, which require signatures from registered voters in the city, must be returned to the clerk's office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

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"A troubling matter"
The North Adams Transcript, Editorial, April 12, 2011

We wish Michelle Alcombright, wife of Mayor Richard Alcombright, a speedy and full recovery from the health issues, anxiety and depression that her husband has acknowledged she is undergoing.

While her recent arrest in Ruskin, Fla., on charges of shoplifting more than $300 worth of merchandise from a department store was admittedly "humiliating," Mrs. Alcombright is certainly no hardened criminal. She is clearly suffering an illness, and our hearts go out to her and her family.

Mayor Alcombright has asked the public to allow his family to deal with this matter privately from this point on, and we respect that position. His wife's transgression in Florida has nothing to do with the office of mayor and the city of North Adams. Her illness is indeed a personal matter that should be handled out of the public view.

On the other hand, numerous bloggers and posters on Internet message boards have repeatedly raised the question of whether Mayor Alcombright used his position last summer to bury an alleged shoplifting offense by his wife at the local Walmart. If true, this is a matter of grave public concern. However, to date, no evidence has been presented to back this very serious charge. Unless such evidence comes forth, this newspaper will no longer allow its message boards to reference discussion on that issue. According to police and court records, no arrest was ever made, and no charges were ever filed. Without evidence, all the rantings on the Internet are mere speculation and amount to a smear campaign.

We condemn those who have relished Mrs. Alcombright's arrest or reacted with glee to the mayor's dilemma. They deserve the contempt that should be shown to anyone who kicks people when they are down or makes fun of those who are ill.

While we understand and respect the family's need for privacy at this point, it is our sincere hope that one day Mrs. Alcombright will not only recover but also will become strong enough to emerge into the public eye and use her position to help others who suffer from similar problems.

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"Mayor eyes budget cuts"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The North Adams Transcript & The Berkshire Eagle, April 22, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Balancing the city's $40.3 million fiscal 2012 budget could require a Proposition 2 1 2 override or drastic cuts to non-critical city services, such as the public library, senior programming and maintenance of city fields.

Cutting services isn't something Mayor Richard J. Alcombright wants to consider, but balancing the budget won't come without cuts or an increase in taxes he warned while presenting preliminary figures to the city's Finance Committee on Thursday.

He plans to present a finalized fiscal 2012 budget to the Finance Committee on May 2.

"Close the library -- not in my community," Alcombright said. "Can you imagine what would happen if on July 1 we stopped mowing the baseball fields? We're a community that lives off our recreational fields. We're struggling, but as a community we rally around our library, schools and sports."

But in order to keep the services residents are used to, they'll have to find a way to fund the budget without the use of fiscal reserves, which were nearly depleted last year in a move to stave off a $1.2 million structural deficit and avoid an override.

"Currently we're heading into fiscal 2012 with a $1.26 million structural deficit," he said. "Funding this budget is not going to happen without pain. We're at a crossroads. We were there last year and utilized our reserves to fund the budget. We've done that for the last four years and we can no longer do it."

The mayor said the city also can no longer rely on the state and federal government to help fund its budget.

"It's clear the state can't help us anymore," Alcombright said. "We're also at risk of losing some $330,000 from our federal Community Development Block Grant funding, of which 18 percent is administrative funding. That's about $58,000 in administrative salaries from the Office of Community Development."

The city has already lost some $250,000 in federal Medex reimbursements and is anticipating a 7 percent cut -- $271,590 -- in state aid.

"We are on our own," Alcombright said. "Part of the problem, which is no fault of this administration or any prior administration, is that over 50 percent of our budget comes from state aid. It's something we can't control. In Williamstown it accounts for 7 percent of their budget. If Williamstown is cut 7 percent, it's like a little cut. When we get cut 7 percent, it's a cut to the jugular, and we keep bleeding.

"At the same time, we as a community need to find a way to keep our recreational facilities and library open, keep police on the streets and guarantee a high quality education for our children."

He said the city's financial team had already cut the fat from every department in the city.

"We're looking to cut another $200,000 before I return with the budget on May 2," the mayor said.

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"Mayor Alcombright thanks all"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, May 3, 2011

To the Editor:

On behalf of the city of North Adams, I want to thank all those who organized and worked at the Community Day of Service event held this past Saturday.

I will not name names at the risk of missing some, however, this day of service requires months of planning and willing bodies to grow and be so successful year after year. What is so special about this event is that it highlights the rich and strong relationship between MCLA and the greater North Adams community.

Our student residents do so much within the community to help not only clean up our streets but also mentor and tutor our children, serve neighborhood groups, provide for strong internships and much more. Our MCLA students are an incredible asset. I would also like to thank our DPW and public safety personnel as well as our local Boys Scouts.

I ask the community as you move about the city this week, to observe the wonderful work provided this past weekend by students, community groups and residents and that we all make a conscious effort to keep our neighborhoods clean. Finally, please take note of our colorful crosswalks at the intersection of St. Anthony Drive and Marshall Street. Once again, thank you to all.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright
North Adams, Massachusetts
May 1, 2011

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"Mayor to seek $1.2M override"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, May 6, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright expects to seek City Council approval of a special election for a $1.2 million Proposition 2-1/2 override by the end of the coming week.

An override is necessary to balance the city’s projected $40.2 million fiscal 2012 budget, which the mayor said he is still in the process of finalizing.

"For the average single-family home valued at $135,800, it will add about $237 to the annual tax bill. For a home valued at $200,000, it will be an additional $350 a year," Alcombright said during a meeting of the council’s finance subcommittee Thursday night.

Should the override fail to pass, he said the city would be forced to cut services the public has come to expect -- closing such amenities as the public library, the senior center and Windsor Lake.

"I don’t know what it will affect specifically, because I haven’t gotten that far," the mayor said. "I did talk to city employees last week and gave some examples, but I talked in generalities because I still don’t know what would be closed."

Alcombright said he had hoped to bring the request for an override to the council during next Tuesday’s meeting, but decided to put it off for another week as he finalized the budget. If approved by the council, the mayor anticipates voters will go to the polls on June 21.

"In the coming weeks, I’ll present ‘Plan B’ -- what we’ll do if the override doesn’t get approved -- at a series of six to eight public presentations," the mayor said.

Trimming the budget, which has already been hit hard by reduced Medicaid payments from the federal government and an anticipated 7 percent reduction in state aid, hasn’t been easy. He said cutting positions from the library or fire department may seem like an easy solution, but after paying out unemployment and insurance benefits, along with overtime to cover mandated shifts, the savings gained by the city wouldn’t be greatly reduced.

"If I cut over 10 percent from the library’s budget, we stand to lose three times that amount in state reimbursements," Alcombright said. "I don’t want to close the library, the senior center or the lake. I don’t want to be having these conversations."

He also noted that while the city had settled with a few of its unions, he had canceled contract negotiations with those remaining until after the budget was approved.

Resident Wayne Goodell of Barbour Street questioned if the mayor had asked the unions to pay more for their insurance benefits or take a pay cut. Alcombright said the city is waiting to see if proposed state legislation regarding insurance negotiations with state employees is passed.

"Even then our hands may be tied -- we signed an agreement with the unions during the negotiations over the medical insurance trust that may make them immune to any law until 2013," he said. "I also have my reservations about asking them to take a pay cut. Our employees don’t make a lot."

Goodell shot back that a vast majority of the city’s taxpayers are on fixed incomes, and that many elderly residents receiving Social Security haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in over two years.

"They have job security," he said of the city’s employees.

Alcombright responded, "Not in this budget. I’ve told our employees that even with an override, they can expect that jobs will be eliminated, reduced and go unfilled."

Councilors Ronald Boucher and David Bond questioned how the sale of city-owned land, buildings and timber from parcels in Stamford, Vt., could impact the budget.

"Even if we sold off $4 million worth of property tomorrow, I wouldn’t want to use that money to buffer our budget -- it would only delay the inevitable," Alcombright said. "We’d never close this deficit."

However, he said any land sales that put property back on the city’s tax roll would increase its tax levy limit, lessening the amount need to be raised by an override.

"We still need to move forward with a $1.2 million override vote," he said. "I’m working behind the scenes on several creative projects that could benefit everyone in the city, but I don’t want to speak about them too soon.

To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.

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"Compromise needed"
The North Adams Transcript, Opinion: Editorial, May 16, 2011

North Adams may very well need a Proposition 2-1/2 override to cope with a budget deficit in the coming fiscal year. But Mayor Richard Alcombright and the City Council acted prematurely Friday in setting an amount for that override and a ballot date.

We side with the four councilors who voted against setting the override vote for June 21 for several reasons. Foremost, the council will not be finished with its budget review by that time. Secondly, former Mayor John Barrett III is among those saying there are reserve funds available that could be used to offset the amount of the override, if not completely negate it.

Thirdly, city taxpayers have already been hit with increased taxes and sewage fees this year, but the mayor has granted pay raises -- in some cases retroactive pay raises -- to every union, with more pay raises for the coming years in the works.

We have no doubt Mayor Alcombright is sincere in his wish to see the city stand on its own two feet, without having to rely on excessive aid from the state (aid that has been drying up more and more each year). The city’s tax rate is still relatively low compared to most communities. However, many in the private sector have either lost jobs or seen no pay raises in three to four years. Those on Social Security have seen no cost of living increases. During times like this, raises and increased taxes do not sit well.

We believe some kind of compromise from the mayor’s office will be necessary if he wants this override to fly. The public perception now is that he is giving away the store to unions while socking it to the taxpayer. If he (and the council) can knock down the $1.2 million to a more palatable number -- through smaller pay increases, perhaps some unpaid furloughs and some judicious use of remaining reserves, chances of voters passing an override would be much greater.

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Nearly 60 of these signs placed by city resident Robert Cardimino have been stolen. The signs refer to North Adams’ proposed $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override. (Above, Ryan Hutton/North Adams Transcript)
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"Signs for movement against Prop. 2 1/2 override are stolen"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, June 7, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- When resident Robert Cardimino heard about the proposed $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override the city is being asked to consider, he didn't like it, and he took his displeasure to the streets -- posting about 65 signs around town asking people to vote against it.

A week after saturating the city with his signs, Cardimino said that up to 60 of them have been stolen.

"I think somebody out there is trying to suppress the opposition to the override," Cardimino said. "But it's only going to make us stronger and more determined."

Cardimino said he thinks there is some sort of organized effort to remove his signs from public view from people in the community that want to see the override pass -- but could not speculate on who might be behind it.

The proposed override would permanently raise taxes to cover a $1.2 million deficit in the city budget. Mayor Richard Alcombright has said in recent weeks that the override is necessary to avoid layoffs, draining the city's reserve accounts and deep cuts to programs and services such as the schools and library.

Cardimino has been a vocal opponent of the proposed override at various City Council meetings, and said on Monday that he has spoken with a lot of people that support his cause.

"I've had plenty of people asking me for signs, but I tell them that if they can't bring it in at night, they shouldn't even bother because it's going to get stolen," he said.

Cardimino said he spoke to the North Adams Police Department about the problem of his missing signs, but admits there is not much they can do about it because stolen signs should not be high on their list of priorities. However, he added that he would still like to see the thefts stop.

"These people are out stealing night after night for over a week," he said. "That's not alright."

While the signs have been going missing for nearly a week, Cardimino said he has made his own break in the case.

"For three nights in a row, signs have been stolen from mine and my neighbor's lawn, and we've been trying to find out who it is," he said. "So we waited this time."

On Sunday evening, he said he witnessed someone steal a sign from a front lawn on the corner of East Quincy Street and Summit Avenue and managed to copy down their license plate number.

Police Director Mike Cozzaglio said the department has received the license plate number from Cardimino, and the matter is under investigation. He added that if the person is caught, they would most likely face misdemeanor larceny charges because the cost of the signs will probably not be enough to constitute a felony.

While Cardimino admits he has repeatedly butted heads with both Alcombright and City Council President Ron Boucher over the override, he said he does not think there has been an official order from either of them to make the signs vanish.

"I'm not saying that at all. If I even thought that, I'd be out there saying that," he said. "But I'll be out there at all the public meetings on the override, making my voice heard. At the next meeting, I'm going to have a sign, and I'm going to have a T-shirt that says ‘Vote No on Prop. 2 1/2.'"

To reach Ryan Hutton, email rhutton@thetranscript.com.

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"Override is the way to go"
The North Adams Transcript - Editorial - June 20, 2011

On Tuesday, registered voters in North Adams will be asked to consider the first Proposition 21Ž2 override in the city’s history. As expected, the measure has created a great deal of controversy. Its backers say that passage of the override is necessary to balance the city’s finances, and maintain city services at current levels. Its opponents point out that North Adams is not a wealthy community, that the city needs to rein in spending anyway, and that they’ve been taxed enough. Along the way, there has been debate between current Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and former Mayor John Barrett III about how bad the city’s finances really are. Signs both for and against the override have been placed on people’s lawns.

This discussion is both good and healthy. In some municipalities, local politics are treated with either disinterest, suspicion, or ennui by many residents. Some politicians count on that to ram the measures that they want through the appropriate boards into law. Judging by the debate over this measure, that’s not the case in North Adams. The ongoing debate shows that people really care about the future of their city, no matter what side that they are on. That’s what democracy is supposed to be all about.

But let’s get to the bottom line. No matter which side you’re on, it’s clear that the city’s finances are not in good shape. Revenues and expenditures have to balance in order for North Adams to move forward. Judging from the debate, it appears that the current and former mayors have different ways of looking at the balance sheet. This is understandable when you consider that the former mayor served the city for 26 years, while the office’s current occupant, who comes from a banking background, is completing the second year of his first term.

This debate shouldn’t be about who is/was a better financial manager for the city. That’s missing the point. What’s clear is that no matter how you look at the numbers, the old method of using the city’s cash reserves to lower the tax rate won’t work this year. There is currently only $163,000 in the city’s free cash account, according to Alcombright. To make matters worse, the state has cut $3.2 million in aid to the city over the last four budget cycles. Yes, North Adams is a poor city, and yes people have been taxed enough. But the city needs the increased levy capacity if it ever hopes to grow. No municipality can function long term when its revenue and expenses are out of kilter. Private individuals and commercial enterprises can reduce their budgets when revenues get tight. But the public sector doesn’t operate that way. Every municipality has fixed costs that have to be filled no matter how low the revenue stream goes. Even when state aid is slashed those bills have to be paid.

A lot of numbers have been tossed around, and it’s been reported that a whole series of draconian cuts will occur, especially within the school system, if the override doesn’t pass. Opponents of the override have criticized the proponents for using scare tactics to justify their position. We’re not exactly sure what would happen should the override fail to pass, but it’s obvious that funding is going to have to be cut somewhere, no matter what the numbers say.

Under the current conditions, and as a one time measure, a Proposition 21Ž2 override is the right way to go. The Transcript supports the passage of the Proposition 21Ž2 override in North Adams.

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Thomas Tyler stands outside the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center where voters cast their ballots Tuesday on the proposed Proposition 2-1/2 override for North Adams. The measure was defeated by 577 votes. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)

"PROP. 2 1/2 OVERRIDE GETS STRUCK DOWN BY VOTERS"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, June 22, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright will spend the next few weeks meeting with school administrators and department heads to trim $957,000 from the budget after a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override failed to pass by 577 votes.

A total of 3,047 of the city's 8,599 registered voters, or 36 percent, turned out Tuesday, with 1,812 voting against the override and 1,235 voting in favor.

"I respect the choice of the voters. After all, this is what democracy is about," Alcombright said after the final tallies were released. "I can't blame the voters. There was a 10 percent tax increase last year, an increase in the water fee and the addition of a sewer fee.

"You can try to minimize the impact by saying that it's on average only a $195 a year increase, but it's still a $195 increase. People are hurting. It's money out of their pockets -- maybe that was the deciding factor. We'll continue to push forward as a community."

While Alcombright said he hasn't made any decisions as of yet, he'll focus on making cuts that have the least amount of impact.

"Unfortunately, this doesn't stop here," he said. "We're essentially kicking the can down the road. In all honesty, we may not be able to fund things that we want too. We may not be able to continue programs that we want to continue."

Robert Cardimino, one of the city's most outspoken residents against the override, was elated as City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau read off the official results at the St. Elizabeth's Parish Center Hall.

"I feel great. It took a lot of hard work to do this," he said. "It's a great win for the city. It's a great win for the seniors. It's a great win for the homeowners. The arrogance of public officials will be controlled. Now the mayor will be forced to cut and balance the budget within the city's means."

Cardimino suggested the mayor begin cutting at the top, starting with his own salary.

"You didn't see the mayor taking a pay cut. You didn't see the superintendent take a pay cut. You don't see the people at the top taking cuts, they want to lay off a janitor to balance the budget," he said.

While neither the mayor nor Superintendent James E. Montepare received pay cuts, neither received raises, Alcombright said.

Last year, the mayor reduced his office's budget by giving up a $4,200 expense account, paid out in monthly installments and placed two vehicles assigned to his office back in the city's vehicle pool.

Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan, who has two children in the city school system, said she was disappointed by the outcome.

"As a parent, I'm really concerned," she said. "I've lived in the city for 18 years, and it's an amazing place to live and raise children. But I'm really concerned about where the city will be a year from now."

She said even though the city is limited in cutting the school department's budget by $340,000 to $350,000, it will have an impact on the programs and activities offered to her children.

"There are no winners in this," Meehan said. "It may be a short-term win for the people who felt strongly about this, but in the long-term, it's a loss. We'll probably be here next year."

Alcombright said the major task will be cutting from the municipal side of the budget.

"The city side is much different than the school side, where we have program cuts," he said. "I brought in a very lean budget to the finance committee. I had already cut $330,000 from it before that. Councilors Alan Marden and Michael Bloom have about 40 years between them of looking at budgets, and they only cut $37,000. It's not going to be an easy thing to do."

To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.

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"Mayor: Balanced budget possible"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, July 8, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Although he won’t submit a supplemental budget to the City Council until July 26, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright says he’s whittled the city’s deficit down to $477,000 -- a figure he’ll most likely cover with reserves.

"I’ve cut the budget as far as I can," the mayor said Wednesday. "When we started, we had a deficit of $1.6 million and we’ve gotten it down to under $500,000. We’ve cut $900,000 from the budget. I think it’s a good compromise. It speaks to both the people who wanted deeper cuts and to the people who said we shouldn’t be harboring reserves."

Alcombright has been working on trimming the city’s fiscal 2012 budget since June 21, when a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1Ž2 override was defeated.

"I was disappointed the override didn’t pass, but I’m looking at this from a different perspective," he said. "In December 2009, we transferred $1.8 million from the reserve accounts to balance the budget. Last year, we transferred $1.2 million, with a special act of the state Legislature, to reduce our debt in order to balance the budget. If we have to use $450,000 to $500,000 in reserves this year to balance the budget, at least we can say that we’re gaining on it."

There’s also hope the city could see an increase in its state municipal aid. The state Legislature recently restored some $65 million in local aid cuts to the state’s fiscal 2012 budget. Should Gov. Deval Patrick sign off on the budget, the city could receive up to $250,000.

"We’re in good position to receive some additional funds," Alcombright said. "Unfortunately, we most likely won’t know whether or not that money is coming until October. If we do receive more money, we’ll dip less into the reserve accounts."

While the mayor declined to elaborate on what cuts will be seen in his "Plan B" budget, he said there were major cuts made to the school department’s budget. However, the city was limited to cutting up to $340,000 from the North Adams Public Schools -- the amount the city was over its foundation budget, the amount the state requires the city to spend on education.

Alcombright is expected to bring the supplemental budget before the city’s Finance Committee during the week of July 18.

"People will see significant cuts, but they were done thoughtfully with jobs and services being kept in mind," he said. "An example of what we’ve done is funding only three summer positions for the Department of Public Works, as opposed to seven, which would allow us to keep a full-time position instead of cutting it. We’re also constantly looking within City Hall to see if departments or positions can be combined for efficiency."

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"Two to challenge Mayor Alcombright"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, July 21, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Two potential candidates have emerged to face Mayor Richard J. Alcombright in the city's November election.

City Council President Ronald Boucher took out nomination papers for the corner office last Thursday, while former Mayor John Barrett III said Wednesday he's contemplating a bid, but won't make a decision about whether he'll run until the end of the month.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest in me running -- I've received a lot of calls encouraging me," Barrett, who was elected to an unprecedented 13 two-year terms as mayor and holds the distinction of being the state's longest-serving mayor, said Wednesday. "I really haven't decided. I'm very, very happy with what I'm doing right now; working on the other side in the private sector. But at the same time, I'm very concerned about the direction in which North Adams is heading. I'd hate to see all the good things we've worked for and happen over the years go away."

Alcombright, who defeated Barrett in November 2009, announced his bid for a second term in April.

Nomination papers, which require the signatures of 50 registered voters, are due to the City Clerk's office by Aug. 9. Should more than two candidates run for the non-partisan mayoral position, the city will hold a primary election in September.

Boucher, who is completing his sixth two-year term on the council, said he's collecting signatures and putting together a campaign.

"I've made my intentions to run known, but I have until Aug. 9 to make a decision," he said Wednesday. "I just feel that [Mayor Alcombright] and I have different opinions when it comes to the city. The mayor is a fine gentleman, but we differ in the ways we believe the city should be run.

"My campaign slogan is going to be ‘back to basics.' I believe we should operate the city's budget in the same way as you would your household budget. If you can't afford it, you don't do it."

Boucher said he's already enlisted friend and former City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. as his campaign manager. Moulton, who lost his council seat in the 2009 election, had previously supported Alcombright and was present at his initial announcement in March 2009.

"I'm going to run my campaign on fiscal management," Boucher said. "It's not going to be about advertisements. We're going to do it the old-fashioned way; sitting down with people and listening to them."

He plans to formally announce his candidacy in August, following the close of the nomination process.

Since leaving office at the end of 2010, Barrett has worked as a consultant for Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto's administration and as the interim public services commissioner at the Pittsfield public works department. In May, Ruberto appointed Barrett as the interim executive director at BerkshireWorks, the quasi-public agency that provides job training and placement assistance for county residents.

"I'm very happy with what I'm doing at Berkshire Works, where I'll be until a full-time executive director is appointed in the fall," Barrett said.

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"Ve-r-r-r-r-y interesting, indeed"
The North Adams Transcript, Editorial, July 22, 2011

The mayor’s race in North Adams just got a lot more interesting now that City Council President Ronald Boucher has decided to enter the field and former Mayor John Barrett III is considering another run.

As City Council President, Mr. Boucher’s announcement isn’t all that surprising, because through his position he’s well suited to challenge current Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who needless to say has had a rocky first term.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Mr. Barrett, who is lurking in the background, presumably reading the tea leaves before deciding whether or not to make another run for the corner office. Given his bull-dog personality and previous association with the city, Mr. Barrett’s presence, even if he’s only considering a run, automatically heightens the excitement level.

Mr. Alcombright’s first term has been controversial to say the least. The transfer from the longest serving mayor in the state to a new chief executive was bound to ruffle some feathers, because each man has his own way of doing business, and Mr. Barrett had been in office for over a quarter of a century. But Mr. Alcombright’s way hasn’t endeared him to a broad cross section of city residents.

Controversy over the city’s finances, and voters’ rejection of the Proposition 2-1/2 override last month, have only exacerbated those differences. There are a lot of angry people in this city, and there’s not a lot of growth. It’s only natural that people would look to the past when the future looks so uncertain. We can see why Mr. Barrett said he has received a number of phone calls encouraging him to run again.

Mr. Boucher, who is completing his sixth two-year term on the council, also touched on the differences currently dividing the city when he said his campaign slogan will be "back to basics." Whether that means going back to the way Mr. Barrett ran the city, or operating the city’s budget similar to a household budget -- which is what he told The Transcript -- is unclear at this point. But he’s obviously hoping to change things. Mr. Boucher said that he and Mr. Alcombright "differ in the ways we believe the city should be run."

Nomination papers for the candidates in this fall’s elections don’t officially have to be returned to the city clerk’s office until Aug. 9. Maybe the picture will be a little clearer by then.

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"Barrett seeks council seat"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, August 9, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Former Mayor John Barrett III has decided against a bid for the city's corner office, but the state's former longest serving mayor said he will still be running for office.

He'll join the burgeoning field of City Council hopefuls when he takes out his nomination papers this morning.

"I took the entire weekend to think this over," Barrett said on Friday afternoon. "Twenty-six years in office is a long time. I've been out of office for almost two years, and I have other things in my life now and projects I have to finish up, including serving as the interim executive director of BerkshireWorks. I'm also going to be heavily involved in a leadership institute in the coming months. I think it's better for me not to do it again."

But as he mulled over leaving the public sector, he said the numerous calls from community members urging him to run coupled with his concerns about the city's future turned his attention to the council race.

"It was not something I was seeking, but there are a lot of people concerned about where the city is heading," Barrett said. "I'm sorry that I can't run for mayor, but it's not right for me. However, I feel a sense of obligation. I can be a public servant, but my time as a politician is over.

"I want to give a voice to those who have been shut out. I've been in public service, in some sort, since 1971. I served eight years on the McCann School Committee and on various other city boards before I became mayor."

His belief that the city needs a strong council cemented his decision.

"I've always said I believe in the strong mayoral form of government," he said. "I believe there should be a strong council too -- not to set policy, but to be the check and balance. I can contribute in that area. I've come out on the debates on the school building projects and questioned the need for the Proposition 2 1/2 override when there were reserves that could be used. There are a lot of questions that aren't being asked by the councilors."

As of 4 p. m. on Monday, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and City Council President Ronald Boucher had returned their papers for the office of mayor. Should a third potential candidate, Robert Martelle, return his papers, the city will host a primary election in September.

A field of 20 candidates, including Councilor Michael Bloom, had taken out papers for the nine available council seats on Monday. At least three council seats will be up for grabs in November's election -- Boucher is running for mayor; Councilor David Lamarre is seeking a seat on the North Adams School Committee and Councilor Michael Boland is not seeking re-election.

Bloom, who said he wouldn't seek office last week in order to spend more time with his family, said he had a weekend change of heart.

"I said last week that I was torn by my decision not to run," he said Monday. "I received many calls over the weekend urging me to run. I've been going back and forth about it."


The city's heading in a good direction, and the economy is coming back. There needs to be some kind of continuity on the council. I guess I'm going to have to find time to make it all work."

Twelve of the candidates for council had returned their papers on Monday. Those candidates include: Councilors David Bond, Keith Bona and Marie Harpin, along with Eric Buddington, Nancy Bullett, Robert Cardimino, Catherine Chaput, Diane Gallese-Parsons, James B. Gyuarsz, Michael Hernandez, Jennifer Breen Kirsh and Kellie Morrison.

Should 19 candidates be certified for the ballot, the city will need to host a primary election for the council in September.

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"Mayor outspent his foe 4-to-1 in mayor's race"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, November 27, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- Richard J. Alcombright outspent Ronald Boucher by a 4-to-1 ratio in the early part of the mayoral campaign, according to finance reports.

Between Jan. 1 and the latest campaign reporting deadline of Oct. 28, Alcombright spent $11,891.46, compared to Boucher’s $3,413.33, according to records on file with the city clerk’s office.The amounts don’t proclaim the total spending for the entire campaign. The finance reports that will show spending for the last 10 days of the campaigns are due later next month.

Alcombright won a second, two-year term on Nov. 8 with 63 percent of the vote over Boucher, a city councilor.

Alcombright’s election spending paled in comparison to his first mayoral campaign. In 2009, he spent $60,007 in a win over John Barrett III, a 12-term mayor. Alcombright has attributed the lower spending levels in this year’s race to a campaign that started much later in the year.

Alcombright’s campaign committee spent $5,910.07 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 19. As the election drew nearer, the committee spent $5,981.39 from Sept. 20 to Oct. 28, a span of 38 days.

The committee also reported $12,690.21 in donations, with $5,325 of that raised between Sept. 20 and Oct. 28. The campaign did not report any in-kind donations.

The big-ticket expenditures included $1,884.06 for lawn signs; $957 in promotion materials; $900 to host a spaghetti supper; $436.62 for two "robocalls" on Sept. 28 and Oct. 17; and $819 for ads in the North Adams Transcript.

Boucher, who ran a "fiscally conservative," grassroots campaign, reported $4,719 in donations and $1,410.90 of in-kind donations. He reported $3,050 in donations from supporters between Sept. 20 and Oct. 28.

Boucher’s major expenditures were $700 for a spaghetti dinner; $385 for ads on Channel 22; $300 for ads on iBerkshires; $154.26 for ads on WNAW radio; and $126 for door hangers. Boucher’s report shows $1,321.06 in outstanding liabilities owed to himself for campaign lawn signs.

The report does not reflect Boucher’s spending on 180 television advertisements, which fell after the Oct. 28 reporting deadline but are expected to appear on his final campaign report in January.

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Michael Canales, seen here at last year's Clarksburg town meeting, is a city native and resident. He's been town adminstrator for 11 years.

"Clarksburg Administrator Tapped for North Adams Post"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, January 12, 2012

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is tapping nearby Clarksburg to fill the vacant administrative officer position.

Mayor Richard Alcombright has appointed Clarksburg Town Administrator Michael Canales to the post that's been void since Jay Green left last year. Canales' start date is March 5.

"I think Mike brings that municipal experience that will be a help to me and other departments," said Alcombright on Thursday. "I laid out plans for this year, initiatives for this year but I've got things on my desk that are getting in the way ... I've got to focus on bigger and better things and the only way is to get that post filled."

The mayor had hoped to put off filling the post until around the end of the fiscal year or later but the tipping point was a Department of Justice audit of the city that arrived two weeks ago. The complexity of that document on ADA compliance plus the Department of Revenue Financial Management Review and upcoming budget highlighted how critical the post was to day-to-day operations, he said.

Canales, a city native and resident, was one of the top three finalists of some 25 applications received last year. But the position was left unfilled as city officials struggled to contain a hefty budget deficit and a failed Proposition 2 1/2 override.

Funding for the post was budgeted for the last half of fiscal 2012 but then some of that money was apportioned to continue Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco on a part-time status. Alcombright said there should be enough in the line item for the administrative post for the last few months of the year

Canales has been administrator in Clarksburg for 11 years and has filled in for numerous posts during that time, including emergency management coordinator and assessor. Alcombright pointed to Canales' work with state and federal agencies for the town as well as in cooperation with the city.

While the past two administrative officers — Green and Katherine Eade — have been lawyers, Alcombright was ready for someone with more municipal administrative and financial experience.

"Mike brings that administrative experience. He knows and understands us," said the mayor, adding he's known Canales for years. "I know he's looking out for what's best for North Adams."

"I saw the position and decided I wanted to explore the possibility of ajob that had responsibilities on a larger scale and thought I'd like that challenge," said Canales. "I think it's still going to be pretty similar [to what Green and Eade] did. They need somebody adminstratively down there to oversee the financial offices. I've been doing that here in Clarksburg but what's obviously changing is the scale."

Clarksburg Selectmen Chairwoman Debra Lefave said the board has been aware of Canales' interest in pursuing new opportunities.

"He was one of the best administrators we ever had and believe me, he will be missed, really really missed," said Lefave, adding that Canales could fill anybody's shoes in the town government and often went above and beyond his responsibilities. "It's very rare to find somebody that dedicated."

The Clarksburg job will be posted by Friday and Lefave said the deadline for applications is Feb. 5. Alcombright said he didn't want to leave Clarksburg "high and dry" and that both he and Canales were willing to work something out if the town couldn't find an adminstrator by March 5.

"If we need to, we can work it out to make sure the town and the city are taken care of," said Canales.

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"North Adams group forms to help poor"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, February 11, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- A growing divide between the nation’s wealthy and impoverished populations has the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition looking to address the challenges faced by North County’s poorest.

"We’re becoming a nation of two people, and that’s not good," said Executive Director Al Bashevkin on Friday during the coalition’s monthly forum. "We’re putting together a new group, the Northern Berkshire Organizing Project, to organize the many, many ways we can address the issue of poverty in Northern Berkshire."

Some 80 people, many advocates from local service agencies, gathered at the First Baptist Church for the forum, as a way to share statistics and programming information -- a first step in helping to gather resources and identify pockets of need.

Tom Sadlowski, a local case manager for the Department of Transitional Assistance, said that while federal assistance is limited to those who meet guidelines, the amount of federal funds coming into Northern Berkshire each month is just shy of $2 million.

"I can tell you that the federal government gives about $1.7 million a month in benefits -- food stamps, cash assistance and Social Security -- to Northern Berkshire alone," he said. "Almost $1 million is in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits."

Sadlowski, one of the remaining case workers is the state DTA office at 37 Main St., said he sees an average of 30 to 35 people a week apply for SNAP benefits.
Reports of need from other agencies mirrored the increasing need for assistance in Northern Berkshire.

"We have 1,876 eligible households receiving fuel assistance and that’s only those we have completed applications for. It’s not counting those who have incomplete applications or those applications we haven’t even touched yet," Aleta Monchecchi, of Berkshire Community Action, said. "Out of those households, 1,535 have fixed incomes. When the price of fuel goes up, they face the fact that their incomes aren’t increasing to keep up with it."

Volunteer Tony Pisano reported that the Friendship Center’s Food Pantry on Eagle Street was seeing increased need as well.

"We helped 760 families this past week," he said. "We’ve started to realize that some of these families have three to four adults and a few children. People are starting to move in together as a means to getting by."

Among the challenges identified by the group were transportation to social service agencies -- many of which have shuttered North County offices and now exist only in Pittsfield -- affordable housing, access to daycare, health insurance costs and the stigma of asking for help.

"There are many people who come to me for help who haven’t told their spouse or children of the need for help. I put food in bags from Stop & Shop and Price Chopper for those individuals to help them out," said Carole DeMayo, who runs the Williamstown food pantry.

Others offered solutions, such as forming groups to advocate in Boston and Washington D.C., while others said lessening the dependence on outside groups was needed.

Wendy Krom of Northern Berkshire Neighbors reminded the group that while the statistics and challenges were overwhelming, the group wasn’t going to craft solutions in a single day.

The Northern Berkshire Organizing Project will need to keep focused over time.

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"Reader appreciates Donovan column"
The North Adams Transcript (thetranscript.com), Letter, August 22, 2012

To the Editor:

As an avid reader, city resident and taxpayer, I find Mr. Donovan’s editorials candid, most enlightening and refresh ing in today’s political arena. Having read Mayor Alcombright’s so-called guest column in the North Adams Transcript, I found it to be quite appalling to discredit former Mayor Barrett’s record, along with the record of past councilors, who served the city well.

It is unfortunate during a time when we are faced with many problems to varying degrees, today’s politician continues to place blame on others for their own failures or lack of solutions in resolving issues.

In the case of the Mayor Alcombright, the current focus is his personal agenda seeking political survival, with a loss of credibility and public trust. The mayor continues reaching for the limelight, placing self-promoting articles in the Transcript, while beating his chest in an attempt to receive accolades for a track record and resume with little or no accomplishments, while continuing to deceive the public by continuing to misconstrue the facts.

However, clarity and factual information was clearly provided by a former respected city councilor, William Donovan, in The Advocate on Aug. 16 in response to the Al combright guest column which recently appeared in the Transcript.

The mayor’s column was a diversion to cloud and misrepresent the record of success of the Barrett administration. It also allows the mayor to steer away from accepting responsibility and accountability, and from failure to follow through on campaign pledges that help ed in his election as mayor. We are only left to won der how bleak is our future under the current administration?

Many of the residents today may not have lived in North Adams or even have been born yet during a dark and desperate time in the city, when Sprague Electric closed its doors and walked away. Or you may have simply forgotten the past. Mayor Barrett guided the city through one of the most difficult times in its history -- a time when most politicians would have failed or not sought re-election.

Great things were accomplished during Mr. Barrett’s distinguished career of 26 years in office. Several roads and bridges were rebuilt around the city: The Hadley Overpass and the Concourse parking lot, along with the corridor of Route 2, with utilities placed underground. Mr. Barrett worked diligently, with no small task at hand, in obtaining funding from a Republican governor to form Mass MoCA. A brand new water filtration plant was built. Schools were rebuilt without even an attempt to seek a Proposition 2 1/2 override. Athletic fields for our youth were added, with a revamped Joe Wolf Field as the SteepleCats arrived. The list could go on and on.

All this was accomplished while keeping the city’s bond rating at an A, taxes manageable for property owners, with no sewer fee, and North Adams remained an affordable, vibrant community to raise a family. After leaving office, he left a surplus of nearly $3.1 million dollars to the newly elected administration. In my opinion, I’d say pretty good credentials.

It is no small wonder today that very few take an interest in city politics, let alone vote. The quote, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, could never hold truer. We are now beginning to realize the current administration has only left us with dirt.

Wayne Goodell
North Adams, Massachusetts
Aug. 20, 2012

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"Not a noble cause, but a correct one"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 27, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union has fought far nobler causes than the one it is fighting on behalf of North Adams political gadfly Robert Cardimino, but its argument that Mr. Cardimino’s free speech rights have been violated is valid.

Mr. Cardimino was removed from City Council chambers in March for displaying a sign, and during the citizens forum section of the June 12 meeting he instructed Councilor Marie Harpin to "pay her taxes," prompting council President Michael Bloom to declare him out of order. He reportedly continued to make these accusations after the meeting and crossed a gate separating the council from the public gallery. The city then issued a no trespassing order requiring Mr. Cardimino to stay away from City Hall property.

Mr. Cardimino, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council last year, was off target in his gripe with Ms. Harpin. She is not on a list of delinquent taxpayers but had received an overdue notice from the city. Two days later, according to the city’s administrative officer, Ms. Harpin paid her tax bill. End of story.

According to a North Adams-based ACLU lawyer, Mr. Cardimino’s comments came in the context of councilors’ alleged "failure to sufficiently review the city budget before approving it." Although we fail to see any connection between Mr. Cardi mino’s outburst and the political context cited, denying free speech rights to one person opens the door to denying the free speech rights of someone whose cause is more legitimate. Protecting that constitutional right means putting up with a lot, and making a free speech hero out of Mr. Cardimino is not desirable.

The council should ban signs from the chambers (the Pittsfield City Council should make sure there is such a ban in a revamped charter) and if the police have to be called to deal with an unruly resident, so be it. Let’s leave the First Amendment out of this issue.

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"ALCOMBRIGHT ON 2013: ‘EVERY CHALLENGE IS AN OPPORTUNITY'"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, January 17, 2013

Editor's note: This is the first article of a two-part series examining the year ahead with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

NORTH ADAMS -- The city will have a few challenges to face in the coming months, but Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said he believes every challenge is an opportunity.

"Everything we talk about is a challenge, because there are so many moving parts that need to come into place," he said Tuesday, during an interview with the Transcript. "We have some very exciting opportunities, but they are all challenging at the same time."

Some of the upcoming challenges include the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, finding the "right" developers for the city's vacant churches and growing local events.

His first big challenge will take place at Tuesday's City Council meeting, where he'll present a proposed bond agreement for renovations to the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School. The state School Board Authority has agreed to pay for 80 percent of nearly $30 million in renovations.

"I don't think it will be a hard sell," the mayor said. "I think the council understands the importance of this. What I need to do is present them the fiscal picture and show the city can handle this debt. Administrative Officer Michael Canales and I have put together a debt schedule that will show the city's position through 2020."

Although the city's budget will be "tight" for the next five cycles, Alcombright said he believes the councilors will make the right decision.

"They understand that we have two elementary schools that are in pretty bad shape and that it's much more fiscally responsible to go this way than to keep funneling money into these schools to keep up with reoccurring maintenance and repairs," he said.

As for the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the mayor hopes to see a lease signed within the next six to eight weeks and work begin at the park by late spring or early summer.

"I've asked Duncan Brown [one of the principals of North Adams Development Trust] to come before the Redevelopment Authority before the end of January and begin negotiating a lease," Alcombright said. "We've done everything we can on our end to do with public sector investment. We've secured an $880,000 MassWorks grant and we have continued commitments from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to continue the [Ashuwillticook] bike trail to McCann. We've also purchased the Sons Of Italy, whether it was a popular decision or not. There's also the possibility of scenic rail between the city and Adams -- which is in discussions. I don't think we could be better positioned on our end."

While the city securing an $881,488 MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant for the park, as opposed to the city's Redevelopment Authority, has been questioned, the mayor said he's clarified those details with state officials.

"In their minds, it's not an issue," Alcombright said. "In the broadest sense, the city is the fiscal agent. We're pushing forward with design plans."

Once the Heritage State Park project is up and running, the city will turn its attention to the Mohawk Theater renovations.

"We have a great partner in MCLA for our discussion," he said. "I'm not going to shy away in using any funds that we can from [lease negotiation for] Heritage State Park that we can use. We're in discussions right now on whether or not that can be done."

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"Scanlon audit suggests North Adams has to change its spending habits"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, April 12, 2013

NORTH ADAMS -- City officials were urged to increase reserve funds and strengthen internal controls in order to bolster the city's financial future during Thursday night's Finance Committee meeting.

Additional improvements suggested in a recently released audit by Scanlon and Associates include moving away from the past practice of utilizing end-of-the-year transfers to offset account overruns, centralizing the management of airport improvement grants, applying for grant reimbursements in a more timely fashion and establishing a policy to handle delinquent school lunch accounts.

While city officials have already taken corrective action on many items suggested by the report, Tom Scanlon, managing partner of Scanlon and Associates, stressed the importance of maintaining healthy reserve and free cash accounts at Thursday's meeting.

The city should have 3 to 5 percent of its annual budget, or about $1 million, on hand in reserve or free cash accounts, he said.

"We all understand that the economy is hurting, but in the future, bonding companies will not look kindly on [the city] spending to the brink," he said. "It's important to understand that some bond-rating companies are now looking [for municipalities] to have 10 percent in reserves."

When asked about the financial health of the city over the last three years, Scanlon said that he thought 2012 showed less fiscal improvement than 2011 and the overall tone was "going down."

However, it was noted that reserve accounts were higher in 2011 than in 2012 because the city paid out $680,000 from those accounts as part of a medical insurance trust fund settlement with its employee unions.

"There were several grants that were problematic, which helped result in the negative free cash result this year," Scanlon said. "We've worked with the city to rectify those issues and to bring the airport's grants [directly] under the administration to control the reporting and submission of reimbursement charges."

In other business, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright reported that current fiscal spending is about $360,000 over the fiscal 2013 budget.

"We're about $130,000 over in the police salaries line item, with the majority of overages coming in the form of overtime," he said. "We're also $130,000 over in insurance premiums and $75,000 over in the snow and ice removal account."

Although the city is down about $240,000 in local receipts, Alcombright said his finance team is confident the revenues will be in place by the close of the budget.

"We're already 3.4 percent above where we were last year," he said.

The mayor also noted that numerous steps are being taken to keep the budget's annual growth under 2 1/2 percent, including the development of a five-year capital management plan, consolidation of the building and health departments into a centralized inspections services department and creating a formula to better project salary needs for the Public Safety Department.

"We're really looking at all our infrastructure and equipment needs," City Administrator Michael Canales said. "We're looking at replacing the vehicles in our fleet on a cyclical basis and best maintenance practices."

Canales and City Auditor David Fierro have also created a formula -- based on past absences, injuries, training days coupled with better utilization of reserve officers -- to better anticipate the projected salaries for the fire and police departments.

"We need to stop the bleeding we experience every year," Alcombright said. "What's interesting is that Dave's projections, based on the formula, are quite close to what we've budgeted for salaries and the overages we are experiencing."

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"Trust Barrett on Conte School issue"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, April 19, 2013

The April 15 letter to the editor by Jennifer Breen was shocking, to say the least. Ridiculing people by name who disagree with her only shows her lack of maturity and professionalism.

Her disparaging remarks about former Mayor John Barrett III were uncalled for in light of his long and distinguished career as mayor. While he and I did not always agree, I always knew that his first priority was the citizens of North Adams, especially the young people. His record on improving the quality of education in North Adams was perhaps his greatest legacy. While he was chairman of the School Committee, a new Brayton Elementary School was constructed which included saving the YMCA building and the organization from bankruptcy. In addition to Brayton a $22 million renovation of Drury High School was completed on time and on budget.

Mayor Barrett also understood that there was more to improving education then just constructing buildings. Through his leadership, class sizes were reduced, North Adams was the first school system in the state to provide laptop computers for every middle-school student, a curriculum coordinator was hired, and the curriculum expanded to include a program in the arts for students in all grades. He even found money for new uniforms for the Drury High School band, which he considered the city’s goodwill ambassador.

Ms. Breen and others are making attacks upon him because they want people to believe he opposes the renovation of Conte for political reasons. Nothing could be further from the truth, as John Barrett’s opposition to the renovation of Conte is not new. He opposed it when he was mayor and chairman of the School Committee.

Councilor Breen wants us to listen to a mayor who has no credibility, the same mayor who told us that if we didn’t pass a Prop 21Ž2 override it would bring devastation to our school system. Not only did this dire prediction not happen, but less than a year later Mayor Alcombright gave out pay raises totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars to certain employees! Now he wants us to believe that the funding for this project will have no impact on our taxes.

I will trust the crusty politician, as Ms. Breen refers to John Barrett, over Mayor Alcombright who has no credibility. I urge the voters of North Adams to Vote No on April 30. Our kids deserve better, and our city deserves better.

MARY E WILLEY
North Adams, Massachusetts

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"Mayor responds on St. Francis"
By Mayor Richard Alcombright, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, thetranscript.com - May 3, 2013

To the North Adams Catholic community and city residents, I am writing in response to a letter to parishioners by Rev. William F. Cyr, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in North Adams.

As many of you know, St. Francis Church was closed several years ago and has sat vacant since. Before becoming mayor, I worked on church finance committees that assisted in the decisions to close Notre Dame and St. Francis churches. In 2010, I made the decision, as have many communities across the state, to tax vacant churches.

In 2010, I was approached by CVS with their plan to purchase St. Francis, tear it down and build a new store. Despite the economic development potential with CVS making significant investment, I felt it most important to do everything possible to keep the oldest and most iconic Catholic church building in our city upright.

I worked with several individuals to try to raise private capital to purchase the church for restoration and reuse, and at that time, the discussions centered around a museum. The diocese was kind enough to allow interested parties ample time to put a plan in place. Despite all best intentions and significant effort, the capital and the plan could not be brought to fruition.

During this time and since, I met and spoke with CVS officials to work with them on alternate sites, namely the former Brien Center on Marshall and Main streets. CVS had no interest in any parcel other than St. Francis. To my knowledge, there was one other viable offer in 2011. In 2012, the bishop graciously allowed another party to propose an idea. The offer was not accepted and this other idea fell by the wayside.

In 2012, I worked with the City Council to put a demolition delay ordinance in place. This ordinance requires anyone applying for a demolition permit to go before the Historical Commission to be certain the demolition of an historic structure be properly vetted before being torn down.

Several weeks ago, I met with Father Cyr and CVS to discuss another CVS option at St. Francis. The plan was once again to tear down the rectory and church and put up a large store. CVS offered to take the top half of the steeple and mount it to a small square building on the far southeast corner of the parcel. I first met this plan with some enthusiasm, however, after a few days of reflection, my enthusiasm waned.

I walked around the complex and stood at the end of the Veterans Memorial and looked south toward Church Street. I was able to see four staggered steeples. I then envisioned the library, and the beautiful historic buildings on Church and East Main streets, and I realized this section of the city was the last large historic piece we have left. St. Francis is the "cornerstone" of this historic section.

I vividly remember what "was" in the city. I remember urban renewal and the loss of so much of our history. I look at the demolition of St. Francis as the beginning of a selective culling of our remaining historic structures.

Father Cyr and the diocese would like all to believe I have "stonewalled" the sale of St. Francis. I will not lie: I have put up obstacles making anyone who purchases St. Francis, or any other historic building, go through a process. This process would put the demolition of St. Francis in front of our Historical Commission. This does not prevent CVS from purchasing the church from the diocese "subject to" their being able to obtain a permit to demolish.

If CVS wants to put up a new store at that location, they can purchase the parcel, apply for a demolition permit and go in front of the Historical Commission. I have never told CVS they could not purchase the parcel, I simply stated they have to go through the process.

The main question here is do we want to give this building up because right now we do not have another solution? I for one am not willing to roll over on this.

Please know that I truly understand the concerns of Father Cyr and the parish. I am sympathetic to the tax obligation and the city assessor worked with the parish last year to lower their tax obligation by a reduction in assessment. Please remember, I worked on finance councils at Notre Dame and St. Francis. I understand the constraints.

The most disturbing words in Father Cyr's letter were "City officials seem content to see the status quo continue while they tax us." Nothing could be further from the truth. Father Cyr's assertion that St. Francis is a "cash cow" for the city is troubling and politically charged at best. And while it is very easy to push this problem on to the city, neither the parish nor the diocese have come up with any solutions short of sale and demolition. Frankly, it is not the city's responsibility (although we have tried) to find solutions for adaptive reuse, but rather to facilitate the proper use based on acceptable private sector investment.

I am in a position where I have to represent what I think is in the city's best interest. I do not want to see selective demolition of St. Francis -- an iconic structure, one that most reflects the history of our Catholic community and this fine city. In Father Cyr's letter, he asks the parishioners to communicate their ideas. Maybe collectively we can find a solution to reuse St. Francis. Minimally, I ask you to look at it from this perspective: Once it comes down, it will be gone forever.

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"North Adams draft 2014 budget has initial increase of $333,178 over 2013 budget"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, May 21, 2013

NORTH ADAMS -- The city's draft fiscal 2014 budget of $36.6 million calls for an increase of $333,178 or .92 percent -- an increase Mayor Richard J. Alcombright hopes to see drop to .75 percent by the time a finalized budget is submitted in June.

"This budget does reflect a reduction in staffing by about 5-1/2 positions; reductions in capital spending, and it reflects departmental consolidations," the mayor said Monday, during a meeting of the city's Finance Committee.

City Councilor Alan Marden, chairman of the committee, began the meeting by emphasizing no action or recommendations would be made until the finalized budget was submitted and reviewed.

Additional meetings to review the draft budget are scheduled for this Wednesday, and Tuesday, May 28, both at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall.

Alcombright stated the city would "once again not end the year well" in regard to closing out the fiscal 2013 budget.

"Expenses very much out of our control have once again driven us to the edge of our reserves," he said. "At this time, we have annualized expected overruns in police salaries, fire salaries, snow and ice, veterans services and health insurance. We will at best eke out the year."

He added, "Three years ago, I lobbied for a Proposition 2-1/2 override, which I believe all members of this Finance Committee supported. When that was defeated, I was criticized because I did not make the cuts anticipated when the override failed.

I did make some cuts, but not all, with the hopes that revenues would bounce back. That has not been the case."

Alcombright said he believes that if the Proposition 2-1/2 override had passed, the city would not have had to drain down its reserve accounts in order to set the tax rate and cover account overages at the end of the year.

"We have a very significant problem here in the city. I am convinced it is not a spending problem as much as it is a revenue problem," he said. "There is no appetite to raise fees or look at overrides, so once again we have cut where we can and consolidate where possible."

Councilor John Barrett III, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that he believes part of the current "cash deficit" position of the city was caused by the raises that were approved after the override failed.

"I maintain that if we had not granted a lot of pay raises, most of which went to the school department, we wouldn't be in the box we're in," he said. "When I was in office, cuts were absorbed by the money that was set aside. We didn't give pay raises and we didn't fill positions."

Examples of departmental consolidations were given during the review of the general government and public services departmental budgets.

Public Services Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau noted that he planned to add a position to the water department by filling the job from within the department and eliminating a laborer position.

City Councilor Nancy Bullett expressed her concern that eliminating a laborer position from the Public Works Department would cause more deferred maintenance at the city's public fields.

"Doesn't this stretch them thin? In general terms, our recreational facilities are important to our community and I'd hate to not have a sufficient amount of people to maintain them," she said.

Administrative Officer Michael Canales noted that by consolidating the city's seasonal workers into a single line item, Lescarbeau could easily direct them to areas where work needs to be done.

In addition, he said a similar consolidation in the treasurer/collector's and auditor's offices will result in a net savings of $18,000.

"The clerks in these offices are sharing the responsibilities of a position that has been eliminated. It's created efficiencies in both offices," Canales said, noting the savings comes after compensating three employees who are taking on the additional work.

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/44041/North-Adams-Begins-36.6M-Budget-Review-.html

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"Mayor Richard Alcombright seeking a third term"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, thetranscript.com - 6/8/2013

Mayor Richard Alcombright speaks to the local media in his North Adams home on Friday afternoon. He will be kicking off his campaign for re-election in the coming month. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript). Saturday, June 8, 2013.

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright reaffirmed his commitment to the city and its citizens as he announced his bid for another two years in office on Friday.

"I think I've been blessed to be mayor of this city for the last 3-1/2-years, and I certainly want to continue," he said Friday during a press announcement at his home. "Over the last 3-1/2-years, I found out that the pace is frantic, most times, and the challenges are many, but aside from being a parent, I think being mayor is truly the most rewarding thing I've ever done."

While he's enjoyed being mayor, Alcombright said his first two terms in office have had their challenges.

"I think we've made a lot of progress in the last 3-1/2-years and that we've started a lot of things, but every day we find something that needs to be fixed," he said. "The biggest challenge has been fiscal. Stepping into office and trying to take down a $2.6 million deficit since 2010 has been an extraordinary challenge. We've all learned to do much, much more with much, much less. We've come a long way, but we're not where I want to be. We're not where I had hoped we'd be."

After nearly four years in office, the mayor had hoped to be at a place where the city would have a balanced budget.

"We've taken that deficit from $2.6 million down to about $350,000," he said. "Since 2010, our budget on the expense side has only increased 1.51 percent. Some people would like to see that down more -- that can't happen, but to have that type of control is a good thing. Our budget this cycle is up only .6 percent, which is pretty austere to say the least."

Alcombright noted another big challenge is balancing city services with the limited revenue streams.

"We don't have a spending problem in the city, we have a revenue problem," he said.

Beside fiscal issues, Alcombright said the other large task facing the city is its challenging infrastructure issues - aging water and sewer lines, as well as needed upgrades to the Department of Pubic Works building and transfer station and the replacement of the city's public safety building.

"We also have significant issues in the city with runoff during storms," he said. "With the weather changes we've been seeing, we're experiencing significant areas of flooding."

A fix for an area along State Street, near the former Modern Liquors building, could cost close to $1 million.

But for every challenge he experiences, Alcombright said there are just as many positive outcomes.

"The Conte School building project is our most current accomplishment," he said. "It went to a public vote, but I think that was a good thing. It was our charter at work. It was a marginal win, but we did it. Now we have to make believers out of those who weren't for it. I'm hoping that seeing is believing."

Other accomplishments he mentioned included an openness in local government, a new sense of community participation, continued relationships with neighboring towns and the growth of local businesses.

"We've opened up the city. It may be small -- painted crosswalks, murals and less process in regards to the Planning Board," he said. "In the last two years, we've seen 27 expand, open, hire new staff or expand their hours. We've seen everything from the small business, such as the Bark ‘n Cat, expand to the opening of the Super Walmart."

He added that in the last two years, including the recent announcement of Ocean State Job Lot and Tractor Supply Inc. opening, the city's business community has provided 240 new full- and part-time jobs.

"In this economy and in this are that's nothing to sneeze at," the mayor said. "We have to give credit to those business owners and companies, who have been willing to invest in the city."

Looking ahead, Alcombright said the city is still working to overcome political hurdles to privatize Western Gateway Heritage State Park and will continue to work on the development of the Mohawk Theater.

"The Mohawk is one of my largest disappointments," he said. "I'm disappointed we haven't been able to pull together our plan to make it a sustainable venue. MCLA is still on board as a partner and we will continue to push forward with it."

The city is also preparing to unveil its master plan and hire a part-time permanent planner to help drive the process of moving forward with the plan's initiatives. A capital needs assessment plan is also nearing completion.

Alcombright was first elected to office in 2009, defeating former Mayor John Barrett II, who was seeking a 14th term. He was re-elected to a second two-year term in 2011, defeating then City Councilor Ronald Boucher.

related: www.iberkshires.com/blogs/election2010?bid=2137

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Letter: "Residents decry behavior of Cardimino, Barrett"
The North Adams Transcript, Opinion: Letter to the Editor, 8/2/2013

To the Editor:

In June 2009, Richard Alcombright opened his run for mayor with a positive attitude and plans for a bright future for North Adams.

The darkness began a few days later with Robert Cardimino. He has tortured Dick, the City Council and the administration for 3 1/2 years. He continues to ruin our city meetings with his obnoxious behavior and evil accusations.

The question is, why is he allowed to try and destroy the dignity of our city and its elected leaders? The city leaders are decent and honorable people who ran for office to put North Adams on the right track. They work hard, and agree with them or not, they want the best for the citizens of this community. They do not deserve the cruel and abusive treatment they receive from Cardimino and his friends -- trying to ruin their characters while calling it "Freedom of Speech." Why do we put up with this?

He condemns the mayor for only raising taxes and giving out raises, etc. Our mayor works 60 or more hours a week and is always available seven days a week.

These people think they can run our city with Councilor John Barrett III taking second place to Cardimino. He ran and took oaths for the wrong reasons and thinks he can teach the mayor and the Council how it should be done, as he will tell you he did it for 26 years. John lost the corner office and came in sixth for the council. It is time for John to realize that this city is moving forward under a new administration, and what was done 26 years ago is not pertinent. It is time to retire, volunteer and play golf. Questions or differences of opinion are always welcome, but constant harassment is not. How many of this group are doing anything to help the city move forward? None.

It's long overdue for all of us to work together to bring peace and dignity to our city. Now is the time to end the harassment of our mayor and the City Council and the people of North Adams. How many people will want to run for office when they witness this mistreatment?

When Richard Alcombright took office 3 1/2 years ago, he promised us transparency and an open door policy, and he has kept his promise. He came into office with baggage left behind by the previous administration and continues to do a great job for the city and its citizens, with limited funds. No one is always right, and there is no way to please everyone, but with this administration, you have a voice and can agree to disagree. Our mayor loves his city and its people; he is decent, honorable and trustworthy and deserves our continued support.

Let us work together to make North Adams the best community it can be. We look forward to two more years of his leadership.

Dolores A. Bianco, Gabriella M. Bond, Shirley D. Wolfe
North Adams, Massachusetts
July 16, 2013

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Letter: "Reader offers special thanks to John Barrett"
The North Adams Transcript, Opinion: Letter to the Editor, August 9, 2013

To the Editor:

Recently, as the city clerk certified nomination papers for the upcoming elections, four current city councilors chose not to submit nomination papers and will be excluded from the upcoming city elections in November. Michael Bloom, John Barrett III, Marie Harpin and Al Marden -- all prominent local city officials -- chose not to seek re-election, but should be thanked for their extensive years of public service to the community.

The mayor publicly thanked and acknowledged three of the four councilors for their public service. To my dismay and in very poor judgment, the mayor failed to acknowledge John Barrett III, a man that has served the community for 41 years as an educator, distinguished mayor and as a member of the City Council. Regardless of one's political views, the proper and professional thing to do would have been to acknowledge and thank all of the councilors that chose not run for re-election.

I would like to take a moment to thank Mike, Marie and Al for their time spent on the City Council. And I would like to give special thanks to John Barrett III. Many of us had hoped John would remain involved in city government, as he has served the people well through his hard work, dedication and undeniable passion for the city. The residents of North Adams should thank John for all he has done to make this a better community. Our city will sorely miss his leadership, wealth of knowledge and his experience in making government accountable to the people.

Aaron Crandall
North Adams, Massachusetts
August 7, 2013

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North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, right, shares a laugh with former Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, center, and attorney Richard S. Taskin during Tuesday’s campaign event at Public Eat and Drink. (Edward Damon/North Adams Transcript)

"Mayor Alcombright refutes opponent's claims; champions progress in city"
By Edward Damon, North Adams Transcript, 10/02/2013

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright called for the city to keep moving forward at a campaign event Tuesday night.

Alcombright, who is running for his third term as mayor, covered numerous accomplishments the city has seen in the past several years, along with his administration's plans for the future.

"I heard a quote on the television the other day that totally sums up where we are and why I want to continue -- ‘You can't create the future by clinging to the past,' " he told a large crowd at Public Eat and Drink.

Alcombright said his administration has also acted to retain essential social services in the city in a new Health and Human Services Center.

"I acted quickly when rumors once again began to run wild about the [Registry of Motor Vehicles] closing," he added. "I received a letter of commitment from Registrar Kapralien that our office will remain open."

Additional police reinforcements were brought into the city this summer and resulted in numerous arrests, Alcombright said, adding that policing will continue.

A Prescription Drug/Heroin Addiction Task Force, of which Alcombright is a part of, raise awareness about addiction and drug use, he said.

The city continues to become a cultural destination with the birth of two music festivals at Mass MoCA -- Wilco's Solid Sound, which drew 7,000, and Fresh Grass bluegrass festival, which drew 4,000.

The city also has moved forward in education, he said.

"Thanks to so many of you, we will be opening a beautiful new state-of-the-art facility for our K-7th graders in September of 2015 -- some $30 million dollars invested in our schools that will end up costing the city just over $6 million," Alcombright said.

The city continues to remain affordable despite recent increases in taxes, he said, adding they were necessary to keep the city's services funded.

Other successes Alcombright identified included the opening or expansion of more than 30 businesses in the city since January 2011 and the unveiling of a new Master Plan in the first quarter of next year.

Alcombright also responded to criticism from his opponent, former City Councilor Robert Moulton, Jr.

"He talks about downtown revitalization and that all I have done are benches and pocket parks, and that I use social events to mask the problems in our business district," he said. "My guess is that he works in Bennington way too much to have not realized that the vacancy rate in our downtown is the lowest it has been in two decades," Alcombright said.

Alcombright took issue with Moulton dismissing the city's master planning processes, and his using the 1995 Hyatt-Palma report as a stepping off point for revitalization.

"Either he has not read the report or is not qualified to understand its concepts based on 20-year-old assumptions," he said.

To reach Edward Damon, email edamon@thetranscript.com.

related link: www.iberkshires.com/blogs/election2010?bid=2268

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"Cardimino: Police should be on street, not in chambers"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters to the Editor, 10/02/2013

To the Editor:

Crime, especially break-ins of houses and cars, is at a peak in North Adams. We need every police officer on patrol.

So why is Mayor Richard Alcombright bringing a police officer to the City Council meetings? To stand around and wait for a disturbance?

There has never been a disturbance -- a legitimate disturbance -- at a council meeting. The mayor and Council President Bloom just use that term to stifle me because I expose the mayor’s poor judgment and he can’t stand that.

So when the meeting is over, the officer who’s been standing around doing nothing is instructed by the mayor to escort a councilor out of the chamber. This is a gross waste of manpower when these officers are needed in our neighborhoods that are seeing a rash of break-ins every week.

When I questioned the mayor about it, he said nothing. So I told him I would let the public know about his attitude. Your safety doesn’t seem to matter to him, except when he can get his picture in the news.

Robert Cardimino
North Adams, Massachusetts
September 19, 2013

Readers' Comments:

north_adams_resident

Mr. Cardimino: The mayor cannot request police presence at a council meeting. The meeting is run by the City Council President, and he has requested the presence. He has done so at the request of a councilor that has repeatedly been verbally assaulted by you.

In the past you have also left the gallery and entered the council floor to scream at a councilor.

The police officer there has had to remove you from several meetings as you repeatedly speak out of turn and verbally assault council members.

It is obvious to everyone but you why a police officer needs to be at the meetings. If you truly felt strongly about having the officers out patrolling instead of being at the meeting, you would either simply follow the rules of the chamber, or, better yet: don't come to meetings anymore.

Billtowner

I would agree with "readthelaw" on this matter. Mr. Cardamino, you have taken far too many positions that are extreme, and have shown no consideration for the public or private space of those who are your targets. If your conduct has caused an elected official to feel threatened by you, then you are the fault here.

You stood by Mr. Moulton in his mayoral launch, so at best sir, you are serving the role mandated to you by Overlord Barrett and his puppet. That of City Court Jester and harasser in chief.

readthelaw

Mr. Cardimino, maybe if you didn't chase a certain city councilor into the parking lot, while screaming at her, there would be no need to have a police officer escort her to her car.

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Letters: Mayoral Opponent 'Slinging the Mud'
By Dick Alcombright - iBerkshires.com - November 1, 2013

Many weeks ago, I spoke with Bob Moulton when he informed me he was going to run for mayor. Bob assured me that he would run a clean campaign and that he would respect our long term friendship and that of our families.

The campaign until this week has been very quiet and Bob has been an admirable challenger debating his points of view. At this 11th hour, however, he has decided or has been told to begin to degenerate this campaign by unfounded lies.

Two recent flyers that came to my house and I am certain to most households stated the following:

1. "I gave out tax deals to influential friends."
For those of you who know me, I have spent my entire adult life building my integrity. I have NEVER given one penny to any friends in tax deals.

2. "By shifting the tax rate, I gave Walmart, Time Warner, National Grid, Verizon and others tax breaks."
Not one of those entities received a tax break ... they paid their fair share.

3. "I gave out more than $700,000 in pay raises."
That number is the total of additional contracted compensation to all city and school employees over the past four years. That represents less than 1 percent increase each year. I trust you value our teachers, firefighters, police, DPW and office workers enough to understand that these increases were earned and were among the lowest in the state. Mr. Moulton only needs to do the math.

4. "I entered office with nearly $3.5 million in reserves."
That could not be further from the truth ... he fails to mention that I also entered office with a $2.6 million deficit in the budget and an unfunded and mismanaged insurance issue amounting to $800,000 left me by former Mayor John Barrett.

5. "Bob's priority will always be what is best for the forgotten middle class of North Adams."
We have a population consisting of 17 percent poverty, 60 percent low to moderate income ... what about them? I have acted on behalf of and in the best interests of all of our residents.

6. "$80,000 a year will be spent on swanky new school administrative offices on Main Street when space could have been found in a city-owned property."
The School Department leased office space for some 35 administrative workers for a three-year lease at $69,000 annually with the first year heavily discounted to under $50,000. All city buildings including City Hall were considered with none able to accommodate that many people. The School Department was spending over $100,000 annually at Conte and two other buildings to house administration. This move saves the district more than $30,000 annually.

7. "Invest in a state-of-the-art curriculum starting in Grade 1."
Mr. Moulton is so uninformed that he only needs to look online at the school website to see that we have a curriculum for each Grade K-12, that is mandated by the Massachusetts Frameworks and the Federal Common Core.

It is very unfortunate that Mr. Moulton has resorted to "slinging the mud" this late in the race. He has not proposed ONE idea that has substance. He says he has an action plan: what is it? He will hire more police: how will he pay for them and will it be on the back of a volunteer fire department?

The city voted to do the Conte School renovation project: he has yet to clearly answer whether or not if elected, he will scrap Conte. He told the MCLA Beacon he would, WGBY Public Television "everything was on the table" and during the radio debate he claimed he would support it. Which is it?

He has said that he will stop the privatization of Heritage State Park ... a project that I have been working on for three years that promises over $6 million in investment and will put the park back on the tax rolls.

I simply don't get it, saving all of these lies and empty promises for the 11th hour. I am fully convinced that collectively and transparently, we have moved this city forward over the past four years. Please read the information that you have received from both of us very carefully and make an informed decision.

Richard Alcombright is running for a third term as mayor of North Adams.

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"Alcombright re-elected to third term as mayor of North Adams"
By Adam Shanks and Ed Damon, North Adams Transcript, 11/06/2013


Mayor Richard J. Alcombright smiles at Mediterra Restaurant in North Adams on Tuesday following his successful re-election campaign defeating challenger Robert Moulton, Jr. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright swept all five city wards on Tuesday, winning a third term by 671 votes defeating challenger Robert Moulton, Jr.

Alcombright garnered a total of 2,149 votes to Moulton's 1,478, according to unofficial election results tallied from each of the North Adam's five wards.

Voter turn out was at 44.28 percent, with 3,885 of the city's 8,773 registered voters coming out for the election. Alcombright won 58.5 percent of the votes cast in the mayoral race, compared to 40.2 percent for Moulton.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful evening," Alcombright said at his after-election party at MediTerra on Main Street. "I'm both proud and humbled to be elected to this third term."

Alcombright congratulated candidates in each race. He also congratulated Moulton on his campaign.

"Running for mayor is no easy task, and I wish him and his family all the best," he said.

Alcombright repeatedly stressed a need to move the city forward.

"It is very evident in 2009, 2011, and now 2013, despite different faces, I have run each time against John Barrett," he said. "And I have now beat him three times."

Alcombright defeated former Mayor John Barrett III in 2009, taking 58 percent of the ballots cast, with 3,046 votes to Barrett's 2,166 votes. In 2011, he defeated former City Council President Ronald Boucher, taking 62 percent of the vote 3,776 votes cast that year.

"Tonight I stand before all of you with a challenge," Alcombright said. "That we all pull the rope in the same direction."

Despite the loss, Moulton was still smiling at his after-election party at the American Legion.

"We had a great group of people," Moulton said. "We fought right until the end."

Moulton congratulated Alcombright on a well-run campaign and said voters "want two more years of the same."

Addressing his supporters shortly after results came in, Moulton said "I can't thank you all enough."

Moulton, who didn't rule out another mayoral run in the future, said that, for now, he's looking forward to getting back to his cable access TV show, "Let's Talk About It."

"Things happen for a reason," he said.

The candidates focused on a number of issues in the city, including crime, the economy, education, and the city's tax rate.

After voting, Mary Wilson said that "getting our city to attract more people," was an important factor in her decision, along with making North Adams a "nicer place to raise a family." She voted for Alcombright Tuesday afternoon.

"I think he's done a good job so far. Why change it?," she said.

Debbie Turnbull said "moving the town forward" was the reason she cast her vote for Alcombright.

"I think Dick inherited a lot of problems," Turnbull said, adding that Alcombright has "done a lot to bring arts" to the city.

Outside Greylock Elementary, Gail E. Grandchamp said she was voting for Moulton.

"We need a new mayor in this town. That's what I think," she said. "If Barrett was running I'd vote for him in a second. Moulton I think is going to be OK."

Brian Keller said he felt the field of candidates running were strong.

"It's hard to make a decision of who to vote for," he said. "I think everyone that's running wants to do what's best for the city."

His wife, Robin, said she'd like to see more mayoral candidates.

"There are some people I'd like to see run that didn't," she added.

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North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau administers the oath of office to Mayor Richard J. Alcombright during the Organization of Government on Wednesday in council chambers at City Hall. (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)

"Mayor Alcombright promises ‘continued commitment to growth'"
By Edward Damon, North Adams Transcript, January 2, 2014

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard J. Alcombright promised his continued commitment to growth and urged residents to keep an open mind during his inaugural address Wednesday.

Alcombright, after being sworn in for his third term as mayor during the 2014 Organization of City Government at City Hall, spoke of challenges facing the city in the next few years as well as the positive changes coming soon.

"Let's not spin our wheels in politics, but rather move steadily ahead through policy," he said.

Roughly 50 people filled the City Council Chambers for the ceremony Wednesday morning, where five city council members were also sworn in. Eric Buddington, Benjamin Lamb, Kate Merrigan, Joshua Moran, and Wayne Wilkinson will serve their first two-year terms, while Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Jennifer Breen and Nancy Bullett all won re-election in November.

Blackmer was elected as City Council president, a position formerly held by Michael Bloom. Bullett was elected as vice president, formerly held by Blackmer.

Also included in the ceremony was the swearing in of North Adams School Committee and Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District members.

Alcombright welcomed the new city council and stated it is collectively a very strong body.

"Some have expressed concern that the number of new councilors might be problematic," he said. "I fail to see the problems but very specifically focus on the many opportunities."

What the council lacked in municipal experience, he said, was made up for with professional experience in fields such as education, management, law, retail and human services.

He expressed a concern about North Adams Regional Hospital, which announced it will close the Greylock Pavilion this month. The department's inpatient psychiatric services and the pediatric unit will be replaced with outpatient services through its Emergency Department.

Alcombright acknowledged the hospital's parent organization, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, struggled to maintain services amidst financial difficulties.

"I only ask this community stand by [the hospital], knowing that what they are experiencing financial is very real," he said. "And while very difficult, the decision to reduce services for some may reserve services for most."

Alcombright noted the city must prioritize capital projects related to the city's infrastructure, including a public safety building, Americans with Disability Act improvements, and work at the city's airport.

"My administration with this council will be making very difficult decisions over the several cycles as we prioritize projects and determine the best way to fund them," he said. "The reality is much that we need to do, needs to be done sooner rather than later."

In speaking about the city's budget, Alcombright stressed the importance of growth to strengthen the city financially. The city gained jobs along the Route 8 corridor through Crane's stationary division and retail stores Ocean State Job Lot, Tractor Supply and Walmart he said.

Future initiatives related to growth include the redevelopment of Heritage State Park into Greylock Market and the renovation of the Mohawk Theater, he said.

Alcombright also said he would do more to expand the city's business base through initiatives such as special tax agreements.

The city remains on the right path despite challenges, he said, noting the Conte School renovation will soon be underway and is scheduled to open in September 2015. In addition, the city is set to unveil it's Vision 2030 Master Plan this Winter, and the Partnership for North Adams will unveil its privately funded Visionary Plan.

"Today, right now, I am confident that we are on the right path and that we have and will continue to see great things happen," Alcombright said.

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"Mayor Alcombright cast wide net for donations during campaign"
By Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/09/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- The city’s two mayoral candidates ran two very different campaigns in 2013, campaign finance documents show.

Incumbent and eventual winner Richard Alcombright outspent and outraised challenger Robert Moulton Jr., by more an almost 3-to-1 margin, ending the year with a campaign surplus while Moulton went more than $5,000 into the red. Moulton reported a total of $8,727 in fundraising compared to Alcombright’s $23,931.

Alcombright, who received money from a relatively wide geographical range of donors, was able to spend significantly more than Moulton on campaign mailers, advertisements in local print, and radio, and other campaign-related expenses.

"I fully expected to be outspent," Moulton said. "I didn’t want it to be about money, I wanted it to be about me."

Moulton had to personally foot the bill for the $6,451 more his campaign spent than it raised, he said, but added that he doesn’t regret the expenditures.

Of the itemized donors to Alcombright’s campaign (all those who gave $50 or more), about half had addresses listed outside of North Adams. Moulton’s campaign listed no contributions from outside the city, a point he made throughout the campaign.

Of the $18,355 in itemized donations to Alcombright’s campaign, about 70 percent came from donors who listed their residences as outside of the city. The majority of Alcombright’s funding came in donations larger than $50, and were itemized.

Alcombright said donors from around the area were attracted to his campaign by his open style of government and willingness to hear new ideas.

"What does it hurt? What is a negative?" Alcombright said of accepting donations from people across the region. "I’ve reached out to all of the entities regionally for how we can collaborate. I don’t leave any door unopened."

Alcombright’s campaign also attracted more-prominent donors from around the county and beyond. Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire County Community College, gave $200, despite not living in the city. John DeRosa, a city attorney, donated $500.

"Ellen [Kennedy] and I speak periodically about how do we get more of our students from North Adams down to Berkshire Community College," Alcombright said, including discussing improving public transportation between the city and Pittsfield.

Kenneth Pendery, CEO of First Watch, Inc., which owns the First Watch chain of breakfast restaurants, gave $500, and Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner of the Red Lion Inn in Lenox, also shelled out $500.

"I think it’s fairly simple from my perspective," Alcombright said on how he was able to raise campaign funds. "I think we’ve provided a very open style of government, we’ve shown proven growth in small businesses, and even in larger businesses."

Alcombright also pointed out that there were many donors to his campaign from North Adams that made, $25, $50, and even $100 contributions.

Political opponents have frequently pointed to Alcombright’s embrace of campaign money from outside the city, but he contends that the people who donated have also brought capital to the city.

"If we don’t grow, we’re going to die," he said. "If that means I need to court people from outside the area and get them to buy into the idea they can help ... I just don’t see a downside that, and I would challenge anyone to find it for me."

Moulton, for his part, said he didn’t really seek campaign funds. His largest single campaign contribution was attributed to a spaghetti dinner fundraising event at the American Legion.

"I wanted to go door to door, meet people," he said. "We knocked on doors and we were happy with what we did."

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"Patrick's plan on local aid sparks budget concerns in North Adams"
By Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/9/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to leave the state’s unrestricted general government aid to localities flat this year has city officials concerned that North Adams will be left with a significant deficit to make up for in this year’s budget.

The governor’s plan, despite increasing state revenues, is sparking a statewide protest from local officials.

"It’s been very painful for cities and towns across the state," said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "[The governor’s proposal] would squeeze communities even harder."

The city’s total assistance from the state, under the governor’s proposal, would increase by less than the rate of inflation in the fiscal year 2015, according to city officials. But Mayor Richard Alcombright expects the city’s expenses to jump by close to $1 million, creating a gap the city will likely have to make up for through taxation.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo has promised his branch of the state government won’t settle for the governor’s local aid proposal, saying "the House will do better," according to Beckwith. But the House likely won’t pass its budget until April, and the Senate in May, leaving cities guessing what their state aid will amount to in the meantime, Beckwith said.

Even with an optimistic estimate of about $400,000 in new real estate taxes and an eventual 3 percent increase in unrestricted aid -- which the governor has suggested should remain flat -- the mayor said he expects to begin the budget process with a $100,000 deficit. If the governor’s proposal becomes law, the city would be "about $500,000 behind the 8-ball," according to Alcombright.

In the fiscal year 2014, the city ran about a $300,000 deficit. Pension, labor, and insurance costs are all expected to rise about $150,000 next year, and the city’s minimum funding requirement for its public schools will increase significantly under the governor’s proposal. Net school spending is going up $240,000, of which only about $38,000 will be covered by additional monies in state aid, Alcombright said.

The Patrick Administration contends that it has found ways to save municipalities money in recent years, including through municipal health care reform.

"Last year we were able to make sizable increases to important local aid accounts, including increasing unrestricted government aid by $21 million," said Glen Shor, secretary of the governor’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance. "This year’s budget maintains that significant increase while providing additional funding to other key local aid accounts including a record investment in education local aid."

The city has few places to turn in its effort to make up this year’s projected gap. Its reserves are dwindling after years of using them to maintain basic services through the recession, according to Alcombright.

"This city played that shell game for years," Alcombright said, adding that he had been in favor of it. "We have no reserves."

Six years after the recession, that city still hasn’t seen a resurgence in its reserves or state funding, and both are still well below pre-2008 levels.

Prior to the recession, state assistance accounted for nearly 53 percent of North Adams’ budget, Alcombright said. Now, it accounts for about 44 percent. Cities like North Adams -- whose unemployment rate is above the state average -- traditionally rely more heavily on state aid because they have lower tax bases, according to Beckwith, making it hurt that much more when state aid is slashed. State funding in North Adams has declined 14.3 percent from 2009 to now, or $2.98 million, according to the mayor.

"On the other side of the coin, when you look at the budget, we have reduced staff in every department of city hall," Alcombright said.

After years of attrition in city hall, Alcombright said there isn’t any more room to cut. The Department of Public Works now employs only 16 people, according to Alcombright.

"When I was a kid there were 43 [DPW employees,]" he said.

The city saved between $200,000 and $300,000 last year by renegotiating insurance coverage with employees and it has saved about $80,000 by eliminating its commissioner of public safety position. It has also saved well over $100,000 by consolidating several positions at city hall, including merging its building inspection and health inspection services.

The mayor also rejects the idea of reducing the city’s police and fire departments.

After an increase in violent crimes that grabbed headlines in the summer of 2013, the mayor said the city has had a "really good six months."

"I won’t cut a cop," he said. "I think we’re going in the right direction with policing and crime."

Reducing the number of firefighterswouldn’t make financial sense, according to the mayor.

"I could lay off four firefighters next week, but the problem is ... if I do that, my overtime costs would double, maybe triple," Alcombright said.

The city will now wait on the state legislature to make its final decision.

"If the state doesn’t come through ... we’re not going to be in a good place," Alcombright said.

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"North Adams Mayor Alcombright asks residents to take active role, admits budget concerns"
By Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/12/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright asked residents to take an active role in embracing growth in North Adams, while acknowledging looming budget concerns in his State of the City address Tuesday.

The speech marked Alcombright's fifth year in office, but first with a brand new City Council that has five first-time members. The council and mayor face a wide range of economic challenges as they look toward creating a budget.

"As we begin to build our fiscal year 2015 budget, I must be certain that this council and residents understand that this will undoubtedly be the most difficult budget this city has seen in recent memory," Alcombright said.

Alcombright warned residents of the consequences of stagnation. "If we don't grow, we will die," he said.

The mayor pointed to a number of ongoing projects as proof of the city's resurgence, including the renovation of the former Silvio O Conte Middle School and the nearly complete 2030 Master Plan.

"As a community, as a city, we should never forget our past and who we were," Alcombright said. "However, we should not hold on to that past so tightly that we diminish the hope of what we can become."

At the same time, Alcombright lamented Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed budget, which would keep unrestricted local aid levels flat in the fiscal year 2015. The mayor has estimated that the city could be looking at a deficit as large as $500,000.

"Without yet getting into the numbers, that announcement will be the inaction that will immediately put our next budget significantly out of balance," Alcombright said.

Despite the grim budget outlook, the mayor reported progress on a number of his initiatives, including the completion of the Hadley Overpass construction scheduled for this summer; the recent bidding out of the Conte School Renovation; and the privatization of Heritage State Park as the Greylock Market.

Alcombright also addressed growing concerns about drug addiction in the city and the crime associated with it, saying that he's helped enhance policing efforts while also praising local nonprofits that aim toward prevention.

"What are we doing about this in North Adams? First and foremost, more policing, more arrests, and more convictions," Alcombright said.

The mayor praised several local groups, including the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's nb21 (not before 21) program, for working to prevent the addiction that has risen in correlation with crime.

"Through these efforts, conversations are finally being had on traditionally hidden and sensitive subjects, Alcombright said. "No one wakes up one day choosing a life of addiction."

The mayor ended his address by asking the community to join him and "pick up the rope of hope" and work toward a better future for the city by embracing a new model for development and moving on from the city's industrial past.

The mayor pointed to a number of goals he has in 2014, including a "re-engagement" of the Mohawk Theater and "selective" demolition of blighted areas in the city, as well as "continued outreach to the private sector" for economic development. The mayor also expressed hope that the Armory building can be transformed into a community center this year.

"If you don't want anything to do with the rope, then please, don't get in the way of those pulling," Alcombright said.

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Our Opinion: "Grim reality in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 3/15/2014

Economic realities can be kicked down the road, but not indefinitely. That is proving to be the case in North Adams, where economic realities that went unaddressed three years ago not only have not gone anywhere they have become harsher with the passage of time.

The rejection of a Proposition 21Ž2 override three years ago set the stage for the city’s current dilemma, as Mayor Richard Alcombright pointed out earlier this week. The city has dipped into its reserves, the rough equivalent of a family dipping into savings to pay day-to-day expenses, and those reserves are down to a modest $300,000. North Adams has not been guilty of irresponsible spending but is less prepared than other communities for inevitable hikes in fixed costs and unanticipated funding requirements.

Higher than expected veterans benefits payments and school department pension costs simply cannot be avoided. Public safety comes at a cost, and in recent months that has led to police department overtime in North Adams. The brutal winter has blown apart public works budgets in municipalities around the state. The state, facing budget difficulties of its own, is reducing local aid, a blow that is magnified in communities like North Adams that are living on the edge financially.

It is too soon to determine if another Proposition 21Ž2 vote will requested but the mayor suggested it might be. The town is at its levy limit, facing a fiscal 2015 deficit and can’t count on a windfall of state aid. The override should have been approved three years before the town slid toward the brink. It is now nearly there, and the easy answers are long gone, replaced only by tough choices that must be made.

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"North Adams Regional Hospital to close"
By Robert Weisman, Boston Globe Staff, March 25, 2014

Executives at financially struggling North Adams Regional Hospital, which has operated in the rural northwestern corner of Massachusetts for 129 years, said it will shut its doors Friday (March 28th, 2014).

The move would be the first permanent closing of an acute-care hospital closing in the state since Waltham Hospital shut down in 2003, though the Massachusetts Nurses Association said it will fight the move.

North Adams Regional Hospital, the largest employer in North Adams, will idle about 530 full-time and part-time employees at the hospital and its affiliates. The closing would leave the northern Berkshire County communities of Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Drury, Florida, Lanesborough, North Adams, Savoy, and Williamstown without a community hospital for the first time in more than a century.

In a statement, officials at the 109-bed nonprofit hospital said that the board of its parent organization, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, voted to shutter the hospital as well as the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire, and three hospital-owned medical practices. The move came in response to the hospital’s “worsening financial status,” it said.

Over the past six years, as the hospital went in and out of bankruptcy, “we have investigated every possible avenue and exhausted all options as we searched for a way to continue operating the hospital and its affiliates,” board chairwoman Julia Bolton said in the statement.

“Board members, management, physicians, and employees have worked together with dedication and commitment to prevent this outcome,” she said. “But now, given our finances and the daunting challenges that small rural community hospitals are facing in this health care environment, we can no longer continue.”

North Adams Regional Hospital executives disclosed their plans in a meeting with staffers that reportedly turned contentious Tuesday afternoon.

David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Canton-based nurses union, which has about 100 members working at the North Adams hospital, said nurses’ representatives were told by the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Leesa Lee Keith, that the hospital would be closing.

“It is totally irresponsible to close a hospital with three days’ notice,” said Schildmeier, who maintained hospital officials were obligated to give the state at least 90 days notice. “We’re not prepared to accept this closure. We’re going to fight this with everything we can.”

Schildmeier said the hospital’s president, Timothy Jones, berated union members at the staff meeting. “He was actually yelling at our members because they were questioning their right to do this on such short notice,” Schildmeier said. He said unionized nurses may return to work Friday and try to take care of patients even if the hospital closes its doors.

Paul Hopkins, the hospital’s director of community relations, said executives have been discussing their moves with the state Department of Public Health “for weeks and months now,” though they weren’t disclosed publicly until Tuesday afternoon. Hopkins said he was “not aware” of voices being raised at the meeting.

In the hospital’s statement, Jones said, “The implications of this decision are far-reaching but our primary concern is for our patients. We are working tirelessly to ensure a smooth transition to other care providers, including other hospitals in the region.”

The hospital’s emergency department will close at 10 a.m. Friday, the statement said. It said the hospital is working with other area hospitals and ambulance services to ensure continuation of emergency services. Residents may seek emergency care at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in nearby Bennington, Vt.

Patients of Northern Berkshire Family Medicine and the VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire will be moved to other practices and agencies between now and April 4, the statement said.

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"Hope in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 4/25/2014

The city of North Adams, which was in dire need of good news, got some yesterday with the announcement that Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, will purchase the former North Adams Regional Hospital. This would be the ideal outcome, though the particulars of bankruptcy law produce a degree of uncertainty.

The purchase agreement was announced by attorneys representing BMC and creditors of Northern Berkshire Healthcare in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Springfield Thursday. BHS said it would spend up to $10 million in repairs and improvements to the hospital building. The county has been waiting for BHS to ride to the rescue like the cavalry since March 28, when the hospital closed on three days notice. This was never realistic given the complexity of the situation and the obligation of BHS not to put itself in jeopardy, but a month later a resolution iis in sight.

It is hoped that BMC will have the emergency room at the former NARH up and running by the middle of May. That all of North Berkshire is without emergency services is an unhealthy situation to say the least, and the long travel times combined with the loss of hospital transfer business since NARH closed is putting a tremendous strain on the three Northern Berkshire ambulance services (Eagle, April 24). For them, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Bankruptcy law requires that upon the final sale a 45-day window will be opened for bidders, and if there are bidders, a bankruptcy auction would be held. Plainly, Berkshire Health Systems, which has maintained its financial strength in the face of difficult challenges facing hospitals, and is familiar with North Berkshire, would be the ideal owner, but the process must play itself out in the months ahead.

It is possible that BMC could be running the reopened hospital in July. BMC has hired about 150 of the 500 employees who were put out of work by the closing of NARH, and while it is unrealistic to believe that all would be hired back as the hospital may not be run in the same way, it is realistic to believe that many employees will return. North Adams, at the least, has reason to be optimistic again after what has been a traumatic month.

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"Worried about North Adams' future"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 5/22/2014

To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

I lived in North Adams for 16 years of my life until I moved elsewhere due to my enlistment in the United States Army. I conducted two tours in Iraq as a combat infantryman during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I am proud to have served my country.

It was a bit heartbreaking however, when I returned from service to the state in which North Adams had become. The heroin epidemic surprised me the most, as well as crime escalating in the community.

Of course no town is perfect, and maybe I was just oblivious to a lot of these issues due to my young age and ignorance of such events because of the interests of my own life. I have such fond memories of growing up in North Adams, and in my opinion the Berkshires have a lot of beautiful attractions to offer. But the idea of things possibly getting worse is something I worry about.

Having a daughter of my own now has made me concerned for her safety, and I wonder about possible scenarios she may encounter growing up. I still feel North Adams is a beautiful city, and I am hoping the areas that are in need of improvement will do so. But only time will tell.

NATHAN A. RICHARDS
Cheshire

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"North Adams would get $750K bailout under Senate budget"
By Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle, 5/23/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- The city would receive a one-time, $750,000 shot in the arm under a preliminary budget measure adopted late Thursday, according to state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield.

The emergency municipal budget relief measure was passed less than 24 hours after Mayor Richard Alcombright proposed a fiscal 2015 spending plan that closed a $620,000 budget deficit through increases in taxes, water, and sewer fees, combined with cuts to the Public Works and Police departments.

And it comes less than two months after the abrupt closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, which rocked the Northern Berkshire community and caused more than 500 layoffs.

"I am extremely grateful that my colleagues in the Senate supported the Northern Berkshire community by adopting these proposals, which are intended to help the city ‘get back on its feet' and invest in proven regional service providers," Downing said in a prepared release.

The funding is part of a proposed $36.2 billion state budget for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1. Though approved by the Senate, the spending must be authorized by a conference committee that will adopt the Legislature's final budget and pass it along to Gov. Deval Patrick for signing.

The measure was among a number of funding initiatives approved for North Adams and its community organizations, Downing said in the release, including $460,000 to continue BerkshireRides, $100,000 to support the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and $75,000 for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Gallery 51.

It's unclear how the funding would impact the mayor's fiscal 2015 budget proposal. The senator's statement does not specify if the municipal aid will be unrestricted.

Alcombright declined to comment on the funding on Friday, saying that he will wait until it is finalized by the Legislature and governor.

City officials met with state leaders, including Downing and Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, earlier this month to request an injection of funding in the face of what appeared to be a nearly $1 million deficit.

The Senate also has approved measures that would allow the city to utilize special reserve accounts to balance its fiscal 2014 budget. Those proposals will likely be taken up by the House of Representatives next week.
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related news article: www.iberkshires.com/story/46566/North-Adams-2015-Budget-Would-Raise-Fees-Cut-Staff.html
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related link: www.urbantoolsconsult.org/upload/North%20Adams%20and%20Berkshire%20County_2012.pdf
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"North Adams' dilemma"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 5/24/2014

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright is responding to tough financial times with water rate and sewer fee increases and two budget cuts through attrition. It is, the mayor acknowledges, a temporary fix, but the Proposition 2 1/2 override for fiscal 2016 he will advocate will be a difficult sell.

Late Thursday, the state Senate approved a $750,000 emergency relief measure for the city proposed by state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, and if the proposal gets through a House/Senate conference committee, it will be a major boost for a city facing a $620,000 deficit. This funding, however, would not change the economic dynamic in the city going forward. A Proposition 2 1/2 override brought to voters three years ago, when the economy was not as bad, failed to pass. If an override didn’t pass then, it will be a challenge to convince voters to pass one given current circumstances.

A more aggressive approach to the city’s financial problems would reduce expenses and in doing so, may make voters more favorably inclined to consider an override. That would mean going to the school, police and fire unions for give-backs on pay hikes or, failing that, exploring unpaid furloughs, four-day work weeks and other options. These are painful measures that the private sector in Berkshire County has had to enact given cruel economic realities, and the public sector can’t be immune, especially in a city in as dire a financial situation as is North Adams.

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"Proposed North Adams Public School budget eliminates 19 positions"
By Edward Damon, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 6/2/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- The proposed school budget for fiscal 2015 would eliminate 19 positions across the district.

The $16.09 million budget for North Adams Public School represents roughly $827,000 in cuts. Superintendent James E. Montepare estimated a majority -- perhaps $750,000 -- would be in staff. The 1.28 percent increase over fiscal 2014 is largely due to contractual obligations as well as rising energy and special education costs.

The budget also represents the city contributing $204,000 -- the minimum spending required by the state -- and utilizing $400,000 in school choice funds.

"There are still some wild cards out there," he said. "For example, we don’t know exactly what Title I is going to look like, special education, or all of our recurring grants."

A public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Offices of the Superintendent, 37 Main St. Suite 200.

The budget was rolled out for the first time at Monday’s meeting of the School Committee’s Finance and Facilities Subcommittee.

The 19 positions that would be eliminated are 10 full-time teachers, five non-contract employees, and four teaching assistants, Montepare said. In addition, two teaching assistants who have retired and two teachers who have resigned will not be replaced.

Among the cuts would be three full-time instructional technology positions at the elementary schools, Montepare said. Also to be cut are a Title I teacher, an elementary-level social studies teacher, a general education elementary school teacher, and a special education teaching position.

Level-funded line items include maintenance of equipment, Montepare said. He noted the budget allows for "band aid" fixes on aging boilers in the buildings.

The budget’s biggest reduction is in $247,000 for instructional coordinators, with the budgeted $62,456 representing a 79.86 percent decrease over fiscal 2014.

"The reality is that state aid has been reduced and continues to force us to reduce school spending and school budgets," Mayor Richard A. Alcombright remarked during the meeting.

Both Alcombright and Montepare pointed to level funding through Chapter 70 state aid for the past five years as contributing to a difficult budget.

"I think there’s a perception here in the city that our expenses keep rising," Alcombright said. "But our revenues continue to shrink, and we have not been able to raise revenues at the same pace they’re declining all over the city."

The school budget’s release follows that of Alcombright’s $37.74 million city budget, which includes increase in water and sewer charges and a cut in police and Department of Public Works services. The revenue package, which will be voted on separately from the final budget, also would include an increase in parking fines and other fees.

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"The saga continues in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, June 4, 2014

North Adams never ceases to amaze! Every morning is a treat. I open the paper to see what's going on in the news. North Adams tops it all.

A headline reads, "CVS Pharmacy wants to purchase the old Saint Francis," and what does North Adams do? The mayor sees fit to block the sale. North Adams says it needs a new school and we are told there three plans to chose from. Anybody who attended the meetings could tell which one was going to win.

North Adams says Conte is the best fit for a state of the art school, it will be cheaper, but a new building could have been built where Kemp Park is. There was no need to bus students as the old school could have been used. That is all water under the bridge.

The amazing story for today is "School budget to be cut, 19 positions could be lost." Does this seem ironic! They said they were going to give us a state of the art school, we just won't be able to staff it. The main thing that baffles me is CVS and Conte could have been put back on the tax roll, giving more funds to use for the city and school budgets instead of making us pay more property and water/sewer taxes.

I can hardly wait to see tomorrow's headlines for North Adams. The saga continues.

Mike Mongeon
North Adams, Massachusetts

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"Welcome bailout aside, tough road for North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 7/3/2014

The $750,000 bailout for the city of North Adams approved by the Legislature will give the community a much-needed economic boost. It doesn’t, however, change the situation on the ground, as the beleaguered city is in a severe economic morass with no clear or easy way out.

The bill, sponsored by and lobbied for by state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, is designed to make up for revenue lost when the city’s hospital suddenly closed earlier this year. Governor Deval Patrick must still review this provision along with the rest of the budget for the coming fiscal year.

In a meeting last week with state officials, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright declared "We’re broke. We’re broke. We’re one cycle short of Detroit," according to a report by the State House News Service. Comparisons with the disaster that is Detroit are disturbing, and while Gerard Perry, the director of accounts for The Department of Revenue, replied to the mayor by assuring him "We will not allow it," the state isn’t going to step in beyond the relatively modest bailout passed on Beacon Hill unless North Adams takes significant action to sort itself out.

The mayor has made difficult cuts in maintenance and public service, teaching and city government positions have not been filled, and the mayor assured state officials last week that taxes and fees have been raised to squeeze out revenue. The budget is balanced, a rarity, but cash reserves are all but depleted, a dangerous situation for a city to find itself in.

Mayor Alcombright is advocating a Proposition 2-1/2 override three years after an override vote failed under better, if far from ideal, economic circumstances than are in place today. State officials undoubtedly expect such an effort to be made, but as the mayor told officials, "It’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to be a hard sell." Residents of North Adams are suffering financially along with their city, so a property tax override will indeed be a tough sell, and it is going to be a significant challenge for the city to remain at least one cycle short of Detroit.

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"Mayor’s counterproductive negativity"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 7/10/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

The comments of public officials are often taken out of context, and I sincerely hope that is proven to be true regarding North Adams Mayor Alcombright’s comments with state officials regarding the financial plight of North Adams: "We’re broke. We’re broke. We’re one cycle short of Detroit." (Eagle editorial, July 3, 2014).

I moved from Shrewsbury to North Berkshire in 1970 when I assumed a teaching position at North Adams State College. I loved the area: beautiful mountains, rural beauty, friendly people and a small-town atmosphere. But, there was one big negative that didn’t take long to recognize: hostile local politics and bickering among the mayor and city officials. This negativity continues to this day, and many citizens in this community seem to thrive on this divisiveness. There is, indeed, a close correlation between Washington, D.C., and small-town politics: nothing gets done, and there is gridlock.

Mayor Alcombright has worked very hard for North Adams and his efforts should be applauded. However, I find his remarks to state officials to be counterproductive to all efforts to project a positive image of the city.

Being more specific, let’s examine the relationship between Mass. College of Liberal Arts and the city. I was a professor at MCLA for 32 years and retired in 2002. If I were a parent of a son/daughter who was considering attending MCLA, I would say, "No, it’s a poor choice. The mayor of the city compares it to Detroit. It must be dangerous."

In my life, I have never accepted the conduct of defeatism: giving up. In the next mayoral election in North Adams, it might be wise for the citizens of North Adams to elect a candidate who has a new vision for this city and all its undiscovered potential. North Adams and its surrounding communities have their challenges, but I much prefer to quote a long-distant relative from Scotland -- John Paul Jones: "I have not yet begun to fight."

NEIL N. MCLEOD
Clarksburg

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"Mayor rebrands North Adams"
By Bill Donovan, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/13/2014
North Adams, Massachusetts

Over the past several months, Mayor Richard Alcombright of North Adams has spent a great deal of time lobbying the Patrick administration and Legislature to get a financial bailout package from the state's taxpayers. In his plea for money, Alcombright blames everyone but himself for the financial mess that now exists in North Adams.

He claims that North Adams has lost more than $3 million in state aid since 2009. True, but it all happened prior to his assuming office. Since Alcombright became mayor, state aid has increased, and the city has not lost a penny in local aid. He blames former Mayor John Barrett for depleting all the reserves. The figures obtained from the Department of Revenue reports show that Barrett left Alcombright more than $3.5 million in reserves and $1.2 million in excess tax levy capacity. Alcombright even blames the voters for his financial mess because they didn't approve his $1.2 million override in 2011 (just months earlier residents were hit with a 50 percent increase in water and sewer rates). This month, users will see another 18 percent increase in their water and sewer rates.

The mayor can blame whoever he wants for the financial mess in North Adams, but the blame lies with his inability to control his spending. North Adams' outside auditor, Thomas Scanlon, summed it up best last year when he told the City Council Finance Committee that "the city cannot keep spending to the brink." You don't give $800,000 in pay raises after the voters said no to a Prop 2 1/2 override. You don't increase the city's share of health insurance premiums to 75 percent at a time when most communities and business reduced their contributions.

In four years, the city's health insurance costs have risen by more than a million dollars annually. You don't cut cops and teachers while at the same time pay 75 percent of the health insurance premium of part-time elected officials at a cost of $15,000 per family plan.

Alcombright gave a $350,000 tax break to Crane at the same time as he increased the tax rate for homeowners by 4.5 percent. While the mayor tells officials in Boston that North Adams is broke, next year's budget includes pay increases for employees. One employee received a $5,400 re-grade with no additional duties! Others received annual raises of more than $3,000, and two City Hall employees received $5,000 annual increases last year. In March, Alcombright settled contracts with bargaining units that included retroactive pay along with a 25 percent increase in their clothing allowance.

In April, Alcombright sent a letter to the legislators seeking support for legislation which would allow North Adams to use money from the sale of land to balance the budget, telling them, "Loss of population, a glut of aging real estate, aging infrastructure, increases in poverty, and social-economic ills that result, combined with a ‘true' urban dynamic, have placed increasing strains on the city's reserves and ability to sustain its budget." I'll bet this will bring a lot of people and businesses to North Adams! One could ask what he has been doing for the past four years. A few weeks ago, appearing before the State Municipal Finance Oversight Board, Alcombright proclaimed; "We're broke, we're broke. We're one cycle short of Detroit." You can't make this stuff up!

Alcombright's comments didn't receive any coverage in the local media [until an Eagle editorial of July 3,] and few in North Adams and Berkshire County were aware of his statements. The rest of Massachusetts and beyond saw them, since his "We're one cycle short of Detroit" comment appeared in articles in The Boston Globe and Springfield Republican, and on New England Public Radio as well as the State House News Service. Department of Revenue Director of Accounts, Gerard Perry, ordered Alcombright to stop making the Detroit comparison, adding that the Department of Revenue wouldn't let it happen. The fact is that Perry and other Department of Revenue officials can share in the blame for the financial mess in North Adams. If they had read the annual audits, they would have seen the red flags being raised by outside auditor Thomas Scanlon three years ago.

I was a member of the North Adams City Council when Sprague Electric Company left the city, and I remember how tough things were as we attempted to rebuild the city's economy. The city had no money, and times were tough, but Mayor Barrett always projected the city in a positive light. People started to believe in North Adams, as two new schools were constructed, a water filtration plant was built, and Mass MoCA opened. These projects happened with financial help from the state. Barrett rebuilt the city's economy, and anyone who said a bad word about North Adams would hear from him! He created a positive image of North Adams, one which would encourage people to come to North Adams. Now Mayor Alcombright's statement, "We're one cycle short of Detroit" has done irreparable harm to North Adams. Let's hope the governor removes the word "unrestricted" from the grant.

Mayor Alcombright has often said that he wanted to re-brand North Adams, and it appears that he has been successful. Under his leadership, North Adams went from being "One of the Five Hidden Jewels of New England," according to Yankee Magazine, to "We're one cycle short of Detroit."

Bill Donovan wrote columns for The North Adams Transcript.

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Richard Alcombright: "Pulling the rope in North Adams"
By Richard Alcombright, Opinion: Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/22/2014
NORTH ADAMS, Massachusetts

As a 60-year resident of the city of North Adams, I feel very fortunate that I am just old enough to vividly remember a vibrant and bustling mill town. I like many other people in this community have seen significant changes over many years. We have seen our city and greater region transformed and in most cases for the better.

The city of North Adams is a re-emerging microcosm of post-industrial America and we are struggling financially due to a variety of economic factors. I made a comment several weeks ago comparing us to another city and it seemed to garner a lot of local attention. My comment was in a sense inelegant, but did create an intended awareness regarding our city's economic condition. Nonetheless, be certain that we continue to make progress due to the strong nature and character of our residents. We also have strong community, anchor and business partners as well as the commonwealth. We have a bright and promising future if we continue to "pull the rope" in the same direction. A recent commentary has pulled the rope in the other direction with falsehoods that I must address.

It was reported that the previous administration left me with more than $3.5 million in reserves in 2010. What was omitted was that I was left with a budgetary deficit of $2.6 million. It was further stated that I gave Crane a $350,000 tax break and yes I did give them an incentive, because we have to encourage businesses to grow here and STAY here to increase our tax base. I think one should only ask the well over 150 people who took advantage of the new manufacturing jobs at Crane if the "incentive" was not warranted.

Another misrepresentation talked about $800,000 in pay raises and the truth is that salaries in the city have grown at less than 1 percent per year since I took office. Additionally, it was stated that health insurance costs have risen by $1 million annually. Health insurance costs in the FY 2010 budget were approximately $3.5 million and the budgeted number for FY 2015 is $4.5 million, an increase of $1 million over "six" years.

Finally, it was stated that I increased the city share of health insurance premium costs to 75 percent which I did in 2010 as part of a settlement with employees when audits proved that their health insurance trust fund had been mismanaged for years.

At the end of the day, people can write what they want and say what they will. The simple truth is that I made a point that we must address our financial situation. How ever, I know I am not alone when I say the city of North Adams is a great place to live. We are rich in tradition and enjoy a natural environment not found many other places in the country. We have all the attributes of a much larger city with the feel of small-town America. We can welcome 8,000 visitors for a Wilco concert at MASS MoCA or simply stretch out for a concert at Windsor Lake. We can watch the SteepleCats or we can go to a Little League game. We can walk in the downtown or hike through endless miles of trails. We can go to the Clark Art Museum or we can go to DownStreet Art (courtesy of MCLA).

The city of North Adams and our greater region continues to thrive in many ways. We have seen resurgence in the community optimism of many who see the promise our city holds. We have solid anchors in the city, in MCLA and Mass MoCA and we are seeing the rebirth of our medical services thanks to our new partner, Berkshire Health Systems.

Let's think about what has and is happening -- the Solid Sound Festival, Fresh Grass Festival, Beck Concert -- all brought here by Mass MoCA, bringing thousands of visitors to the city and greater region. The Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation at MCLA has been completed and with this comes more students and a greater chance for STEM-related entrepreneurial opportunities. The Clark Art Museum just reopened giving our greater region yet another significant economic boost. We have more events than ever with things like Motorama and Parties at the Park (courtesy of WUPE and WNAW). Soon, we will be opening a Community/Youth Center at the former North Adams Armory.

We have seen fair economic growth as our unemployment rate has come down since 2010 with the growth at Crane, Wal-mart and many small-to-medium businesses investing and expanding. We have attracted national and regional chains with Ocean State Job Lots, Tractor Supply, Bond Auto and Cumberland Farms. We are literally watching our historic Conte School being renovated and transformed into the state-of-the-art Colegrove Park Elementary School. We continue to negotiate with the principals of Greylock Marketplace towards the re-birth of what is now Heritage State Park. We will see the Berk shire Scenic Rail Museum soon providing exciting train connectivity between here and downtown Adams. We have seen millions in investment from the Holiday Inn, Big Y, Carr Hardware, Inn on East Main Street and others.

We have made a lot of progress in this city. The City of North Adams has a bright and promising future and there are many who are "pulling the rope of hope" towards socially and economically sustainable results. I, and many others, have made a commitment to this city and this greater region and I am proud of what we have accomplished and proud to be the mayor of the city of North Adams.

Richard Alcombright is the mayor of North Adams.

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"Reasons for hope in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 7/28/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

As a committed 12-year citizen of North Adams who grew up in the northern Berkshires and returned here at the dawn of the 21st century, I want to express my support for Mayor Richard Alcombright and appreciation for his July 22 op-ed. I do not agree with all of his decisions and policies, but I feel grateful that we have a leader of his skill, stature, and courage at the helm of the city that I have come to love.

Glass half full or half empty? I see both. I see the poverty in my own neighborhood above Church Street, kids playing in the street with no playground nearby; dilapidated houses on Meadow and East Quincy streets where poor families try to survive; adults in domestic conflict; neglected dogs running wild in the streets, threatening our dog and others; nighttime disturbances with police sometimes called. I could go on.

As an educator and a human being, what I care the most about, passionately, is the children of North Adams and their futures. For several years, as the head of community engagement at Williams College, I started and supervised the involvement of caring Williams students -- many from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves -- spending many hours tutoring and mentoring elementary school kids at Brayton, Greylock, and BART as well as an excellent program working with kids year-round at the low-income Mohawk Forest neighborhood. Thank you, Kathy Keeser.

Because of my close involvement with Brayton, I had the joy of working with staff and teachers like Sarah Madden, Noella Carlow, Linda Neville, and other dedicated educators, and I experienced first-hand the smiles, laughter, empowerment resources, and skill-building that they imparted to the kids.

For the most part, the many kids I have interacted with in my neighborhood and at the local schools are young people with enormous potential who have learned not only from books but from direct experience; they have learned about compassion for others as well as their own self-fulfillment. The kids and their hard-working teachers give me hope.

All of us in North Adams and the northern Berkshires need to give these beautiful children our full support in every way we can. I was especially gratified to read Mayor Alcombright’s mention of the opening soon of the new community and youth center at the old North Adams Armory. If done right, that could be the most hopeful development of all.

STEWART BURNS
North Adams

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"North Adams Tourism Director Veronica Bosley steps down"
By Edward Damon, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/22/2014

NORTH ADAMS -- The city's director of tourism and community events has stepped down after three years to take a position at Williams College.

Veronica Bosley, whose last day was Friday, was to begin in her new post this week, she said.

"I've loved working for the city of North Adams," she said. "I think it's a really exciting place to be right now, and I'm lucky to have been a part of that."

Her new position at Williams College will involve coordinating commencement and academic events at the college, she said.

Bosley, a native of the town of Florida and a Mount Holyoke College graduate, stepped into the position in July 2011. She had previously served as the program director of the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

Bosley spoke about the passion many residents have for the Northern Berkshire region and gave thanks to the many volunteers who help run each event.

"There are so many people willing to jump on board," she said.

She cited the Motorama Car Show, a collaboration between the city and other groups, and the North Adams Farmers Market as examples of events that have grown in size in the past few years.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said the position will not immediately be filled. He said he was reaching out to a tourism former intern to help coordinate events through the fall and winter.

"I fully intend to keep the position in the city alive," he said.

He noted the position and department was debated during this spring's budget talks, with city councilors questioning whether it was necessary. Bosley was allotted a $35,571 salary for fiscal 2015, he said, and the tourism department a $28,200 operating budget that includes an intern stipend, promotional activity and program supplies.

"People think these things just happen, but there's a lot of coordination for any event," he said. "Some say it can all happen with volunteers, but I've been around long enough to know that we need someone to lead that charge."

He praised Bosley for her dedication to the job.

"When we hired Veronica, we were looking for someone who could take the events we had to the next level, and create new events," he said. "I think she has proven herself in that regard."

Alcombright also praised Bosley for her networking and fundraising skills.

"A vast majority of what we do is not funded by the city, but through sponsors, whether through actual dollars or in-kind services," he said.

He said a priority right now is finalizing plans for the 59th Annual Fall Foliage Parade, scheduled for Oct. 5.

"Veronica and I have worked hard to make sure the pieces, like the Children's Parade and the Road Race, are going to happen," he said.

As in past years, the parade's committee is working with numerous volunteers and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce to hold the event, he said.

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"North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright 'fully intends' to run for a fourth term"
By Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/10/2014

In this file photo North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who says he 'fully intends' to run for a fourth term, speaks with (from left) Attorney Richard Taskin, former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, and City Councilor Keith Bona during a campaign event at Public Eat + Drink on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2013 (Eagle file photo)

This story was modified on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014 to clarify the location of Alcombright's fundraiser, which is at Lickety Split at Mass MoCA.

NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright says he "fully intends" to run for a fourth term in office, and will kick off fundraising efforts later this month.

"You never know ... anything could step in the way," Alcombright said. "[But] I fully anticipate running for another term."

Barring a family or health emergency, Alcombright said he wants to serve another two-year term in 2015, his fourth since defeating longtime Mayor John Barrett III in 2009. The campaign event is both politically motivated, serving to bolster his campaign account, and informational, the mayor said.

"Of course it's political, and at this point in my life I do plan on running for another term," Alcombright said. "But, typically, every year we do something just to bring people together again."

Alcombright has enjoyed fundraising success in the past, out-raising 2011 challenger Robert Moulton Jr. by about a 3-to-1 margin. He relied on a larger and more diverse donor base, with 70 percent of itemized donors listed on his campaign finance reports shown as living outside the city.

This year, the mayor hopes to bring his supporters up to speed on a number of ongoing projects -- which he admits aren't yet complete, but says are moving forward -- such as the Greylock Market and renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School.

"It's kind of like mid-term, and I like to communicate with supporters where we have been over the last year and what we're hoping for in the upcoming year," he said. "This event is, I think more informational than political."

Alcombright also wants to tout what he said is the "interest and infusion of private dollars coming back into the community in a larger way," and pointed out ongoing development by the Porches Inn on River Street and Moresi & Associates on Marshall Street.

"The other side is just to review what we've accomplished and say where we want to see ourselves this time next year," Alcombright said.

The event will be held Oct. 15 at Lickety Split at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

To reach Adam Shanks: ashanks@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 663-3741, ext. 225.
On Twitter: @EagleAdamShanks

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"North Adams denied bid for $6.8M state revitalization grant"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 25, 2014

NORTH ADAMS — Plans to revitalize the West Main Street and Marshall Street hit a roadblock this week when the city learned its request for $6.8 million in state funding was denied.

The plans, which aimed to create a public gathering space on the corner of Marshall and Main Street and improve pedestrian mobility, were part of a MassWorks grant application submitted in September by the city and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. That region of the city has been a focus of officials, who hope to better connect Mass MoCA with the rest of the downtown and the future Greylock Market, currently Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

But North Adams was not among the grant winners announced by the Patrick administration this week.

"The plan B right now is to kind of sit back and lick our wounds," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "We thought we had a very strong application, we really thought we would be a strong contender."

Alcombright noted the state grants are extremely competitive, and added he and community development officials will look for feedback and improve the application for the next round.

"If you don't get it, you have to assume you have some weak spots in there," he said. "Maybe they didn't think we were ready to go. [But] 'no' today doesn't mean 'no' tomorrow."

The grant was intended to complement about $6 million in private development — such as renovations to the Mulcare Block by developer Moresi and Associates. In addition to the green space on Marshall Street, the grant would have paid for demolition of a blighted building on West Main Street, and the creation of a "pocket park" on Center Street.

"The city of North Adams put in a strong proposal. It is of course up to the city's leadership to decide, but since these major applications often take two or three submissions before they get traction, a good Plan B might be to get feedback, tweak, and then resubmit this deserving proposal with renewed conviction," said Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson in an email to The Eagle on Friday.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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"North Adams residents to see 5 percent tax hike; tax shift steady"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 10, 2014

NORTH ADAMS - Residents will see their property tax bills increase about 5 percent in fiscal 2015 under a plan that again asks businesses to pay a higher rate.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 8-1 to maintain last year's tax shift of 1.71, out of a maximum 1.75, toward commercial and industrial property. The total tax levy in the budget approved by council earlier this year is $15.02 million, an increase of 4.05 percent over fiscal 14.

The increase to the annual tax bill of average city home, valued at $136,200, will be approximately $115. The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property will jump from $15.92 to $16.71, about 5 percent. Commercial properties will see a jump in the tax rate from $34.54 to $36.07, an increase of about 4.4 percent.

The vote to maintain a split tax shift was in line with the Mayor Richard Alcombright's recommendation, who noted it was reduced three years ago from 1.75 in an effort to "reward commercial growth" by softening the commercial tax rate "which has become very oppressive over time."

Alcombright and city officials also noted only a handful of communities in the commonwealth have a lower average residential tax bill than North Adams. Councilor Jennifer Breen, the lone no vote, advocated for relief for homeowners. A shift to 1.75 would have saved the average homeowner about $35 over the course of the year, according to officials.

Although several residents and Breen advocated for a higher shift, the vote was lopsided. Councilor Keith Bona contended that the shift, at 1.71, is already more burdensome on businesses. Councilor Eric Buddington noted that raising the shift to 1.75 would only amount to a "fairly modest difference" for the average homeowner.

"[Arguing] that reducing the commercial tax rate actually brings in more businesses — I would just make the anecdotal argument that it doesn't appear that way. A number of businesses have recently closed in North Adams," Breen said.

Although the meeting was intended to discuss only the tax shift, it often strayed to discussion about taxes in general.

Of note in this year's budget is a five-year special tax agreement with Crane & Co., which kicks in this cycle, initially reducing its commercial assessment to zero. Each successive year it will increase by 20 percent. In her argument for a higher shift, Breen contended the mayor showed "favoritism" toward businesses over homeowners, which he rejected.

Breen also advocated that the city press the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to agree to a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for its properties that are currently untaxed. Although the museum's commercial tenants are taxed, the museum itself and the Northern Berkshire District Court building it owns are not. Councilor Wayne Wilkinson noted he "wholeheartedly agrees" that the city should push the museum for a PILOT.

Although she noted the museum is "wonderful for North Adams," Breen told Alcombright that pursuing a PILOT from Mass MoCA "would make me more comfortable with the residential tax rate you've proposed."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-344-3979 ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

related news link: http://www.iberkshires.com/story/48078/North-Adams-Tax-Rate-Up-5-Percent-for-Fiscal-2015.html

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"North Adams taps new interim director of tourism, events"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 12/17/2014

NORTH ADAMS - Mayor Richard Alcombright has tapped Wendy DeSanty as his choice for interim director of tourism and events.

DeSanty, who is expected to be formally appointed later this week, will be the second temporary employee to fill that position this year.

She will replace interim director Roz Cummings, who stepped in for former director Veronica Bosley when she left the post in September. Cummings, like Bosley before her, has found employment elsewhere and will finish her duties for the city on Friday.

DeSanty "ran our farmers market all summer long," Alcombright said, "[which] in an of itself can have its complexities week to week — it is not the easiest thing to do."

She will be tasked with organizing the annual Winterfest, set for Feb. 21, and the relatively new "North County Eats!," a joint venture with Williamstown started last year in an effort to encourage dining at local restaurants. The weeklong event, scheduled Jan. 23 through Feb. 1, entices locals and tourists to eat out with special menus and prices in the typically sparse winter months.

"[Cummings] has been training me for the past two weeks, and has been a great amount of help," DeSanty said. "I feel up for the challenge."

The interim director is a 20-hour a week position, paid at an hourly wage based on the starting salary for the full-time position, according to Alcombright.

During budget discussions earlier this year, some city councilors questioned the position's structure and whether or not it's necessary. Though questions were raised, however, councilors ultimately approved a budget that included funding for the position.

Alcombright said he's considering tweaking the position next year to create more focus on tourism, not just events coordination — a frequent criticism of city councilors. But, he said, that shift could require more funding at a time when the city could be facing a budget shortfall in fiscal 2016.

"It has been an events-based position with a focus on tourism," Alcombright said. "We need to find a way to kind of turn that."

The position will be "crafted" in the first "couple of months" of 2015, according to the mayor, and may require a higher salary because "it's a different level; it's a different skill set." The candidate will be "familiar with that world [of tourism], and not just in North Adams and North Berkshire."

Councilor Keith Bona vocally advocated during budget discussions earlier this year that city events be coordinated by volunteers.

"I'd rather see the events go back to individual groups to organize," Bona told The Eagle on Wednesday. "Then that position can do what it's intended to do — market and sell our city to tourists."

Bona said he would also consider a regional director of tourism and events that would serve multiple towns.

"If we pool funds together we could get a higher qualified director with a resume of experience, who can accomplish more than someone learning the industry," he said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-344-3979. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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Jennifer Dowling fights back tears as she and other nurses leave their shifts at North Adams Regional Hospital for the last time on Friday, March 28. The abrupt closing of the hospital was the top news story of the year in the Berkshires. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

Year (2014) In Review: "North Adams Regional Hospital closes"
North Adams hospital closing....top Berkshire stories
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 30, 2014
The sudden closing of North Adams Regional Hospital rocked the Northern Berkshire community and sent shockwaves throughout [Berkshire] county early on in 2014.

On March 25 [2014], trustees of Northern Berkshire Healthcare announced that due to its "worsening financial status," North Adams Regional Hospital would close at the end of the week.

Three days later, with more than 100 protesting the loss of 530 full- and part-time jobs and the loss of local medical services, police and security cleared the building. Shortly after weeping staffers and the last few patients left the facility, the doors of NARH closed forever. Northern Berkshire Healthcare filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy a week later.

In May, after seeing an urgent need for the return of emergency services in North County, Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield revamped and reopened the former NARH emergency department in May, after getting authority to do so from state and federal regulators, the creditors, and the bankruptcy court.

Following a lengthy bankruptcy process, BMC bought the facility in August and has been working with the state to restore health care services in North County.

In addition to emergency room care, the BMC North Berkshire Campus provides outpatient advanced imaging including MRI, CT, ultrasound, X-ray, and mammography; and outpatient endoscopy in conjunction with Greylock Gastroenterology.

Northern Berkshire OB/GYN will return in the spring, and in January, BMC North will begin providing Orthopedic Day Surgery in partnership with Orthopedic Associates of Northern Berkshire.

BMC officials are working on a master plan for further utilization of the hospital building and what other services will be established there.

Honorable Mention: Funding for the arts

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams began a $25.4 million project that will add 130,000 square feet of space.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @tonydobrow on Twitter

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BMC North is now providing emergency and diagnostic health services, with other services planned for the coming year and beyond. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

"Berkshire Medical Center envisions expanded health services at Northern Berkshire campus in 2015"
Officials eye use of entire facility
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Berkshire Medical Center officials are developing a master plan for using the unoccupied portions of the former North Adams Regional Hospital, now known as the BMC Northern Berkshire Campus, and say they fully intend to use the entire facility.

During a year-end interview with The Eagle, hospital officials said they are carefully looking at the current and future health needs of the community and at the remaining space so they can devise a practical building-use plan.

"Everything is going to be driven by what the community needs to improve their health," said Ruth Blodgett, senior vice president for system planning and program development at BMC.

NARH closed in March with three days' notice, leaving more than 500 unemployed workers, untold number of long-term patients and a regional health care void in its wake. About 225 workers have since been hired back by BMC.

Seeing an urgent need for emergency services in North County, BMC revamped and reopened the emergency department in May, after getting authority to do so from state and federal regulators, the creditors, and the bankruptcy court.

Following a lengthy bankruptcy process, BMC won its bid to buy the facility for $4 million in August.

Since the closing, BMC and the state have invested about $10 million to restore health care services in North County, a figure that includes the $4 million purchase of the property. Further grant funding is expected to bolster that number in 2015.

According to information provided by hospital officials, services now provided at BMC North — in addition to emergency room care — are outpatient advanced imaging including MRI, CT, ultrasound, X-ray and mammography; and outpatient endoscopy in conjunction with Greylock Gastroenterology.

Some services that relocated after the closing include Ecu-Health Care, which has since returned to its former location. Returning in the spring will be Northern Berkshire OB/GYN.

In January, BMC North will begin providing orthopedic day surgery in partnership with Orthopedic Associates of Northern Berkshire, Blodgett said.

"After that gets up and running," she said, "we'll see if we can do other types of outpatient surgery beyond orthopedics."

Medical laboratory services also have returned to North County at the BMC North campus.

Since taking possession of the property, BMC teams have been involved in an ongoing effort to upgrade the information technology systems throughout the property, and making the technology compatible with systems at BMC Pittsfield, said BMC spokesman Michael Leary.

Meanwhile, BMC specialists have been maintaining and archiving patient electronic health records gathered during the NARH era. There also have been a number of needed maintenance upgrades implemented at the building, such as a new roof.

Blodgett said that a medical practice, and maybe two, soon will be moving to BMC North.

As part of a Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization, & Transformation (CHART) Investment Program grant funded effort to increase health of the community at large, there will be clinical offices, classrooms and a cardiac rehabilitation exercise facility — similar to the one at BMC Pittsfield — established at BMC North during the coming months, according to Dr. Mark Pettus, director of medical education and population health at Berkshire Health Systems, parent company of BMC.

And while it may take some time, Blodgett said, there will be much more to come.

"Until we finish developing the service model, we won't know how much space each element will need," she said, "but we're planning on using the entire facility."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter

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"Pay hike process falls short in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 9, 2015

The pay raises approved for 10 administrators in the North Adams Public School system are defensible. The problem is that the defense came after the fact, not before.

The North Adams School Committee approved the raises December 2 by a 5 to 1 vote, with Mark Moulton in dissent, after negotiating the $29,000 in hikes behind closed doors. The reason for the closed door session was not stated on the public agenda and minutes don't indicate if there was a discussion of the raises in open session.

Superintendent James Monteparte, who received a 1 percent raise for this year and next, points out the administrators are doing extra work because of the loss of five administrative positions in recent years, comments echoed by Mayor Richard Alcombright (Eagle, January 8). The mayor added that it is important to keep top personnel in city positions.

No one is challenging the caliber of the administrators or their value to the community. In the private sector, however, employees have been taking on increased duties because of downsizing without seeing pay increases.

The modest pay hikes are less worrisome than the process by which they came about. While officials deny they attempted to avoid drawing public attention to the raises, there is no evidence that they attempted to inform the public that the raises were to be considered. The executive session section was left blank on the public agenda and the "action agenda" available at the meeting described the executive session section in general terms. This could put the committee in violation of the Open Meeting Law requirement that meeting notices be specific enough to give the public an understanding of the topic to be discussed.

North Adams' economic problems are considerable and a request for a Proposition 2 1/2 request may be forthcoming. For these reasons, pay hikes and other expenditures not only must be defended publicly there cannot be even the appearance of an effort — whether there was one or not — to keep the increases secret.

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Gov. Charlie Baker speaking at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. (Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC).

"Gov. Baker Focuses On Business And Energy Costs During Berkshire Visit"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC, January 12, 2015

After his swearing-in last week, Governor Charlie Baker and members of his administration launched a statewide “Spotlight on Excellence” tour across Massachusetts. It included stops in the Berkshires.

About 100 people gave a warm welcome to Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito at MASS MoCA in North Adams, a city that backed its hometown Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in November’s election.

Democrat John Barrett was mayor of North Adams from 1984 till 2009. He supported Baker’s campaign and kicked off the program during the new governor’s visit. Barrett recalled a conversation with Baker when he was the state’s secretary of administration and finance about using state money to launch MASS MoCA.

“He said to me blah, blah, blah ‘That guy down the hall, Bill Weld, told me I got to make this work,” Barrett recalled. “And I’m going to make it work come hell or high water.’ I can say without reservation governor we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you and getting it done.”

Museum director Joseph Thompson says Governor Baker also helped guide him and the rest of the museum’s administration to its success today.

“Secretary Baker, at that time, had this habit of saying ‘Are you sure people are going to come again?’” Thompson said. “That was a tough question because our original idea was big boxes with art that didn’t move. That question generated two or three fundamental changes. One, the idea of doing temporary exhibitions instead of all fixed exhibitions. So changing the program every single year. Secondly, the introduction of performing arts. Performing arts now take up 50 percent of our emotional and financial bandwidth here and they attract repeat visitation and get headlines all over the place.”

Massachusetts invested $35 million for the museum’s 1999 opening and initial expansion in the 19th century factory. It was a place that employed more than 4,000 people in a city of close to 20,000 in the 1960s before it stopped operating in 1985. Baker says the state needs to identify, celebrate and replicate successes like it across the commonwealth.

“Karyn and I wanted to come here today to spotlight the success that this enterprise, this shared initiative, this public-private partnership, this diversified portfolio of opportunities has brought to this community,” said Baker.

Healthcare remains on the minds of many in northern Berkshire County following the sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March 2014 and the subsequent loss of more than 500 jobs. Berkshire Medical Center has since purchased the site where it operates a 24-hour satellite emergency facility. Governor Baker says he expects his public health commissioner to spend time making sure BMC has the support it needs to keep that site open.

“My main concern about that whole issue from the beginning was the fact that state government seemed to be so surprised about the closure of North Adams [Regional] Hospital in the first place and the fact that nobody had really figured out what the ‘Plan B’ was,” Baker said. “I think that put tremendous uncertainty and pressure on a region that didn’t need it.”

Community members and the Massachusetts Nurses Association have called for the restoration of a full-service hospital.

Baker also met with business leaders at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield where he said companies are struggling under rising energy costs. Calling the increase a delivery issue, the governor said the state should have expanded its pipeline capacity four years ago. Still he said he doesn’t support Kinder Morgan’s current Northeast pipeline proposal which would mostly run along utility line corridors.

“At this point in time I don’t support it,” Baker said. “But I think we do need to do something to expand our capacity, but I think we should do that along the existing routes.”

Baker has charged state agencies to conduct 100-day performance and procedure reviews. In addition to creating a small business task force, how Massachusetts regulates business will be looked at, according Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash.

“Part of the competitive issue is about regulation and there are plenty of reasons to think that we’re overly regulated here,” Ash said. “We’re going to do a comprehensive review. We’re going to get out and talk to chamber of commerce, small, medium and big businesses. We’ll look at what regulations no longer need to be there and try to streamline things as much as possible.”

Baker added the Berkshires will be well represented on the boards and commissions that oversee the state’s tourism industry.

“We certainly get and understand that if you think about the commonwealth of Mass[chusetts] there are a lot of parts where tourism matters, but there is a little bit of barbell here in the sense that in western Mass and on the Cape in particular it matters most,” said Baker.

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Cloud 85, a co-work office space in downtown North Adams, utilizes some historic furnishings and moldings including the pews from the former Holy Family Church, which are the ends of a work desk. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

"Launch of Cloud 85 in North Adams seen as plus for downtown"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, January 21, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Cloud 85 is now open for business, and hopes are high that the new co-work office space also will draw attention to rest of the building at 85 Main St., which also has been upgraded with modern office amenities.

At a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new public office space on Tuesday, Jeffrey Thomas, manager and partner at Cloud 85, addressed a gathering of local business and political leaders.

"We hope this will contribute to the economy in some way," Thomas said during his remarks.

He described the facility as "a place people can come a get work done at a low cost in a space that works for them."

Cloud 85 is essentially office space one can rent for as short or as long a time as is needed, for just one worker or more. There are 31 work spaces and two reservable private offices for meetings in the 1,370-square-foot office setting with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, printers and fax machines.

The top tier of membership — at $230 month — also provides a permanent desk space. The next level, at $150 per month, allows for work space in a private carrel, group table or plush chair, with 24/7 access.

It's a concept that works well in urban areas like Boston and Albany, and local business leaders are watching closely to see how it works here.

The North Adams Chamber of Commerce already has signed up for a long term arrangement, and another half-dozen parties have expressed interest, Thomas said.

The building, which was built in 1900, is owned and managed by Scarafoni Associates. David Carver, real estate developer for Scarafoni, said his company and Cloud 85 both invested a great deal of time and money in the venture. The whole floor has been upgraded for modern amenities like new wiring systems, and a state-of-the-art HVAC system.

"There are hundreds of thousands of dollars invested on this floor, and you can't even see it — it's all behind the walls," Carver said.

Carver noted that Cloud 85 and Scarafoni Associates are basically marketing each other, as success for both can't happen without the other.

Ideally, entrepreneurs who work out of Cloud 85 will be able to grow their businesses into companies in need of more office space, either in 85 Main St. or elsewhere in downtown North Adams, which he said offers a good location and decent lease rates.

And that, in turn, could lead to further retail development.

"We're interested to see if there is a demand for high-quality office space in downtown North Adams," Carver said.

For nearly 10 years, Carver has been working on a plan for the six-story building: fill the bottom two floors with office and retail, the top two floors with residential, and see which of the two uses turn out growing into the remaining floors in between.

"We going to do whatever we can to help them succeed and expand," Carver noted. "If you're going to do it, do it right. Half measures aren't the way you want to position your downtown."

Main Street in North Adams has seen a number of ups and downs as businesses open and close over the years — most recently closings. But things are looking up; in addition to Cloud 85, a few new stores are set to open on Main or Eagle street in the coming months.

Williamstown architect Anne McCallum pointed out at the ribbon-cutting that the space is unique, with muted colors and a sleek, modern feel, yet it is still able to blend the feel of the area's industrial history. It includes chestnut wood from pews of the former Holy Family Church for desk surfaces and other design details, as well as doors from the former Plunkett Hospital in Adams and wood from the former Notre Dame Catholic School in Pittsfield. And the large windows offer panoramic views of downtown.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said that business needs today are vastly different, and that catering to the new business world is essential to success.

"We can't get so hung up on the past that we can't move into the future," he said, "and this place screams that."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter

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"Partnership hires design firm to rebrand North Adams"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 23, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - In an effort to better connect and highlight its assets, the city is slated to get new wayfinding signage with a new look.

The North Adams Partnership, a nonprofit that selectively develops and seeks to improve the city, and city government have teamed up in an effort to a new logo, new wayfinding signs, and a different overall feel to tourists and residents alike. Bankrolled entirely by the North Adams Partnership, Stoltze Design has been hired to introduce a number of design options at a 6:00 p.m. public meeting on Feb. 25 at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation.

Through the new imagery, Mayor Richard Alcombright said he hopes people will begin to see the city in a different way.

"[It will be] really something that would catch people's eye and give folks a kind of new appreciation and understanding of the new direction of our community, both reflecting on our past and what's in the future," Alcombright said.

The idea of re-branding and developing improved wayfinding signage is a priority both for the city in its new Vision 2030 master plan and for the North Adams Partnership, according to City Planner Mackenzie Greer. Design options will be presented to the public at the Feb. 25 meeting, Greer said, where designers will look for feedback on what has been drafted to date. The typologies will likely be presented in different contexts, such as on a wayfinding sign or on a banner.

"They are bold, bright imagery that is reflective of the assets of our community," she said.

The desire for better connectivity between city assets grew out of the Partnership's master economic development and strategy plan, released last year, according to Partnership CEO John DeRosa. A committee of community stakeholders including MCLA, Mass MoCA, city government, and the chamber of commerce have been working with Boston-based Stoltze design since last Summer on the project.

In addition to the look of the signs, Derosa said Stoltze is focusing on where to put them. Early plans call for three "gateway" signs at three major entrances to the city, DeRosa said, "that really are the announcement that you're here."

Although its government does little to advertise the city in other areas, Greer noted the new brand could be a tool for its partners, such as the North Adams Chamber of Commerce.

Alcombright expects that it will be about a year before the brand could really begin to take shape in North Adams.

Although the brand and subsequent wayfinding signs are expected to have the most direct affect on tourists, Greer said the question for residents is "how do we see ourselves?" The effort is a way of saying "this is what our community is made up of, this is what we like to do here," she added.

"In a way, it's a method of increasing community pride and recognition of what makes our community really great."

Alcombright noted the difficulty in separating the city's image from its past with Sprague Electric Co., which was its largest employer before closing in the 1980s.

"At the end of the day Sprague isn't here, and will never come back in a singular way, but we could see things of that magnitude in a collective way," Alcombright said. "Part of this effort is to really get people thinking internally and externally about North Adams in a different way."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308. ashanks@ berkshireeagle.com>; @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

Readers' Comments:

N.A. taxpayer wrote:
I ask where has the Berkshire Eagle been to point out the failures of the North Adams Partnership over the last 5 years? The Mohawk Theatre 5 years in the making, The Dowling Block? Heritage Park in the works for 4 years now, along with thus far not having paid one dime of the 750k to the Redevelopment Authority as promised. All issues our local media should have been reporting. I ask, how much money as the Partnership spent on consultants, and studies while not creating a single job in the city? We do not need a firm to revamp signs, tourists are finding their way around the city just fine. What North Adams needs is a consulting firm to create an Economic Development Plan bringing much needed jobs into the area. Jobs that had been promised by Richard Alcombright when seeking the office some 5 years ago. I ask why isn't the Berkshire Eagle reporting on the continued failures of the Partnership led by CEO, City Solicitor DeRosa, along with his co-hort and partner in the N.A.P Mayor Alcombright? Probably when the Eagle no longer has any subscribers, when there are no business left in the city, all while residents continuing to move away.

Lucy Babeu wrote:
Mayor Alcomborbright:
When are you going to face reality and focus on the People who need help in your Community instead of worrying about attracting the Tourists with money to save your reputation.
Get all the Signs you want, but,that will not hide the numerous poor people that you refuse to help in all the projects, and other areas in North Adams, MA.
Fudges your Census and Reports all you want, very soon your signs, and your foolish ideas are going to be all you have left in North Adams, MA, if you do not focus on the People that elect you to Office.
It is the People who live in the City of North Adams that Vote, not the Tourist.
I say NO to the Signs for now and Focus on Your Community.............
You, Mayor Alcombright, are a fool, and your signs will soon be the End of not only your Career as Mayor, but, the City of North Adams.
Do something Bright for once and go visit your Voters in the Poor communities outside of the one time of your community events. It might do your body good to walk those neighborhoods instead of looking out your City Hall window and focusing on Main Street.
Have a nice signless day. Best Regards, Lucy Babeu

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"Rebranding won't cover city's ills"
By Bill Donovan, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, March 20, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Every year around this time, Mayor Richard Alcombright and the North Adams Partnership come up with yet another plan for North Adams. This year's flavor of the year is re-branding. The mayor and the Partnership's president, John DeRosa, announced recently that the Partnership had hired a Boston firm to design a new brand for North Adams.

According to one news report, re-branding means changing "the visible elements such as colors, design, logo, names and symbols." DeRosa called the city's current way-finding signs "thematically disconnected." I find it hard to believe that anyone else in the city felt the signs and logos in North Adams are "thematically disconnected." Even harder to believe is that the average family in North Adams is even thinking about the color or logo on the signs. What they're thinking about is making ends meet as taxes and fees skyrocket.

Even more ridiculous was a "code red" call to residents inviting them to the re-branding meeting. Most would have preferred receiving a "code red" alert from the mayor inviting them to the December meeting of the School Committee where $10,000 pay raises were being recommended for administrators which, according to news accounts, were voted on in executive session.

Like the re-branding effort, the mayor has made privatization of Heritage Park a top priority. The recent re-branding proposal seems to date back to a meeting of the Redevelopment Authority in 2012 at which DeRosa and the mayor spoke about re-branding Heritage Park. A coincidence that three years later the Partnership for North Adams hires a firm to create a new brand for North Adams, or was this part of the strategy to improve the investment of those involved in the for-profit Greylock Market Place, an arm of the North Adams Partnership?

TUNNEL VISION

Thus far the project is being helped along with an $800,000 grant from the state. The mayor informed the Redevelopment Authority that more money was promised by the state to construct a tunnel under the railroad tracks. The tunnel would be built under the railroad tracks by the American Legion parking lot. The price for the tunnel is estimated to be in the millions. Are the mayor and Partnership naive enough to believe that Gov. Baker, who is facing a billion dollar deficit, will find the millions needed for a tunnel connecting downtown to Heritage Park?

I'm not a high-priced consultant but I can tell the mayor and Partnership that a tunnel from Heritage Park isn't going to bring people downtown any more than a tunnel from MoCA is. Jack's Hot Dogs, The Public, The Hub, Desperado's, Boston Seafood, etc., bring people to the downtown. A renovated Mohawk Theater would bring people to North Adams and downtown, not a multi-million dollar tunnel.

The mayor's priorities are misplaced, and he is out of touch with the people of the city. Asked about the recent closings in the downtown, Alcombright said: "It's still better than it was five years ago." But is it? The former Brien Center is empty, the Artist Co-Op closed, Sleepy's closed, Cup and Saucer closed, along with four other unsuccessful attempts at that location, I've Got Goodies closed, Luma's closed, the Berkshire Eagle moved, Shima closed, the Dowlin Building is empty, Sears and Staples closed, and the Mohawk Theater is still not developed. The Social Security office moved from Main Street to Mass MoCA, taking foot traffic off of Main Street, and except for the renovation of the old Mohawk Bar building, the once promising downtown housing market has seen little, if any, new construction.

I served on the North Adams City Council for 10 years in the 1990s and early 2000s. A lot was accomplished despite the lack of resources. Millions were invested in the city's infrastructure including a renovated downtown, a water filtration plant, the landfill was closed and a new transfer station constructed. The city saved the Mohawk Theater, Mass MoCA opened, and Heritage Park was financially solvent. Property tax bills stayed stubbornly low thus making it an affordable community.

Today, new priorities and policies have placed a terrific burden on the middle class in North Adams, and many residents are leaving, while Mayor Alcombright concerns himself with re-branding North Adams.

BUILD A BRAND

When I was on the Council, North Adams built its own brand by paying attention first to the people who live there. Good services and a quality of life made North Adams special for residents and visitors alike. That isn't the case anymore.

North Adams needs a new direction and responsive leadership, the kind of leadership which in 2004 earned it Yankee Magazine's designation as one of five "Hidden Jewels in New England."

That re-branding was earned, not bought.

Bill Donovan is an occasional Eagle contributor.

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"Alcombright Address Lauds North Adams Investment, Progress"
iBerkshires.com - February 25, 2015

NORTH ADAMS, Massachusetts — Mayor Richard Alcombright gave a wide — ranging "state of the city" address at Tuesday's City Council meeting, touching on subjects ranging from economic development, substance abuse and budgetary issues.

The mayor, entering the last year of his third term, is hoping to bring to fruition a number of projects, including the redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

"When I had the idea of privatization four years ago, I never anticipated the work that would be necessary and the bureaucracy that is involved in crafting this lease," he said, adding that a contract may be ready this March.

He also referenced the near completion of the Armory into a community center, two new playgrounds and the beginnings of a plan for a new public safety building, and listed a number of public and private investments under way in the city, including the massive Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art expansion.

Unemployment is down but substance abuse and policing continues to be an issue within the city.

"It is unfortunate that 'budgets rather than circumstances' determine the level of police personnel in this community," he said. " I will continue to keep public safety very high on the priority list as we build this next budget."

Despite presenting the first balanced budget in some time last year, and the possibility of free cash at the end of this fiscal year, the city is entering fiscal 2016 with an anticipated $800,000 deficit.

"Couple all of this with our infrastructure woes and we have a lot of work to do," said the mayor.

Mayor Richard Alcombright's State of the City address for 2015

As I come into my sixth year in office, I am here tonight to give you my thoughts relative to our fine city for this year to come.

The heavily redundant piece of my message is that we faced many fiscal challenges over the past five years as we tried to strengthen our financial position. This fiscal year, thanks to some creativity, continued consolidation, cooperation of our employees and the support of the City Council and School Committee, we passed the first "balanced" budget since my involvement in City government in 2001.

Additionally, this was the first year in four cycles that we have received "Free Cash" and I am hoping that we can close this fiscal year in a way that will once again help us maintain and grow reserves.

As we begin to build our FY2016 budget, I must be certain that this Council and our School Committee, as well as residents, understand that this will undoubtedly be the most difficult budget this City has seen in recent memory. It seems as though I say this every year, however, very initial numbers would indicate that our FY2016 budget will be some $800,000 out of balance. Couple all of this with our infrastructure woes and we have a lot of work to do. More to come as [the Finance Committee] will be meeting.

As you know, Governor Baker is facing a shortfall in the FY16 state budget of some $700 million.

At the recent MMA conference, it was clear that his commitment not to reduce local and Chapter 70 school aid was firm, and while not the worst news, as we all know, level funding is truly a 2 to 3 percent cut.

It was also stated by [Administration and Finance] Secretary Kristen Lepore that the administration was not going to dip into the "rainy day fund" to balance the budget or extend further local revenues. Reductions in state revenues since 2009 have truly been the financial kiss of death for the city.

I know that our Berkshire Delegation will work very hard to bring forward better revenue numbers. I will continue to keep this council very well informed.

My past five years of tough fiscal policy, significant sacrifice by staff, programmatic cuts an consolidations, while difficult proved to have kept this city's fiscal position in check.

Public safety and the safety of our first responders will continue to be a priority as every day it appears that the world around us becomes more volatile. It is unfortunate that "budgets rather than circumstances" determine the level of police personnel in this community. I will continue to keep public safety very high on the priority list as we build this next budget.

Opiate use that leads to heroin addiction is everywhere in our greater community, region, state and country. I can say with great confidence that addiction and the underlying mental health issues that contribute to the addiction is one of the largest and fastest growing social issues in this country.

We continue to engage with several law enforcement agencies as well as the district attorney to crack down on the drug activity in the City. We have seen significant arrests, confiscations and state prison convictions. Investigations continue and we will not slow our efforts.

The NBCC's Prescription Drug/Heroin Abuse Task Force and the Systems of Care Committee, are both efforts that deal with prevention, education and eradication and the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction.

I actively sit in on both of these groups.

Additionally, I have been appointed to sit on the Mass Municipal Associations Heroin/Opiate Abuse Task Force. I meet monthly with other community leaders across the commonwealth and we work to strengthen legislation and push ideas and solutions up to the governor's desk.

What is sorely missing around this issue is education. As we know, the DARE program has been out of our schools for several years due to lack of funding and while I am hopeful that today's addicts find treatment, I am convinced that we need significant and immediate funding to put programming in our schools beginning as early as third grade.

This is imperative as the new "normalization" of drugs — most specifically marijuana and opiates — needs to be beaten back so that we are not simply allowing a next generation of addicts to take root.

Governor Baker and Attorney General Healey have both made very strong statements regarding addiction and I am anxious to see what they will do.

While I am never offended by differences of opinion, I must say that I continue to be disheartened by ugly and personalized politics that are pervasive here in the City. While everyone has a right to their opinion, to get in the way of ideas "simply" to get in the way is destructive, defeatist and debilitating.

There are people in this community who simply thrive on being divisive always with a criticism, never with an idea or better yet a solution. I truly hope for the sake of what we all want, which is simply a better North Adams, that these people will find a way to turn "harmful into helpful."

As I did last year, I will once again ask this question: If there was no North Adams and we were to build one, what would it look like?

Our people, our beautiful physical environment, our museum, our college, our business community, our schools are all assets that are necessary to build a community. How do we more effectively link them all to fully maximize their role and relevance in this "new" North Adams?

Last year, I mentioned the "Rope of Hope" and that as a community, we needed to pull that rope all in the same direction if we wanted to grow. Since, I have seen many put their hands on that rope and pull

1. People with new and fresh ideas

2. People who are providing expanded private sector investment

3. More private and public projects on the burner

Collectively, we have a lot going on; some things point to true economic development and some will simply create a better environment that will bring people and business to the city.

We will continue to move forward with our Master Plan Vision 2030.

This platform combined with the efforts of the Partnership for North Adams and private investors will assure for many good things to come.

As I stated last year, if we wait for the government to do it, if we wait for others to do it, then it will never get done. The re-invention of this city is in our collective hands and on our collective backs.

I am very happy to report:

That the privatization of Heritage State Park continues to move ahead through discussion with the principals of the Greylock Marketplace. When I had the idea of privatization four years ago, I never anticipated the work that would be necessary and the bureaucracy that is involved in crafting this lease. The work and the time spent will be well worth it as we have two things very much in our favor: the developer and the investors, both with proven ability to get this done and a strong commitment to its success.

I am confident that I will be discussing and making public, the terms of the lease before the end of March and discuss next steps.

We have been permitted by MassDOT to operate our scenic rail in a partnership with [Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum] and the town of Adams. Some of the equipment is here and we are anticipating rides to begin in early summer.

That said, the new administration has placed a hold on all pending projects and I am working with the lieutenant governor's office to see if we can get the "green light" on this fully funded and previously approved project.

With the redevelopment of [Heritage State Park], we have worked with the local Historical Society to find a suitable and visible solution for our local historic museum and we continue to work with [the Department of Conservation and Recreation] to assure they maintain a presence in the city most specifically on the HSP footprint. I am confident both will happen.

The MoCA Phase 3 project is under way and this multimillion dollar expansion will create an incredible new experience for visitors and will guarantee a larger visitor base each year. The city, through its Mass MoCA Commission, will have certain fiscal oversight.

Our solar project on the site of the capped landfill will be completed by late spring and it will be partially online by May and fully online in September.

This project will provide significant savings in electricity costs to the city and School Department.

I am very excited to say that the Colegrove Park Elementary School project remains on budget and the school will open this September.

As I stated at the onset, this project is all about creating the infrastructure consistent with providing state-of-the-art services to our students. Additionally, and as a renovation of an historic structure, this investment is also about economic activity and will provide long-term benefit to the neighborhood and our greater downtown.

As we open Colegrove, our School Committee, administration, teachers and support staff recognize the challenges facing so many of our student and our district. We struggle as a district in many ways and I have learned after many years of serving school districts that to simply throw money at problems is not the best solution.

That said, our district has taken a beating over the past six years due to underfunding on so many levels and we have to do two things:

1. Assess how we deliver academic services

2. Assess how we rebuild the budget so that it provides the best bang for the buck to those we serve: our students.

I cannot be more pleased with the medical services that have been rebuilt since the closure of our hospital. Thanks to our government and BHS/BMC partners so much has been restored. I continue to meet every two to three weeks with David Phelps, CEO of [Berkshire Health Systems] to discuss the resumption of additional services.

Suffice to say that restoration of more services are being discussed and from what I am told, nothing is off the table

We are in the last phase of the Armory renovation and it is the quest of this administration to see it open as a Community/Youth Center this summer. A [request for proposals] has been developed and it will be issued in very early March. Our vision is that it be leased and operated by a "lead agency" who would solicit other agency involvement and programming that would fulfill the requirements of the RFP.

We envision this center to provide services for our youth, elderly, veterans, community theater groups, youth sports groups and others.

I will continue to work with our community partner MCLA, on a sustainable project that will breathe life into the Mohawk Theater once a new president is on board.

With continued engagement and commitment of the state and federal government for additional funding, I am very hopeful that we will be able to find a solution.

MCLA as a partner guarantees a project with long-term sustainability providing daily use, revenue, management, programming and other attributes that will assure success.

The Hoosac River Revival project is moving along due to the great work of Judy Grinnell and her team of river enthusiasts. As you know, through the good work of Sen. Downing, Rep. Cariddi and with the support of Gov. Patrick, HRR is in the Environmental Bill pipeline to the tune of $9 million to begin a project on the South Branch of the river in the vicinity of the Joe Wolfe Field complex. Several months ago, $500,000 was released to craft the design for the first phase of this expansive social, economic and environmental project. Engineers are currently in the field doing surveys and site assessments.

Last year as you know, I approached state leaders and agencies for additional city funding for capital needs. The idea to do this right after the closure of our hospital was due to the creative thinking of City Solicitor John DeRosa. John was instrumental in helping me create a strategy and an actionable idea that I put in front of Sen. Downing and Rep. Cariddi and then in a sense "sold" to state leadership. As a result, we were given $750,000 for capital needs.

We have prioritized those needs and projects are under way and equipment has been ordered. So far [the Department of Public Works] has acquired a new piece of snow-clearing equipment, the library finally has a gas heating system that will back up the geothermal system in place and two new cruisers are being delivered [Wednesday].

We have just received documentation relative to additional Chapter 90 funds and with that, are currently measuring out work to be done that will begin in the late spring. Right now we are planning to do the following:

* Demond Avenue from Mass. Avenue to the trestle
* Pattison Road from approximately the water plant to the Williamstown line
* Notch Road from the reservoir approximately 1 mile easterly
* Brown Street from the trestle to River Street
* Daniels Road from Oak Hill to the culvert, approximately 2/3 of a mile

Additionally, when the fiscal 2016 numbers are announced, a very large project will be done to finish Rand Street, the site of a major water break last spring.

The private sector has once again stepped up and is funding a complete renovation of the former Homestead Bar on River Street into the UNO Community Center. This building will house neighborhood programming for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

We are very thankful and excited to bring this center to that neighborhood.

We are in the midst of site selection for a skate park in the city and and new playgrounds at Windsor Lake and Kemp Park have been built and will be completed and opened this spring.

It is my intent to issue RFPs for both Sullivan School and the former Notre Dame Church and school in the early spring. I am hoping that both properties will get noticed and attract developers with some great ideas for re-use.

Work actively continues on the development of the bike paths both from the south (Ashuwillticook) and from the west (Berkshire Bike Path)

We will again be applying for a MassWorks grant to begin work at the site of the former Brien Center on the corner of Main and Marshall. This will be a collaborative public/private project with Mass MoCA.

A new center for entrepreneurship and social innovation called Lever opened this summer based at 85 Main St.

This team is working to contribute to economic development in Northern Berkshire by creating and growing enterprises that leverage local minds, talents and assets.

Out of Lever and the Partnership for North Adams, we just cut the ribbon at Cloud 85 on 85 Main St. This initiative provides ready to use workspace for business services to support independent professionals and entrepreneurs. It features a variety of personal work spaces, high-speed Internet, copiers and printers, meeting rooms, networking and truly tailors the needs of its users from all backgrounds and professions.

Another great private sector project has been the Union Street Center, the former location of Shapiro Chevrolet. The building has gone through significant physical improvement and is the home of several businesses and the future home of NBCTC.

The Mohawk Tavern building is under complete renovation and we will soon be seeing that building brought back to life in a spectacular way.

We will be embarking on a Public Safety Building Study very soon.

This will be funded with CDBG dollars and will be the beginning of our search for a new public safety building solution. This in part due to the decrepit physical condition of our building and also to comply with our ADA/U.S. Department of Justice settlement.

We have slated CDBG money for a study for the adaptive re-use of our churches and historic structures. More information will follow on this initiative

We have contracted — again with the use of CDBC money — the Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston to craft a formal capital plan outlining the short, mid- and long-term needs of the city. This list will include everything from vehicles to building infrastructure to our water and sewer systems and will allow us to proactively plan projects and seek grants. This process will begin on Jan. 28 with folks from the Collins Center meeting with all department heads.

Finally I am very pleased to say that while not yet ideal, the North Adams "micro" market unemployment rate, which is more reflective of this region, is at a 6.2 percent, down 1.7 percent from last year and down from 9.5 percent in 2009. While higher than the state average of 4.8 percent and county average of 5.2 percent, we have managed to keep pace with state and county reductions over the past six years.

This list is expansive however not all-inclusive. I am certain all will agree that we have much going on and that everything mentioned will provide social and/or economic benefit to the city now and into the future.

I look forward to working with this council, the School Committee, our School Building Committee, and all of our boards and commissions. I very much appreciate the guidance of my neighboring town leaders and our local delegation. I truly value the wonderful employees of our city and school system, and I am very thankful for the patience and support of the people of this great city.

I will close with the same words as last year: "The wheels of government grind slowly" and that they do! But with continued support and patience, we will continue to grow and make "our" city, nestled here in the palm of God's hand, a place of pride for all of us.

link: www.iberkshires.com/story/48601/Alcombright-Address-Lauds-North-Adams-Investment-Progress.html

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"North Adams mayor sees 'difficult' budget, touts progress"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 26, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - While pointing to progress on a number of fronts in the city, Mayor Richard Alcombright this week signaled that the upcoming budget could be the tightest of his six years in office.

During his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, the mayor said his administration will begin fiscal 2016 discussions with an $800,000 gap.

While budget numbers, such as anticipated state aid, remain fluid, the mayor said he expects to present a draft budget to the city council's Finance Committee next week, and he did not indicate if he will be proposing a Proposition 2 1/2 override.

An override, if approved by voters, would allow the city to raise more tax revenue than a state-mandated cap.

"I must be certain that this council and our School Committee — as well as residents — understand that this will undoubtedly be the most difficult budget this city has seen in recent memory," Alcombright said.

City officials expect state and local aid to be level funded by the Gov. Charlie Baker administration, even as the state faces a $700 million budget gap of its own, Alcombright said reductions in state revenue have been the "financial kiss of death" for North Adams. The city used to see nearly 60 percent of its annual operating budget in state aid, compared to less than 45 percent now.

But Alcombright's speech wasn't all bleak — he laid out a series of initiatives in the city that have made progress in the last year.

The solar array being built on the city's capped landfill will be fully online this fall, potentially saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity costs, officials estimate. The Berkshire Scenic Railway, which is expected to bring thousands of visitors to Adams and North Adams with its Hoosac Valley Service, hopes to begin running in the early summer — pending a lease agreement between the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and private rail companies for use of the railroad.

The renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School into Colegrove Park Elementary continues, Alcombright said, and is still on track for an opening this fall. Meanwhile, plans have advanced this year for a bike path to connect Williamstown with downtown North Adams.

Renovation of the city's armory building on Ashland Street is winding down, Alcombright noted, and the city will begin looking for a tenant. The mayor also hoped to breathe life into the Mohawk Theater by partnering with a future president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Alcombright also announced he expects to have a lease finalized between the city and private developers, Greylock Market LLC, of Western Gateway Heritage State Park by March.

"When I had the idea of privatization four years ago, I never anticipated the work that would be necessary and the bureaucracy that is involved in crafting this lease," Alcombright said. "The work and the time spent will be well worth it."

In addition to city efforts, Alcombright took the opportunity to laud private development in the city, such as phase three of renovation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the future reopening of the Mohawk Tavern by developer Moresi and Associates.

Like in his 2014 address, Alcombright once again asked North Adams residents to help "pull the rope of hope." This year, however, he more sharply denounced negative politics he illustrated as being pervasive in the city, and asked people to turn "harmful into helpful."

"There are people in this community who simply thrive on being divisive, always with a criticism, never with an idea — or better yet, a solution," Alcombright said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

Readers' Comments:

barbour: The "kiss of death" for North Adams is the Mayor and his Spending. Bottom line.

N.A. taxpayer: Here’s a solution: STOP giving out raises and realize the city DOES NOT have the money to give out raises at this time. It’s not about negative politics, it’s about COMMON SENSE. AND…the reason state aid is now only 45 % of the budget is not due to the state giving us less, it’s because the budget is much higher. State Aid has remained the same, but spending has increased!!! Tough times call for tough measures …but all Mr. Alcombright does is keep spending and putting the burden on the residents of this city. The priorities are all messed up. Here’s another solution: Start brainstorming on what you can cut in order to start taking care of our city’s infrastructure!!!! This is really starting to be outright absurd…the city is falling apart in front of our eyes, but school administrators are getting big raises. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE!!!!​ Hopefully residents in this city keep all this in mind as they go to vote in November for new leadership!

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"North Adams mayor's $42 million budget shows 3.4 percent increase"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 3/7/2015

NORTH ADAMS - Mayor Richard Alcombright has proposed a $41.97 million budget for fiscal 2016, which leaves an estimated $542,000 budget gap despite a 3.4 percent increase in total expenditures.

As was the case last year, the largest increases in the fiscal 2016 proposed budget are retirement costs, employee health insurance and commitments to school funding, combining for well more than a $1 million increase. The city expects to see a modest increase in state aid, but not enough to cover such increases, and overall revenue remains mostly flat.

"If you net out the Hoosac Water Quality District, our health assessment, pensions and school assessments, our city operating budget is up about 0.008 percent," Alcombright said Friday.

Alcombright introduced his budget to the City Council's finance subcommittee, which will hold a series of informational public meetings over the next several weeks, though dates have not yet been set. The Finance Committee will make a recommendation on the mayor's fiscal 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1, before it is sent to the full council for a vote.

Commitments to the school department are expected to increase more than $300,000; health insurance costs have risen about 7 percent or $460,000; payments to the Hoosac Water Quality District will increase by $55,000, and pension costs have increased by $120,000, according to the mayor.

While a majority of line items remain level funded from the previous year, Alcombright has also proposed a 3 percent raise for all non-union employees, amounting to some $60,000 before benefits, which he said reflects raises given to union employees in recent years but does not include retroactive pay.

The increases leave the mayor's proposal with a structural deficit of more than half a million dollars — which he says can only be closed through either raising the sewer fee, spending reserves, or cutting costs, none of which he specifically proposed.

Although he had publicly admitted to be considering a Proposition 2 1/2 override to bolster city revenues, Alcombright's proposal stays within the tax levy limit, and he said Friday an override is "off the table" this year.

"I would say 20 to 30 percent of the people would say they would support it," Alcombright said. "I'm not going to walk into a battle I know I can't win."

Alcombright said the city will consider changing its health care coverage, which would need employee approval. It was last adjusted two years ago and saved the city an estimated $600,000, according to city officials.

"Every percent that we save on health insurance is about $80,000, the way I calculate, so we'll be looking at some other health insurance options," he said.

The city could also raise up to $350,000 in additional revenue through sewer fees, Alcombright said, to cover the gap between the revenue it takes in from residents and what it pays to the Hoosac Water Quality District.

Councilors Wayne Wilkinson and Nancy Bullett expressed concern that the budget did not include funding to complete deferred maintenance and other upgrades to city infrastructure that has weathered a brutal winter season.

"We know that the infrastructure is fragile," Bullett said. "How do we anticipate being able to try to get ahead of that?"

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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"Give North Adams hospital it deserves"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/24/2015

To the editor:

On March 28, 2014, due to a violation of the law, North Adams Regional Hospital was closed. A year later it remains closed. Berkshire Health Systems is a nonprofit that took over the hospital at a bargain rate. A profit can be made, as was proven in the past.

All we want is justice, equal health care, a full service hospital like Fairview in South Berkshire with 22 beds. BMC is in the community to serve its needs. Then do the right thing and reopen the hospital. Do not wait until a needless death forces you to.

Parents, caregivers and those with loved ones, let BHS hear from you. Demand equal health care. Remind BHS that a nonprofit should act for the good of a community.

Mike Wilber John Armstrong North Adams

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“A look back: The final days of North Adams Regional - After enduring years on financial life support, the 129-year-old hospital's end came swiftly and suddenly”
By Scott Stafford and Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, March 26, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - In the months leading up to the calamitous March 28, 2014, closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, local and state officials heard with regularity that it had only enough cash to operate for a few more weeks or days.

Over the years, the hospital's financial crises were communicated repeatedly — so often it became somewhat routine, even to the point of being considered part of the status quo. But a little more than a year ago, the cry for help — which many had heard before — grew dire. But the speed in which the hospital bled money happened faster than anyone on the outside expected. It caught most everyone by surprise.

That's according to separate interviews conducted in the months following the hospital's closing with former Northern Berkshire Healthcare board member Dr. Arthur Turton, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and state Sen. Benjamin Downing.

Indeed, the 129-year-old North Adams Regional's financial troubles were no secret and an oft-repeated refrain. The hospital, unable to turn consistent operating profits, courted nearby hospitals for affiliations. It brought in wound and joint-replacement units as revenue centers. It tried, but was denied, to become a federally designated Critical Access Hospital, which would have subsidized Medicare reimbursements. It underwent a bankruptcy reorganization.

All this played out at the hospital, situated on a hill in North Adams, overlooking a Northern Berkshire County medical landscape that's above the state average in maladies like asthma, cancer and heart disease; surrounded by high percentages of people who are overweight, disabled, or in poor general health; and serving an aging, low-income population in need of access to health care, according to a report on the region's medical needs.

Over the years, North Adams Regional, which served a population of 37,000 in the Northern Berkshires, had posted operating losses totaling more than $25 million in nine of the 12 years leading up to its closing. By 2011, Northern Berkshire Healthcare was $49.8 million in debt, but emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012.

THE END DAYS

In late January 2014, the Northern Berkshire Healthcare board sent state officials a letter that detailed a desperate situation: Cash reserves would be exhausted in a matter of weeks, possibly forcing a closure, although negotiations with Berkshire Medical Center about a merger or sale were ongoing.

"They were absolutely asking for help," Downing noted in an April 2014 interview.

North Adams Regional Hospital closed with only three days' notice, leaving more than 500 unemployed and hundreds of patients adrift. Its parent company, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, subsequently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

There have been no public accounts of the behind-the-scenes events and discussions that took place inside the hospital amongst administrators and board members during the weeks and days leading up to the abrupt hospital closure. Over the course of the past year, The Eagle revisited this issue several times in the hopes that others directly involved in the events, trustees specifically, would come forward.

But all members of the final board of trustees of the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare, owner of North Adams Regional Hospital, did not return requests for comment or declined on the advice of their attorney, citing an ongoing probe of the hospital closing by the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley. That probe is still ongoing after the January transition to Attorney General Maura Healey.

WARNING SIGNS

During the last half of 2013, Downing had already been in frequent communication with Timothy Jones, CEO of Northern Berkshire Healthcare, through the period that included the December closing of the hospital's psychiatric unit.

"We were in constant contact, one or two calls per week, if not more," Downing said.

Closing the psychiatric unit saved $3 million a year, he said.

It wouldn't be nearly enough.

By November 2013, Downing said the situation was precarious enough to start involving John Polanowicz, then-secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, to get a feel for what help might be available at the state level, what the hospital would need, and what the state would need from the hospital to access those services.

"Up until the weekend before the hospital closed [March 22-23], I thought there was a path" to state aid, Downing said.

Downing was also focusing on conversations with the board of trustees and management in examining resources and other possible tactics.

OUT OF TIME

Later in the process, Downing was working with then-state Senate President Therese Murray, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg "to make them aware that I was going to need assistance to buy [the hospital] some time."

The weekend before the hospital closed, Downing was aware that Berkshire Medical Center was trying to negotiate a purchase deal with the holders of $34 million in bonds issued by Northern Berkshire Healthcare over the years. On the day before the closure of the hospital was announced, he thought "the conversation had gone well."

But what he wasn't yet aware of, he said, was that the bondholders and BMC unexpectedly had two different numbers on the table. And when "the bondholders insisted on their position, that's when things fell apart. Then BMC stopped talking to the bondholders, but kept talking to the hospital to see what they could do to help. That was made clear to me Monday afternoon [March 24]."

Downing later reiterated that BMC, Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the bondholders "thought they had a deal" going into the meeting of Saturday, March 22. And when they got back together on Monday, March 24, BMC and the bondholders "realized they were talking about two different numbers. When the bondholders wouldn't budge, BMC walked away."

"Up until Monday afternoon [March 24], I was cautiously optimistic," Downing said.

The following day, the Northern Berkshire Healthcare board announced the hospital would close on Friday, March 28, and would subsequently file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

When he heard the closing was imminent, Downing said he asked for 48 hours to see if there was any help to be found.

"That didn't work out," he said.

After the announcement of the closure on March 25, Downing told The Eagle, "This certainly is a gut punch. Northern Berkshire needs a hospital for health reasons and for economic reasons, and I'm not ready to give up on this yet."

He said at the time that the speed of the hospital's closing was surprising. "It could have and should have been avoided," Downing said.

A SURPRISING TURN

Dr. Turton, who worked as a urologist at North Adams Regional for years and whose family patronized the hospital for three decades, was a former chairman of the Northern Berkshire Healthcare board, and resigned from the board in December 2013 — a little more than three months before the closing.

During an interview with The Eagle in April 2014, Turton said that when he left the board, negotiations for a merger were ongoing with BMC.

"[The closing] took me by surprise, too," Turton said. "When I left the board in December, we were very optimistic — everyone was on board."

Turton doesn't blame BMC — they had to make sure that what happened in North Adams doesn't happen at its facilities in Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

BMC had flirted with financial disaster in the past, and they couldn't risk their operation by bumping up their overhead by too much or spreading their operation too thin, he said. (BMC stepped forth in July 2014 and bought the former North Adams Regional for $4 million; BMC has since restored a number of services to the facility it now calls BMC North.)

But in the end, no matter who is to blame or what comes next, Turton said, North Adams has an aging, low-income population, and they are the ones who need frequent access to quality health care.

Commissioned after the hospital closed, a report on Northern Berkshire County's health care needs confirmed that the economics of the region could not sustain the return of a full-service, inpatient hospital. The Stroudwater report stated that limited inpatient services would be financially feasible only if BMC North won federal designation as a Critical Access Hospital.

During the weeks and months leading up to the closing, North Adams Mayor Alcombright said — also in an April 2014 interview — that hospital CEO Jones was in touch with him "infrequently."

"They talked to me as a courtesy because I was the mayor," Alcombright said. "The reason [Jones] would call was to say 'We're down to 12 days of cash left.'"

But he had been hearing similar news for years from the previous CEOs of the hospital.

When the hospital closed Greylock Pavilion, Alcombright said, "it was very public at the time that their daily [patient count] could not support the offsetting cost" of the psychiatric ward.

"My understanding was that if they got rid of those things that were a drag on the bottom line, it would stop the bleeding and they would have more time to look at every other option they had," he said.

Alcombright knew then that the hospital was "dangerously close to insolvency."

OUT OF CASH

About 10 days before the closure announcement, Alcombright recalled, Jones "came in and told me they were really on the edge, but that they were working with the senator [Downing] and others, 'but our cash reserve continues to deplete and we're in danger of closing.'"

A few days later, Alcombright remembers Jones telling him, "'We're doing everything we can to keep this open, but if things don't improve, we're going to have to close soon.'"

But Alcombright said it wasn't clear that "soon" meant just a few days. He was thinking weeks, not days, possibly because it felt like he'd heard that before.

"Maybe I was naive, but I didn't sense that sort of immediacy, that it would close in three days," Alcombright said.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 25, Alcombright said that Jones called and told him, "'We're going to announce to the staff this afternoon we're going to be closing the hospital.' I asked when? He said, 'Friday at 10 a.m.' Is it the hospital? 'Everything.'"

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"A year after NARH closed, health care makes steady comeback"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, March 27, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The end of March 2014 was a dark time for the Northern Berkshires.

People were still reeling from the sudden loss of North Adams Regional Hospital on March 28, 2014.

Politicians were scrambling to both understand and explain what happened, while at the same time trying to figure out how to fill the gaping void in North County health care.

And 500-plus families and individuals were searching for a solution to their sudden loss of significant income source, and the loss of their second families in the workplace.

"It was almost like a death in the family," recalls North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "The hospital was a cornerstone of our community with good-paying jobs. So it closes, and now you're scrambling to figure out what to do about it, and you're also in mourning, almost despondent."

PANIC, TEARS

One former employee remembers the scene in the cafeteria when Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO Tim Jones announced the hospital closing to more than 200 workers. The room was so crowded, there were people trying to hear from the hallway. Some were shouting at Jones, and at times he was shouting back.

"It was sheer panic," recalled Cindy Bird, a former secretary in the operating room. "People were coming out crying. My stomach dropped. I was beyond devastated."

Employees occupied the cafeteria for three days, and on Friday, closing day, dozens of people gathered at the front door in the rain to protest the closing as patients and weeping nurses left the building. By the end of the day, the hospital was vacated and locked up.

After the closing, the attorney general's staff was trying to work the legal angle to at least make sure the emergency room could still function, but it remained closed for two more months.

In the interim, the three North County ambulance services had to travel three times the distance to bring patients to the hospital, invoking severe overtime and leaving their ranks spread thin. It became a running joke, darkly, around the region that taking precautions — such as dressing in bubble wrap — might be prudent because health care was so far away.

Berkshire Medical Center worked with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to provide an urgent care center to help provide non-emergency health care, but it opened just three weeks before BMC was able to re-open the North Adams emergency room.

THE IMPACT

At the same time, displaced workers, their patients and their families were demanding action from the state. Ubiquitous yard signs spread the rallying cry: "Save Our Hospital."

A study released on March 30 by Stephen Shepard, an economics professor at Williams College, predicted the closing would ripple throughout the region. The report showed that a total loss in income as a result of the closure could approach $42 million yearly.

"The aura in the community was pretty bleak, everybody was down," Alcombright said. "Everybody was sick about it."

Attorney General Martha Coakley launched an investigation of the hospital's board of trustees and its decision to close the hospital with an eye to determining whether any state regulations or statutes were violated during the process. The investigation continues a year later, even after Maura Healey has taken office as attorney general.

Eventually, once approved by the hospital's bondholders and the bankruptcy court, BMC was able to restaff, resupply and re-open the North Adams emergency room in late May 2014.

CLOSE TOGETHER

Through those troubled weeks and months, union officials with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and 1099 SEIU facilitated a weekly Tuesday afternoon community meeting, with the help of the North Adams American Legion, that drew several hundred displaced workers every week and served as a community sounding board.

Volunteers cooked dinner using food donated by local restaurants to feed the weekly gathering.

This nearly spontaneous community — drawn together by calamity — helped many who felt abruptly disenfranchised, after having lost their workplace and daily contact with their friends, many of whom had worked at NARH for decades. They organized trips to Boston to lobby legislators, launched rallies and helped each other through sudden financial hardship. A few still meet every Tuesday under the name North County Cares Coalition.

"What kept me going were those Tuesday night meetings," Alcombright said, "and all those people rallying us to get this fixed."

He noted that he also felt a great deal of support from state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick "was really engaged," Alcombright said. "He called me every week for three months to check on the progress. He was very available and never out of the loop. And it was a focus for [former Mass. Secretary of Health and Human Services John] Polanowicz for four to five months."

IN BANKRUPTCY COURT

Meanwhile, the haggling continued in bankruptcy court, with officials trying to inventory all the property and assets and identify all the creditors owed money by the former North Adams Regional Hospital.

Then came the bidding process, which ended in August with BMC being the only bidder with an offer of $4 million on the table for the North Adams hospital campus.

The bondholders and creditors were owed roughly $35 million. In the end, the bankruptcy trustee was able to recapture only about $10 million to pay off the hospital's creditors.

When BMC took possession of the facility, the long arduous process of evaluating the building and its mechanics began. Simultaneously, the effort was launched to determine which services to bring back and what would be required for each.

BMC officials point out that for every service re-established at what is now known as the BMC North Campus, significant preparation must be made by a team of BMC employees and outside vendors, and all current building codes and public health regulations have to be met, and approvals obtained from state and sometimes federal agencies.

Using a report commissioned by the state to evaluate the health care needs of North County, which was issued by Stroudwater Associates in September, BMC began working on a master plan, mapping out the best use of the building and figuring out which health care services can be provided in a sustainable way.

Union officials and former employees are still seeking the return of a "full service hospital," one that has in-patient beds for more intensive surgical treatments and a maternity ward.

The Stroudwater report showed that there is a need for such services, but that it would not be sustainable under the currently changing medicare reimbursement process unless the facility is federally designated as a Critical Access Hospital.

BMC REVIVING SERVICES

Since August, BMC North has established several out-patient services, including outpatient advanced imaging such as MRI, CT, ultrasound, X-ray and mammography, and outpatient endoscopy in conjunction with Greylock Gastroenterology. Ecu-Health Care, which relocated after the closing, has since returned to its former location. Last month, BMC North began providing orthopedic outpatient surgery in partnership with Orthopedic Associates of Northern Berkshire. Medical laboratory services also have returned to North County at the BMC North Campus.

Coming up soon, said Ruth Blodgett, vice president for planning and development at Berkshire Health Systems, which operates BMC, urology services will be returning to North Adams and following that, outpatient gynecological procedures will be available. And as part of a Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization, & Transformation (CHART) Investment Program grant, there will be clinical offices, classrooms and a cardiac rehabilitation exercise facility established at BMC North during the coming months.

Even the cafeteria is open again.

Later down the line, outpatient ob/gyn services will return to BMC North. Other as-yet-undetermined health care services will be established over time. Officials have said that eventually, the entire facility will be utilized in some sort of health care capacity.

BMC information technology teams have been involved in an ongoing effort to upgrade the IT systems throughout the property, and making the technology compatible with systems at BMC Pittsfield.

And BMC specialists have been maintaining and archiving patient electronic health records gathered during the North Adams Regional era.

There also have been a number of needed maintenance upgrades implemented at the building, such as a new roof. BMC officials have said that a capital investment fund of $6 million will be used to repair and upgrade the facility.

"The work has been all-consuming," Blodgett said. "Our first priority was to stabilize and provide essential services, including the doctors practices that were associated" with Northern Berkshire Healthcare.

Two doctors practices would have closed without the intervention of BMC to provide an administrative infrastructure. The Visiting Nurses Association also had patients depending on them, so BMC brought them under its wing as well.

Blodgett noted that during the first few weeks and months after the closing, there had been a number of surgical procedures scheduled that BMC tried to provide for by folding them into the existing schedule at BMC Pittsfield.

"It was a whole hospital of active patients that had to be absorbed in a matter of days," she noted. "But as a group we felt that this is our community and we need to do whatever we can to make it as painless as possible. It was a Herculean task and it touched every area of our organization to keep those services going."

MASSIVE INVESTMENT

So far, say BMC officials, $10.6 million dollars has been invested in the effort to re-awaken the health care facility.

To date, BMC has hired a little more than 250 former employees of NARH , posting them throughout the county, according to BMC spokesman Michael Leary. The BMC North Campus now employs about 140 people, the vast majority of them former NARH employees.

Alcombright said BerkshireWorks has estimated that about 400 former NARH employees have found work, whether it be with BMC or with some other entity in some other field.

"When I look back at what we had after the hospital closed, I never thought we'd be where we are now," Alcombright said. "Our partners at BMC with the help of the state and local agencies, they've really been able to do quite a lot."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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Former NARH employee Deb Lipa has moved on to working for the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife and Fisheries in Dalton. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

"NARH's closing upended, redirected lives: Former employees reflect on finding a new normal"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, March 27, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - A year after the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, its former employees are doing their best to move on with their lives.

Many have found new jobs, some went to work for Berkshire Medical Center, and some are pursuing new careers, but they still share the memories of community and of the deep loss everyone experienced a year ago.

For example, Deb Lipa worked there for over 20 years in the medical staff office and the quality department. Now she is a clerk at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife office in Dalton, making about one third less than she earned at the hospital.

For a little while, she worked in a temporary position at Berkshire Medical Center, but with no benefits and guarantee of permanent employment, Lipa opted to find something more permanent.

"They could only guarantee me six months [employment], so I kept looking for full-time work," she said.

When NARH closed, it put a sudden end to the feeling of home and family many of its employees shared, Lipa included.

"It was where I spent almost every day, and I just assumed I'd retire from there, like everyone else did," she said. "But now that sense of community has been lost."

DIFFICULT MEMORIES

Lipa and her husband Jim were on vacation in Florida when the news broke. They flew back in time for her to collect her last paycheck on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

The line of employees waiting to collect their pay snaked all the way through the Clark House, in which administrative offices were located.

"To walk through that line, seeing everyone you know, it was mind-numbing," Lipa recalls. "It's still very difficult. On a gut level it's just really frustrating."

She went through the career counseling sessions that were offered after the closing, and started sending her resume out.

The loss of income was difficult for her family, but not as bad as some others. Her husband Jim still worked as a quality technician at Crane & Co.

"Luckily, our kids are older now," Lipa said. "It was a blow, but a manageable blow."

Nonetheless, it was a "significant cut" so they had to curtail spending where ever they could to stretch what was left.

She worked at BMC for about two months before deciding she needed something with longevity, and wound up working for the state.

"The stress level is a whole lot different — the jobs just don't compare," Lipa said. "But there are new stresses, including income issues."

Day-to-day life is much different for Lipa now. She lives less than a mile from the hospital in North Adams, but now she drives more than 50 miles a day to commute.

"It's an adjustment," she said.

Looking back, Lipa concludes that the failure of the business had nothing to do with the performance of her co-workers.

"There was no employee at my level who could have done anything different to change things — it was nothing we could have prevented," she said. "I went to work every day and did everything I had to do, but it made no difference."

And she said the experience has changed her outlook, somewhat.

"I still get angry when I think about it," she said. "And I miss the people. I also found out I'm a lot more resilient than I thought I was, and I'm more sensitive to the idea that a job is not a given. It's something you have to work to keep."

IN THE FAMILY

Another former employee, Cindy Bird, worked at NARH for 26 years as a secretary. But for her, the connection to the hospital was generational. Her mother and father both worked there. Her father helped to organize the union and served as a delegate, as did she.

When news of the hospital closing started filtering through the ranks on March 25, Bird's immediate reaction was, "Wait. You can't close a hospital."

It was a traumatic experience for many of the employees, as it was for Bird.

"I haven't moved beyond it totally," she said. "Not yet. We all lost our jobs, lost our incomes and lost our family, because we were a family. These were my people. I trusted my life with them."

As the weeks passed, Bird considered her options.

"I'd always wanted to be a teacher," she said, "and I thought this might be my chance. So I decided to go back to school."

Easier said than done. Her household income had just dropped by about a third, and enrolling in college costs money. She and her husband support two daughters. One is a senior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the other is 11 years old and attending St. Stanislaus-Kostka School.

So she has been working furiously since then to obtain state aid for unemployment and tuition aid. Both require a substantial level of red tape that is hard to stay on top of, Bird noted.

"Everything has been a fight since the closing," she said.

Even with the aid, and with her husband working two jobs, she has had to take out loans to pay for the required books.

"We're going to make it work," she said.

The plan is to attend MCLA full time this summer and fall and graduate in December. Coincidentally, she is in one class with her daughter.

"It's a lot of hard work, but my family is very supportive," Bird said.

Nevertheless, the stress of going to school, raising two daughters, watching her husband working two jobs and still feeling the loss, can make things difficult.

"It's all consuming," she said. "So you have to find your time. I've learned that the shower is a good place to cry because you can dry off and your kids won't see."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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Members of the North County Cares Coalition commemorate the one-year anniversary of the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital by protesting the lack of a 'full service hospital' in North County while in a vacant lot across from BMC Pittsfield. Saturday, March 28, 2015.

"Advocates say Northern Berkshire full service hospital sustainable, deserved"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD — On the one year anniversary of the day North Adams Regional Hospital closed, about 75 former employees and union officials stood in the driving snow across North Street from Berkshire Medical Center to again plead for a full service hospital at the BMC Northern Berkshire campus in North Adams.

On March 28, 2014, many of the same folks were in the crowd of a couple hundred who stood chanting in the driving rain outside the main entrance of NARH desperately protesting the hospital's closing.

Today's focus was health care equity: The group now known as North County Cares Coalition contends that because southern Berkshire County has a hospital with more services than the bigger community in Northern Berkshire, and the central county region has BMC in Pittsfield, North County deserves the same level of health care.

Nykole Roche, associate director/strategic researcher for the Division of Labor Action for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, noted that the need for full health care services in Northern Berkshire is especially acute because data shows it is a medically vulnerable population.

"There is a higher than average rate of heart disease, diabetes, addiction and alcoholism," she said, adding that when BMC purchased the hospital facility, they also took on a responsibility to the region to provide a full range of health care services.

"But they have declined to meet those needs," Roche said.

The rally started off at noon in the lobby of North Adams City Hall, where the group heard comments from NCCC organizers, union officials, as well as state Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi, D-North Adams, and Mayor Richard J. Alcombright.

Then the protest moved to a vacant lot across from BMC Pittsfield, where the speakers again called for full services in Northern Berkshire, specifically mentioning in-patient hospital beds and in-patient maternity services, while protesters held up signs and waved to passing drivers that honked their horns in support.

Roche noted that with more than 300 babies born to Northern Berkshire residents yearly, more than at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, a maternity ward is needed and sustainable.

"Despite making millions in profit, they're (BMC) deciding which communities deserve health care and which ones don't," Roche said.

Richard Dassatti, an organizer with the NCCC, called on elected officials to push for full services at the BMC Northern Berkshire campus.

"Health care is a basic human right according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights," he said. "But the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have universal health care."

Dassatti noted that the holders of most of the $36 million in bonds issued by NARH — a debt load that proved fatal to the operation — was Wells Fargo Bank, the same company that received a $25 billion bailout during the Great Recession, one of several banks deemed by the government as "too big to fail."

"Well, our politicians need to understand that our hospital is too big to fail," he added.

Jim Lipa, another NCCC organizer, expressed gratitude for what health care services have been established by BMC at its Northern Berkshire campus.

"But we deserve a full service hospital — it is sustainable," he said.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/48839/North-County-Group-Lobbies-for-Hospital-Reopening.html

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/46115/Northern-Berkshire-Healthcare-Closes.html

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“Loss of NARH is crippling region”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/28/2015

To the editor:

My husband and I and our two young children moved from Missouri to Williamstown in 1978, when there were only five houses for sale in this lovely small town. We found one we could afford, moved in, and have been renovating it for almost 30 years.

Unfortunately, however, because we have to live in a place where we can count on adequate and available health care, we may be listing this wonderful old house, although we had intended to occupy it for the rest of our lives. This will be a more difficult chore this time around: according to the online service Zillow.com, there are now over 80 houses for sale in Williamstown alone, and five of those houses are on the street where we live. Furthermore, we would like to be able to stay in Williamstown where my husband teaches at Williams College, and where I work at home as a writer, but I am 68-years-old, and my husband is 10 years older than I.

It strikes us both that this area has been devastated by the fact that North Adams Regional Hospital was shut down with no more than three days notice, and without any plan in place to cover that loss. No one has been willing to explain to the residents of this area how or why this happened, but it is having a chilling effect on the quality of life in the area as well as on the sustainability not only of our school system, but on two major centers of higher education, on real estate sales, tourist attractions, small businesses, and on our general well-being. There is no adequate public transportation to and from BMC, and we are instructed to call an ambulance if we must get medical help. This is outrageous in a state that touts itself as the most progressive in the country.

Because we have no hospital, the doctors who retire are not being replaced by newcomers eager to take advantage of a cultural mecca ideally located in a beautiful area of the country. Many of us are without a physician at all, and most of us cannot get an appointment with a primary care physician for less than a year's wait.

It's an intolerable situation that has mysteriously gone unaddressed by the medical and political powers that be. It's time to establish transparency at last, and restore our hospital.

Robb Forman Dew
Williamstown

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"North Berkshire must demand a revived hospital"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, April 2, 2015

To the editor:

It's been a little over a year since North Adams Regional Hospital suddenly closed. Some of the hospital services have been slowly restored, such as reopened emergency rooms and attached testing services, as well as some offices. But it's not full service.

No beds, no wards for births or intensive care, pediatric care, psychiatric care or high-tech wound healing, nothing providing for multi-day treatment. Also unrestored are treatment continuity and lost teamwork of hospital staff and citizen volunteers, as well as the lost community bonding provided by immaculate public hallways full of art displays, bronze memorial plaques and the friendly portrait wall for honoring doctors.

The ongoing efforts to restore a full-service hospital are blocked by many complications. Can North Berkshire residents help? Maybe if we joined with Central Berkshire residents who don't want their Pittsfield hospital overloaded by North Berkshire residents. Persistent citizens may help by providing public attention with yard signs, bumper stickers, and so on. The nurses' union hosts weekly citizen meetings at the North Adams American Legion Hall on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. Information can be gained on these efforts by going to the Facebook posting for North County Cares Coalition.

Richard David Greene
North Adams

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“Third world health care in North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, April 3, 2015

To the editor:

I bought a house in North Adams about five years ago because I wanted to retire where I was born and the house matches my lifestyle and financial abilities. I am 67 and I live alone. I ask you to consider what it means to someone like me if I need a hospital bed.

I did not work at North Adams Regional Hospital. I joined the North County Cares Coalition because common sense tells me I need access to a full service hospital. I reached out to David Phelps, CEO of BHS, several times to ask if he would meet with us to explain future plans for the 37,000 people who need a hospital close to home. Mr. Phelps never responded. With a few exceptions, our elected officials are silent and are not representing me.

My terminally ill 39-year-old husband needed to be hospitalized many times. We had a six-year-old child and I was pregnant. I joined the Coalition because I realize the extreme difficulties families now face once a family member becomes an inpatient.

I lived in a third world country which has better health care coverage than what Mr. Phelps is offering me now. We need a full service hospital.

Jo Ann Bates
North Adams

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"North Adams officials seek new ways to close nearly $500K fiscal 2016 budget gap"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - City officials are exploring new ways to close a nearly $500,000 budget gap before entering fiscal 2016.

Administrative Officer Michael Canales introduced a plan Friday to restructure how residents and commercial haulers pay to dispose of trash at the city's Transfer Station, potentially saving more than $300,000 in the city budget per year by increasing bag fees.

Under the current system, the transfer station is barely charging residents more to dispose of trash, about $80 per ton of waste, than the city is charged to haul it out of North Adams. What little money is left after trash is hauled out of North Adams isn't enough to cover the costs of the facility, including labor, according to Canales.

The proposal was made Friday before the city council's finance committee, which is holding a series of public meetings on the proposed fiscal 2016 budget. The spending plan, as introduced, leaves the city with a nearly $500,000 gap that needs to be filled, even as the fiscal 15 budget is now projecting to finish nearly $150,000 in the red.

"These guys have been working on this, probably for a couple of years now, on and off," North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said. "But we really took a look at this now because of the budget situation."

The administrator proposed implementing a "pay as you throw" system that was reduce the cost of transfer stations stickers from NUMBER to $25 for North Adams residents, but increase the cost of large bags to about $2.19 from $1.75. Small bags, meanwhile, would decrease from $1.25 to about $0.96. The numbers are based on the estimated weight each size bag can hold, Canales said. Non-residents would pay $50 for a transfer station sticker.

"If you're going to do it right with a pay as you throw system, you don't try to round off the numbers ... you base it on the actual cost," Canales said.

The administration estimates that the cost increase for a family of four would be about $63.90 per year. However, Canales argues that those costs are already borne by North Adams taxpayers—this year's deficit of more than $350,000 is absorbed by the rest of the city budget. By adjusting prices to keep the transfer station operating in the black, the increased costs will be equitably shared by commercial haulers and non-residents.

"North Adams residents are subsidizing their bill," Canales said.

Canales also hopes the new program would encourage recycling. Based on numbers provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, if the average family of four were to increase its recycling rate by 10 percent it would offset waste costs by $38 per year.

For those who use commercial haulers, Canales estimated the weekly cost will increase by $1.90. Some haulers did dispute that number, he noted.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“North Adams City Council considers 'Open Checkbook' program to control finances”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 17, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - In light of recent theft at the city's skating rink, the City Council is considering implementing a system the tightens controls on finances.

City Councilor Eric Buddington brought to the council a citizen-requested proposal to use "Open Checkbook," a program used by the state government and several cities across the commonwealth that allows users to find budget data to the exact dollar with just the click of a mouse. The database includes all payments made from the state coffers, with only a few exceptions.

Buddington also asked that the council explore what documents the city can make readily available, outside of such a software, on its website for residents' use.

The council ultimately voted, by a 7 to 2 margin, to refer the proposal to its public services committee.

Some councilors expressed concern about the cost of implementing such a system, which would likely require updating the city's accounting software at a cost of about $250,000. As it continues fiscal 2016 budget discussions, the city is already facing an estimated $500,000 budget gap and has relied on reserves to close previous budgets.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said he had done some initial research into the matter and, while he has "no problem" with allowing the public to view more information, the cost appears prohibitive given the city's antiquated software.

"It's wonderful to talk about this — I don't see it ever being implemented, at least not in the near future," Wilkinson said. "I'm sure the public would love to have some input on it, but basically, we can't afford it anyway."

But residents at Tuesday's meeting urged the council to consider the proposal, and the council agreed. Resident Aaron Crandall, who asked the proposal be put on the council's agenda, said he's requested information from city staff on several occasions.

"A lot of this information is PDF files that probably could be made available on the website," Crandall said. "I think it's a great concept. If it's put to use it'd be beneficial not only to taxpayers and residents getting information, but also to the city in saving time."

City auditor's records, for example, could be put online for almost no cost, Buddington said.

"The city of North Adams already does a pretty good job on certain things," Buddington said, citing city ordinances and assessor records posted to the web. "I think there are other city records that could be very easily and cheaply made available online."

Keith Bona, one of the two votes against the referral to the public services committee, explained that he supported discussing the matter further but suggested the finance committee or an ad hoc committee instead.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright appeared open to the conversation Tuesday, but requested it be put on hold until after the budget, which is due by July 1, is adopted. With major changes to the transfer station being discussed on top of the budget, Alcombright said "we've got a lot going on."

The council agreed to bring back a report from the subcommittee on August 11.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"North Adams Public Schools: Programs remain, but two staff members cut in fiscal 2016 budget"
By Edward Damon, The Berkshire Eagle, May 24, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - A fiscal 2016 budget for North Adams Public Schools would maintain current programming, officials say, but the plan would cut two full-time staff members.

The district would have 20 fewer teaching positions than the current year, according to Superintendent James E. Montepare. But the bulk of those jobs are filled by retiring staff members who won't be replaced, and because some employees will be moved to other positions, the district will only cut 2.5 teaching positions.

"I believe this budget has the best use of faculty," Montepare said this week, although he did express regret about some employees not returning for the 2015-16 school year.

Responding to a question from School Committee member Lawrence Taft, Montepare said programming will be "intact or expanded" in the coming year. The arts, sports, and athletics would all be level funded, Montepare said.

The draft $16.4 million budget, presented for the first time during the School Committee's Finance and Facilities Subcommittee Thursday, meets a 2 percent increase as requested by Mayor Richard J. Alcombright for the city's fiscal 2016 municipal budget.

A public hearing for the school budget will be held Wednesday, May 27, [2015], at 6 p.m. in the district's office, 37 Main St., Suite 200. A vote by the School Committee to send the budget to City Council is anticipated that night. The council is expected to vote on a city budget on June 9, [2015].

The budget avoids depleting the school choice account, Montepare said, which is expected to have garnered $895,000 by the end of the year.

The district will use $600,000 from the account to close out the year, leaving some $295,000 in much-needed reserves for the coming year, Montepare said.

The district will not fill the positions of 10 employees who will retire at the end of this year, Montepare said, including five teachers at Brayton Elementary School.

A total of 5.5 positions at Drury High School will be eliminated, he said, but those employees will be moved to other schools within the district.

The opening of Colegrove school gives the district an opportunity to streamline the district's special education programs, according to Montepare. "Redistricting has had a major impact on what we're able to do," he said.

The district was previously limited in where it could offer specialized programs because Brayton Elementary School was the only handicap-accessible school. Some services will be moved to Colegrove, which will be totally handicap-accessible.

The opening of Colegrove also "levels the playing field" in terms of enrollment at the two other elementary schools. Enrollment will hover around 300 for each school, he said, and each school stands to have two classes per grade level during the 2015-16 school year.

Alcombright, who also serves as chairman of the School Committee, credited Montepare for building a balanced budget during a difficult budget cycle which does not affect programming. But he noted the district will look different come September.

"The bottom line is, there will be change," Alcombright said on Friday.

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979. edamon@berkshireeagle.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter.

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"North Adams Public Schools students to get free breakfast and lunch"
By Edward Damon, The Berkshire Eagle, June 5, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Every student enrolled in the city's public school district will get a free breakfast and lunch starting this fall.

The district has become eligible in a federal program that will reimburse it for 100 percent of meal costs for each of its 1,500 students across its four schools.

The program will save local families a combined total of $78,000 a year, according to Food Services Director Corbett Nicholas.

"It's a different way for schools and districts to offer the free lunch program," Nicholas said on Thursday. "It's designed to be less burdensome for schools that have a high population of students receiving free or reduced lunch."

The district has qualified for the "community eligibility provision" under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The district will participate in the program for four years until it must reapply.

The provision does away with the paperwork that goes along with the free and reduced lunch program. Instead, the state evaluates student data to determine the number of children within a district who are eligible, including homeless youth, Head Start students, foster children and children whose families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

Food offerings and cafeteria programs won't change in the coming year. The new program will only change the way the district is reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program was first piloted in the state two years ago in Boston Public Schools. A total of 22 districts and 294 schools currently participate statewide, according to information from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Some districts offer the program in all of its schools, while others only offer it in some.

Pittsfield will offer the program in its eight elementary schools starting this fall.

The idea was floated in North Adams last year and the district even applied, but withdrew its application when it was discovered the food service department would operate at a loss of over $7,000 a month, according to Nicholas.

The program is more viable this year, he said, because a greater number of students qualify — about 900 this year compared to 700 last year.

Approximately 70 percent of the student body currently receive free or reduced lunch under the old system, Nicholas said, and 20 percent of all meals are paid with cash. The department serves roughly 500 breakfasts and 950 lunches per day.

The new program ends a conversation around delinquent lunch accounts. Controversy last year came in the form of some $20,000 delinquent lunch accounts and parents not paying.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright expressed his support for the program and that it would "put more kids at the breakfast and lunch table."

"I think there were some families who didn't have money and maybe didn't want to apply for free or reduced lunch because of the stigma attached to it," Alcombright said. "This way, no one needs to know your status."

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979. edamon@berkshireeagle.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter.

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“North Adams fiscal 2016 spending plan avoids using reserve funds”
By Edward Damon, The Berkshire Eagle, June 11, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — A proposed fiscal 2016 spending plan won't use any of the city's reserve funds and only eliminates one position.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright on Tuesday presented the draft $38.59 million budget to the City Council. The budget represents an increase of $840,453, or 2.23 percent, over the current year.

It calls for elimination of a part-time job in the city clerk's office, Alcombright said.

The council referred the budget and the compensation and classification plan to the Finance Committee, which will review both at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 16. The council is expected to vote on the budget at its June 23 meeting.

"The approach this year is once again to be as close to zero-based budgeting as it can be, whereby we first establish anticipated revenues and then challenged departments to come in with budgets that accurately reflect expenditures," Alcombright said.

The part-time clerk position in the city clerk's office to be cut was budgeted at $29,673 for this year. It's one of multiple positions cut in recent years.

Seven positions were cut in 2013 — commissioner of public safety, a Department of Public Works position, a police officer spot, a clerk job in the treasurer's office, the assistant health inspector post, a library position and a part-time clerk's job in the assessor's office.

The budget would fill several vacant positions, Alcombright said. The positions are a part-time city planner, two vacancies in Public Works and the skating rink manager.

Former manager of the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink, Darin Lane, was fired this spring after admitting to stealing $2,200 from the rink.

The director of tourism and events position has been reduced to a part-time events coordinator post, from a salary of $35,571 to $18,319. Expenses would remain steady at $28,200.

City councilors have debated the position in prior budget year meetings, with some suggesting that events be coordinated by local businesses.

"While we continue to downsize and close our gaps, our toughest days are in front of us," Alcombright said. "With substandard reserves and tens of millions in deferred maintenance, much of it staring us in the
face, discipline and creative planning are must."

Of the entire $840,453 increase, some $779,000 consists of increases to the public school budget, the city's assessment to Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School District, employee health insurance and the assessment from the Hoosic Water Quality District.

The city will pay $909,644 to McCann Technical School for the 2015-16 school year, a $9,431 increase over this year's $860,213.

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979. edamon@berkshireeagle.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter.

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“$38.59 million North Adams budget clears Finance Committee”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, June 18, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The Finance Committee has voted unanimously to recommend Mayor Richard Alcombright's proposed $38.59 million city budget to the full City Council.

The proposed fiscal 2016 budget, an increase of 2.23 percent from last year's plan, avoids utilizing reserves but includes the reduction of a part-time employee at city hall and limits the North Adams Public Schools to a 2 percent increase.

The plan was introduced to the City Council at its June 9 meeting and referred to the Finance Committee, which had already held a series of public meetings on the mayor's first draft of the budget. It is expected that the council will vote on the budget at its June 26 meeting, shortly before the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

The new plan closes a gap of more than $300,000 in the mayor's preliminary fiscal 2016 document, which was introduced in May and called for a 3.4 percent increase.

Savings from the initial proposed budget were largely made through increased rates at the city's transfer station, increases in state aid, and adjustments to city positions. The part-time clerk in the city clerk's office, which had been budgeted at just less than $30,000, also contributed to the savings.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said Tuesday he had initial concerns about cutting the position, which would only leave two employees in the city clerk's office. But, after discussing the matter with the city clerk, Wilkinson said he was confident the office could continue to function properly.

The clerk's assistant had traditionally handled birth and death certificates, according to Alcombright, which is no longer as burdensome now that North Adams Regional Hospital has closed.

The director of tourism and events has also been adjusted to a part-time director of community events, a savings of $17,252 in salary.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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"North Adams City Council approves $38.57 million budget"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, June 24, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Without a single word of debate, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a $38.57 million fiscal 2016 budget.

The budget, adopted as proposed by Mayor Richard Alcombright in earlier this month, is an increase of 2.23 percent over last year's spending plan.

It avoids utilizing city reserves for the first time in several years, according to Alcombright, but will result in an assistant in the city clerk's office being laid off and the conversion of the city's director of tourism and events position into a part-time events coordinator.

The city budget also includes a 2 percent increase it assessment to the North Adams Public Schools budget, which will be forced to make significant staffing reductions.

Alcombright attributed the ease with which the budget passed to the Finance Committee, which held a total of six public meetings on Alcombright's proposal leading up to Tuesday's vote. The meeting was the council's last before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

"This has been a very long, arduous process. I think we've proven that when we work together as a team in city hall with the council we can bring forth a budget that's balanced," Alcombright said. "Again, this is the first time in a long time."

Notable increases in expenditures in the 2016 plan mirror those of recent years, including employee health insurance and benefit costs, assessment to the Hoosac Water Quality District, and school assessments. The budget increased a total of $840,453 on top of fiscal 2015.

Only one member of the public spoke to the budget proposal Tuesday, questioning how the city's final proposal closed a significant budget gap left in the mayor's original proposal released in March.

"[I] thank the Finance Committee for their work as well as the finance team for the city, because I don't think the Finance Committee meetings could have gone as well as they did and as smoothly as they did without the amount of work that went into that," City Councilor Nancy Bullett said.

The council voted 8-0 to adopt the budget and compensation plan. Councilor Jennifer Breen was not present.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

Readers' Comments:

"N.A. Taxpayer" wrote: "The Mayor claims the FY16 budget is balanced. However, he fails to mention at the start of the fiscal it is balanced because not a single penny has yet to be spent. The problem is the Mayor under funds the budget in certain areas, and then will rely on money coming in to the city throughout the year to help fund his shortages and over runs. He then will also over spend throughout the fiscal year as well. The residents and taxpayers will see throughout the upcoming year as the Mayor will need to go to the City Council and transfer money out the various reserve accounts to make up for the short falls and discrepancies. By the end of the fiscal year the budget will have grown by a larger percentage than the 2.23 percent stated by Alcombright. Thus his inability to build or sustain any reserves for the city. All one needs to do is look at last years budget."

"getinvolvedinNA" wrote: "Not mentioned in this article is a 3% raise for all non union employees. Also the city clerk received a huge bump in pay while her part time assistant is being laid off. Life seems very good if you work for The City Of North Adams. Most importantly, if you own property in North Adams your taxes are taking another significant jump higher in order to subsidize these raises and other frivolous spending by this administration. Ask yourself, what am I getting in return for my higher tax rates?"

"barbour" wrote: Let's not forget the school superintendent and his staff will also get the raise on top of the $ 29K "BUMP" in pay they just received.

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"Candidates line up for North Adams mayor, 9 City Council seats"
By Edward Damon, The Berkshire Eagle, July 3, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — The city election season is beginning to take shape, with Mayor Richard J. Alcombright facing at least one challenger, and nine residents announcing for as many seats on the City Council.

Alcombright took out nomination papers on June 24; he has yet to return them, but has declared he'll seek a fourth term.

Local artist and property owner Eric Rudd has also announced he'll run for mayor. He took out papers on May 12 and returned them on June 12.

Nomination papers are available in the city clerk's office for the offices of mayor, the nine city council seats, two seats on the Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School Committee, and three seats on the North Adams School Committee.

The deadline to return papers to the clerk's office with at the signatures of at least 50 registered voters is Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 5 p.m. Signatures must be verified by the Board of Registrars before someone can be considered a candidate for election.

So far, no resident has taken out nomination papers for three seats on the School Committee. Members whose terms will expire in November are Mary Lou Accetta, David Lamarre and Lawrence K. Taft.

Nine residents have taken out nomination papers for nine city council seats. Of the nine, six are incumbents: Lisa M. Blackmer, Keith J. Bona, Eric R. Buddington, Nancy P. Bullett, Benjamin J. Lamb and Wayne J. Wilkinson have all taken out papers but not yet returned them.

Councilors Jennifer Breen, Kate Hanley Merrigan and Joshua Moran have not taken out papers.

Former City Council President Ronald A. Boucher, of Barbour Street, took out papers on June 30, but has not returned them.

Boucher served from 2000 too 2013 and as council president during his final two years. He ran unsuccessfully against Alcombright for mayor in 2011.

Longtime Planning Board and Rent Control Board member Joseph P. Gniadek, of East Main Street, took out papers on April 2, but has not returned them.

Newcomer Edward L. Lacosse, of Brayton Hill Terrace, took out nomination papers on April 28 and returned them on May 6.

Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School Committee incumbents George A. Canales and William R. Diamond have both taken out nomination papers.

A primary election would be held on Sept. 22 if there are more than two candidates running for mayor or more than 19 candidates for city council. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 3.

The last day to register to vote for the preliminary election is Sept. 2 and for the general election, Nov. 2.

City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau encouraged residents to check whether they are listed as active voters before election day.

There are 600 residents who were recently listed as inactive voters because they did not respond to the city census or subsequent notices, she said.

To check your status, call the clerk's office at 413-662-3015 or visit the Secretary of State website at www.sec.state.ma.us.

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979. edamon@berkshireeagle.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter.

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North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright is seeking a fourth two-year term to bring to completion a number of projects, including Colegrove Park Elementary School, the Berkshire Scenic Railway, and bringing the bike paths into North Adams from both Williamstown and Adams. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

“North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright seeks new term, citing unfinished business”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, July 12, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Three-term Mayor Richard Alcombright is shooting for four.

Alcombright said unfinished business and his hope to help guide the city through the continuing economic growth of the region are his main motivations to continue for another two years.

That, and his passion for the work itself.

"The rewards at the end of the day are greater than any of the problems that come up behind you, so to speak," he said.

Alcombright points to business investment in the past few years that has steadily grown to the point that it has exceeded what came before. And there is more to come.

"We have some interesting development prospects," he said. "And it's only going to get better as time goes on. We're getting close to turning the corner — and that message is starting to resonate. That's what keeps me running."

He will face at least one challenger in the race: artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd also has announced his candidacy.

Alcombright says he is excited about the prospects for the Northern Berkshire Region, prospects that have been enhanced by the growth of Mass MoCA, The Clark, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Williams College Museum of Art, and soon the bike trails and scenic railway arriving in North Adams.

"When you look at the amenities, like The Clark and Mass MoCA, our offerings in hospitality and restaurants, you start to see that we are becoming a destination in the Northern Berkshires," Alcombright said.

And he said the city can help that along with "regional collaborations, more marketing, more branding, and more time."

Chores he has seen started, but would like to be there to finish, include Colegrove Park Elementary School, the Berkshire Scenic Railway, and bringing the bike paths into North Adams from both Williamstown and Adams.

"It won't be easy, but we're poised very well for all of that," Alcombright said.

Now that "hopefully, the budget is under control," he said, he'll be able to spend more time contacting business leaders who might have an interest in locating or expanding in North Adams in an effort to attract more jobs and grow the economy.

As he noted during a recent campaign fundraiser, the fiscal 2015 city and school budgets are balanced for the first time in years. And since his administration's first budget in fiscal 2011, spending has only increased by 1.25 percent yearly.

And he maintained that he will not be seeking a Proposition 2 1/2 override on the tax rate this year or next.

Other accomplishments the city has seen under his leadership include two new playgrounds opened recently at Kemp Park and Windsor Lake, the coming skate park project, the opening downtown of LEVER, Cloud 85, Maker's Mill and the revamped Mohawk Tavern.

Alcombright said he will continue to focus on financial accountability, transparency, maintaining an open office and his close connection to residents.

"It's hard, but I respond to every phone message and email nearly every day," he said. "Nobody can accuse me of being inaccessible."

It's a rare day when Alcombright can't be seen on Main Street talking to small groups of residents.

"I look at this job as being the CEO of a $37 million business with 13,000 shareholders," he said. "I'll take my thrashings, some you have to let roll off your back, some you deserve. I'm not perfect, but we work awfully hard every day."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

Comment: John wrote: “The mayor is correct he does have unfinished business. He will raise our taxes and water bills every year to the max limit. How many businesses have closed on his watch, or how about following through with getting lowes home improvement that was slated under former Mayor John Barrett III? Alcombright is a very weak mayor and folds under pressure. He sold the city short when he allowed Cumberland Farms to occupy the old Greenbergs property. That was a premium piece of property. He treats North Adams like Beverly Hills, California. Tax tax tax. Citizens of North Adams speak out and vote this man out of office before it is too late."

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"Renewed hope for Cariddi Mill in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 16, 2015

North Adams has long held out hope that the Cariddi Mill could be returned to life. Maybe those hopes will now be realized.

Greylock Works is seeking to purchase the 342,000-square foot property and Latent Productions would develop it for uses including retail and manufacturing, as well as a restaurant and hotel (Eagle, July 16,) Multi-use projects have become popular at a time when economic uncertainties make it unwise to put all eggs in one basket.

A significant potential benefit of the project would be the remediation of both an underground tunnel used for drainage and the riverside property where the tunnel drained. Public funding is difficult to find for this kind of project, and if it is, bureaucratic stipulations can drag out work for many years.

The Cariddi Mill, originally known as Greylock Mills, has good bones, like the nearby building which today houses the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. From its origins as a cotton mill, the Cariddi Mill served as home for various manufacturing operations until the end of the mill era, which had such a devastating impact on Berkshire County from north to south.

Various ideas for the mill have failed to materialize since, but maybe the right person had to come along. Apparently the principals in this proposed project saw it while driving by it on Route 2, as so many people do each day. Ideally, the Cariddi Mill will, like other Berkshire mills, be reinvented for the 21st century in a way that will benefit the city and region economically.

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Adam G. Hinds, the director of Pittsfield Community Connection, has been named executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. (Ben Garver — Berkshire Eagle Staff, File photo)

“Northern Berkshire Community Coalition announces new executive director”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, July 31, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition has tapped a community activist with local and international experience to be its new executive director.

Adams G. Hinds, 39, will take the reins on Sept. 1 and succeeds Al Bashevkin, who stepped down from the post in June after 29 years.

Hinds has led Pittsfield Community Connection and has been the coordinator of the city's Shannon Grant program, which assists at-risk youth and combats the influence of gangs. Previously, he worked in the Mideast for the United Nations.

The news was announced Friday by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition board and Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi.

"As a starting point, I just viewed the work of the coalition as completely in line with the principles and the approach that I've taken to working with vulnerable youth and their families," Hinds said when reached by The Eagle via telephone on Friday. "I've just been continually impressed by the coalition."

The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition oversees a number of programs under its umbrella, including Mass in Motion, UNITY Youth Programs, Northern Berkshire Neighbors, nb21 Prevention Programs, The Family Place, and the Coalition Core, its community organizing program. Its strides in recent months include the opening of a new United Neighborhood Organization community center on River Street earlier this year.

"[With] big issues, they have their hands on it," Hinds said. "Jobs and health care, and in particular, I really do like the focus on youth, families and neighbors — there's such strength in involving community."

Hinds will also be interested in ensuring that Northern Berkshire residents have access to services to which they are entitled.

"One thing we've talked about with the coalition already is really how to maximize the use of that link between existing social services and communities in need," Hinds said.

Northern Berkshire Community Coalition board president Courtney Shapiro-Van Dusen said Hinds brings talent, energy and local and international knowledge to the position.

"We look forward to a new, exciting chapter in carrying out our important work," she said.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright also welcomed the hire, saying that he thinks Hinds will "facilitate the type of collaboration that the Coalition is really known for."

"I think Adam is a great choice, kind of a bright new face, [and] I'm sure he will have some great thoughts and ideas," Alcombright said.

Hinds will remain involved in Pittsfield Community Connection as chairman of its steering committee, which meets on a monthly basis.

"I do feel it's important [to stay involved], this is great work that we have going and it's really catching steam," Hinds said.

Despite losing the city's Shannon Grant coordinator, Pittsfield Mayor Bianchi lauded Hinds in a statement on Friday and expressed his excitement for a "unifying link" between the Northern Berkshires and Pittsfield. Bianchi added he hopes to expand the Shannon Grant beyond Pittsfield's borders to help stem youth violence.

Scott Murray, currently the organization's director of community mentoring and partners, will take over as interim director in Hinds' absence from Pittsfield Community Connection. Officials will begin to meet next week to discuss the search process for a long-term replacement, according to Julia Sabourin, the mayor's director of administrative services.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Alcombright

Rudd

“North Adams mayoral candidates tout downtown improvement plans”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, August 10, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - With the mayoral race starting to shape up, the status of the downtown area will again become part of the political platform, as candidates articulate their respective approaches to improving commerce and increasing activity along the Main Street corridor.

Already, candidate Eric Rudd is discussing his ideas and contending that he can substantially increase foot traffic there, "almost overnight," by re-working parking policies at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and in the downtown area.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright maintains that a combination of things — the completion of the Colegrove Park Elementary School, the start up of the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service, and the elimination of the former Brien Center building on Marshall Street — will help to improve pedestrian circulation around Main Street. He also has plans for the Mohawk Theater.

According to Rudd, by working with Mass MoCA to alter its parking practices in conjunction with changes to city parking policies, museum visitors could be rerouted to park downtown and take shuttles or walk to the museum through the heart of the city.

Rudd's plan would seek to allow only employees and visitors of Mass MoCA's commercial tenants to park in their north lot, while the smaller lot on the south side of the campus would be reserved for VIP parking for museum visitors at a cost of $5 or more.

At the same time, Rudd said, the parking meters downtown should be removed and other permitted parking eliminated.

"I want North Adams to be a better place to live and visit," Rudd said. "And a thriving downtown is very important to the entire community."

By charging for the VIP parking, he said, the city would generate upwards of $100,000, which could be used to provide the free shuttle service. The "shuttle," he said could include a variety of vehicles, such as brightly decorated trolley cars and golf carts.

He also proposes printing up coupon books and a brochure with a map of downtown that would be distributed to patrons parking in the VIP space, encouraging them to visit local businesses. The parking fees would also fund that effort.

Rudd said that allowing people to park for free at Mass MoCA and charging people to park downtown is "backwards."

"Why are we pummeling people [financially] when they want to park downtown," he said. "We want people to enjoy the entire cultural adventure we have here. We've got to get them where they are going and still give them the tools to enjoy themselves in North Adams."

With what Rudd says will be dramatically increased foot traffic along Main Street, store fronts would become much more attractive to new businesses, he predicted.

He said the Mohawk Theater could be another "great venue" for Mass MoCA to use as an additional performance space.

"This is not magic," Rudd said. "These are dramatic, intelligent things, but still pretty simple to do, that can make a big difference."

Alcombright said there are a number of challenges to overcome to make the downtown financially sustainable, including geography and road layout.

In the short term, the current effort to establish a well designed, well coordinated signage system to guide visitors to the downtown area will help, he said. And more people coming to town on the Berkshire Scenic Railway and newly planned bike paths will also be of help. When Colegrove Park Elementary School opens, that will naturally increase traffic through downtown, he added.

In the longer term, Alcombright said, the expansion of the Mass MoCA campus will attract more visitors to town, as will the revitalization project anticipated at the former Cariddi Mill, now known as the Greylock Mill. The demolition of the former Brien Center building on Marshall Street, a project that still needs funding, will open up the Marshall Street corridor to the Mass MoCA campus, he said, encouraging museum visitors to venture further afield.

As part of that plan, turning Center Street next to the Mohawk Tavern into a pedestrian walkway will further encourage museum visitors to head into downtown.

He said the intersection of Marshall and Main streets needs to be reworked to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Main Street itself, he said, should be more narrow, with wider sidewalks and more vegetation, encouraging slower traffic and more pedestrian activity.

He noted that the downtown storefronts go through cycles, and right now is at a fairly low point in that retail cycle.

But one key to changing this, he noted, is to get more folks to live downtown. Once that critical mass is achieved, he said, there will be more retail and service-oriented business returning to Main Street.

"We need a downtown that's service-based, and that also has retail and restaurants," Alcombright said.

As for the Mohawk Theater, Alcombright hopes to work with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to make the building a part of its theater and performing arts program. He said this would allow the city and the college to work together to bring the theater back into operation to feature college performances and events, and community programming as well.

He said he wants it to happen soon, and if the idea doesn't work for MCLA, then he would issue a request for proposal to sell the building to a private interest.

"It's been too long," Alcombright said. "We need to fish or cut bait. We've got to figure out a way to get the Mohawk Theater open again."

Overall, his goal is to create a place where people who live downtown can "walk to school and walk to get food and services in a safe, vibrant environment. But it's tough. It takes years and there's no quick fix."

Still, Alcombright said improving downtown is a priority.

"I've seen it at its best and I've seen it more desolate than it is today," he said. "So we've got to find a way to get over the obstacles and bring people back into downtown and build up that critical mass."

No other candidates have declared there interest, although the deadline to file for candidacy is 5 p.m., Aug. 20. The preliminary election is on Sept. 21. The general election is Nov. 2.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack tours the Hadley Overpass in North Adams with Mayor Richard Alcombright following a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the reconstruction project on Wednesday. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Seven years later, the Hadley Overpass in North Adams is deemed 'done': North Adams' complicated, costly bridge project finally deemed completed”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, August 12, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Nearly seven years later — and three years late — the Hadley Overpass reconstruction project is "done, done, done," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said.

State and local officials on Wednesday gathered at the site to recognize the end of work on the 940-foot Route 8 bridge, the main point of entry into the city.

Slated in 2008 for a 2012 completion date, the project suffered multiple complications, causing it to come in overdue and over-budget. Contractor J.H. Maxymillian Construction Co. repeatedly found worse-than-expected conditions in the steel truss system underneath the bridge, the deck, pylons and other areas.

All told, project cost ballooned from the original estimate of $24.4 million to $34.6 million, causing some residents to deem it "the Berkshires' Big Dig."

But Alcombright and Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack both told The Eagle the project was worth the cost — and frustration.

"The bridge itself is as much about economic development and tourism as it is about crossing the river and [railroad] tracks," Alcombright said. "For me, it's a monument and a gateway into the city. I think people are genuinely glad to see it done."

Pollack agreed. The state estimates the passage carries a volume of 12,000 vehicles per day.

"I think the reason that we hung in there and the community hung in there is that people do understand that getting that entryway into the community right is an important part of North Adams' broader strategy for revitalizing their economy," Pollack said in an editorial meeting at The Eagle on Wednesday, prior to commemorating the completed construction.

What the public sees today is a totally new bridge from the deck up, except for the truss.

The Hadley Overpass reconstruction predated the MassDOT Accelerated Bridge Program, which taught transportation leaders much about how to undertake similar projects, Pollack said, who only stepped into her current post back in January.

"One of the things that happened is we hadn't climbed that learning curve," she said. "As they were doing the project, they kept finding more problems. But I think they took the right approach, which was, 'Now that we found the problems, we need to finish what we started.'"

The peak of work, mostly confined to the first few years, saw commuters delayed by 10 to 20 minutes in getting past the bridge, reduced to one lane of traffic during that time.

"It was a pain in the neck for residents and people going up and down Route 8," state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said, "but having the bridge back with [MassDOT] having made sure it was brought back to 100 percent is a huge benefit to the area.

"I'm thankful that so many people were patient through a very long construction and I join with residents in being happy that it's done," Cariddi said.

The state's learning experience at Hadley Overpass presents a question for the future that Pollack said MassDOT will be much concerned with during her tenure.

"We have to figure out what the next generation of bridge investment looks like," Pollack said. "The Accelerated Bridge Program was incredibly successful — it handled one set of bridges — but it did not solve the problem. We need to think outside the box a little bit.

"How do you get a lot of bridges fixed in a cost effective and time effective manner?" Pollack said.

The bridge work started in 2008 under Mayor John Barrett III's administration. Eighty percent of the project's $34.6 million price tag was covered by federal funds, with the remaining 20 percent of the bill footed by the state.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

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North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. Jim Levulis, WAMC.

John Barrett, right, seen here in 2010 with then-Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto. Charlie Deitz, WAMC.

Eric Rudd is seeking to unseat Mayor Alcombright. Jim Levulis, WAMC.

"North Adams Mayoral Race Heats Up With Entrance Of Former Mayor"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, August 13, 2015

The race for mayor in North Adams just got a whole lot more interesting. John Barrett, who led the city from 1985 until 2009, is looking to unseat his successor Richard Alcombright.

John Barrett took out mayoral nominating papers earlier this week and intends to file the necessary 50 signatures by August 20th to be a certified candidate. As of Thursday, artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd was the only person certified. Mayor Alcombright did deliver his papers to the city clerk’s office Thursday morning, but they were not yet certified. Barrett, who would not speak on tape, says he is running because of an effort by people asking him to consider a bid. He says he will detail his campaign after submitting his papers. Rudd, originally an Alcombright supporter, admits a run by Barrett hurts his chances.

“Now Dick [Alcombright] can say to supporters ‘If you don’t vote for me, if drift and maybe vote for Rudd, you’re going to be helping John Barrett,’” Rudd explained. “And John Barrett is going to say the same thing to his people so we’ll get back to the same two camps and people will be afraid of breaking out and doing something different.”

Mayor Alcombright is seeking a fourth two-year term. On Wednesday he had no comment on Barrett’s move to take out papers. Alcombright says his primary focus is to get back in the chair.

“It goes back to the roots of why I ran in 2009,” Alcombright said. “Fiscal integrity, transparency and really opening up government for folks in the community.”

Rudd says city leadership has not taken advantage of assets like MASS MoCA since it opened in 1999, when Barrett was mayor. Rudd sees a desolate downtown as economic failure and looks toward adjusting where people park their cars and spend their time to change that.

“My proposal initially to have a VIP parking lot with in and out privileges at MASS MoCA for $5 for the day,” Rudd said. “The whole downtown should be absolutely free. There are three main access points to North Adams going east and west on Route 2 and north on Route 8, we should have big banners and they should say ‘Welcome to North Adams, home of MASS MoCA and MCLA, free downtown parking.’ During the summer and fall months we should have shuttles going back and forth….trolleys, golf carts and bicycle rickshaws.”

Rudd has not reached out to the museum about his idea. It costs 25 cents an hour to park on Main Street.

Alcombright says he’d like to see more people living downtown and is hopeful a new Colegrove Park Elementary School, a developing signage program and improving pedestrian access can assist that. The mayor says he will consider seeking a request for proposals for the shuttered Mohawk Theater if the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts doesn’t see an equation that could make the space work as a campus building in the next year and a half. He says the biggest issue the city is facing is growth, or lack thereof, which could soften tax increases and allow North Adams to complete infrastructure projects, which it hasn’t done in six years in the face of 70-plus water breaks in 2015 alone.

“The answer is stabilization of our budget and growth,” Alcombright said. “I think we’ve kind of done both. I’ve built six budgets that on average have not exceeded 1.1 percent increases. That’s virtually flat line. Now what we need to do is grow our base. We’ve seen a new Cumberland Farms, we’ve had Walmart come online, we’ve got another Cumberland Farms on Route 2 that’s being built, CVS is talking to us and we’ve got this great development going on right now on the west end on the Greylock Mill.”

Rudd touts his redevelopment of the Eclipse Mill into apartments as an example of his ability to think creatively and add tax dollars to the city’s coffers. He says bringing in more people by offering them a desirable live-work lifestyle will ease the tax burden on the city’s residents. Rudd adds that the city needs a full-service hospital following last year’s closure of North Adams Regional.

“Not having a hospital – that’s the economic kiss of death,” Rudd said. “If you’re a young couple would you want to come here and go 40 minutes or so to get to the hospital?”

Alcombright has said he wouldn’t want to see a healthcare facility open only to close again. Adding that he doesn’t intend to run for higher office or remain mayor for 10 more years, Alcombright says he’s motivated to make North Adams a better place for the people who live there.

“I loathe politics,” Alcombright said. “I’m not a politician. I’m not good at it. People who support me almost beat me up over that.”

Richard David Greene and Nik Lareau have also taken out mayoral nominating papers. A message for Greene was not returned. A LinkedIn profile for Lareau describes her as an information services professional. If there are more than two certified candidates, a preliminary election will be held September 22nd.

Update: Richard David Greene, who describes himself as a writer and social activist, says he is running a message campaign that he doesn’t expect will garner many votes.

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“Overpass is done, but still a concern”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 14, 2015

The Hadley Overpass reconstruction is finally complete, to the great joy of North Adams. The controversy, however, continues.

The rebuilding of the 940-foot bridge on Route 8 was begun in 2008 with a projected 2012 completion, but the worse than anticipated condition of the bridge delayed completion until this year. The cost climbed $10 million to $34.6 million and drivers endured seven years of frustration.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who attended a ceremony marking the completion and met with The Eagle Wednesday, said the project, which began well before her tenure, would provide lessons going forward. The state is burdened with crumbling bridges and, as Ms. Pollack said, the state must find ways to repair them in a less costly and time-consuming manner than was the case in North Adams.

Last year, a judge upheld a Berkshire jury's finding that the Hadley Overpass project hurt the business of the nearby Freight Yard Pub by restricting access to parking. This led to a judgment against the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, the pub's landlord, and a plan by North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright for the city to borrow up to $160,000 to help the financially strapped authority pay its debt.

The plan failed to muster two-thirds approval of the City Council Tuesday and it would have set a bad precedent. The authority is supposed to be autonomous and the city's financial involvement in its plight would possibly be unprecedented and potentially risky.

The redevelopment authority should explore selling off its assets. Bay State Hospitality Group, Freight Yard's parent company, could enable the pub to be a good neighbor by forgoing the growing interest on the original $220,000 debt, giving the authority more time to find a solution.

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Dick Alcombright: “Remembering the North Adams titans”
By Dick Alcombright, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, August 17, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The city of North Adams and our greater region recently lost two wonderful men and community servants, Eugene Wein and George Fairs. As both men were well into their 90s, the names may not resonate with some. However, I am certain they do have significant meaning to many, I know they do to me.

I said last week that both men were what every parent would want their son's to grow up to emulate. Both were devoted husbands and fathers, successful businessmen, community leaders and true gentlemen. Both were Veterans of World War II. Both made significant commitments to their community and truly left their mark on all who knew them.

FROM THE OLD SCHOOL

Mr. Wein was an inspirational figure in the Jewish community, taking on leadership roles within his congregation as well as being a passionate advocate of youth and most especially Drury High School sports. Mr. Fairs served the North Adams Parks and Recreation Commission for 38 years and devoted his life to Windsor Lake, Historic Valley Campground and the natural amenities that grace this community.

They were from the old school where a firm handshake was all it took to solidify agreement, where respect was earned and not demanded, where family always came first and where "love thy neighbor" was not a commandment but rather simply the right thing to do. And while there are so many folks in our greater community who work very hard to help others, who are entrenched in making this area a better place for all, the loss of Mr. Wein and Mr. Fairs to me is extremely significant.

They were unique in that they did not complain but rather reacted to what they might have seen as wrong. They had both the energy and personality that could see something that was broken and immediately find a way to fix it.

They loved this city and this region at its best, worst and in between. They were a significant part of who we were and never gave up on what we might become. They were part of an elite list of those dedicated to community who have passed before them.

I write this because they deserve to be recognized. I write this too because I am hopeful — hopeful in that I see so many young people in our community who grew up here, left, and have now returned. I am hopeful because of those who have moved to North Adams due to something that they saw, that many of us forgot or refuse to see.

WHO WILL FOLLOW?

My hope for the future of this city and region rests in the minds and hands of those now able to take the lead. Who will step up and make the significant commitment to the people of this community? Who will step forward to create solutions and promote good will? Who like many of our past leaders of ordinary people will step up to do extraordinary things? Who will be the next Mr. Wein or Mr. Fairs?

As a community, we need to thank Mr. Wein and Mr. Fairs for all that they did and even more so for who they were, for the example they set, and for the lives they lived.

Dick Alcombright is the mayor of North Adams.

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“Public shaming poor way to address drug scourge”
By John Seven, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, August 24, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The North Adams Police Department is not alone in posting mug shots on Facebook. Lots of police departments across the country do. It's become a routine part of informing the public.

Direct outreach by the police through Facebook is not a bad thing and it's surely helpful in regard to certain alerts. I haven't noticed that the NAPD abuses their power in this regard. For instance, I recently read a New York Times article about Vermont police posting photos of traffic violators that have been arrested, posted on Facebook among the armed robbers and drug dealers, which doesn't seem to be a good use of the practice.

Part of the bigger problem is that while arrest records have always been available to the public via the police blotter, they've never been so efficiently delivered to that public, with photos and, most importantly, the opportunity to air some dirty laundry in public, often through insults.

This is a problem because the people whose mugshots are being paraded around online are pre-trial arrests. They have been convicted of nothing and even if they are guilty, they are subject to the same rights as anyone else.

FACEBOOK RIDICULE

Must Facebook be used as the 21st century version of the town square, where those charged are shackled and publicly ridiculed?

On one recent drug arrest, alongside cries of "scumbag," the arrestee's place of employment was revealed. One commenter daydreamed that maybe one day a drug dealer would pull out a gun during arrest so the police could shoot and kill the person. In this guy's imagination, risking an officer getting shot is worth the retribution he craves.

The shaming doesn't end with name-calling or angry mob declarations. Serious aspersions are cast on family members of those arrested. Personal battles break out between commentators specific to the arrestees. Plenty are quick to let you know that they knew the person before the drugs, then shout out some personal history while doing so.

And then there's the rage toward-lower income people coming out at a steady pace, ridiculing where they live or how they live, and presenting these as proof that they are somehow less than human.

STOKING THE FIRE

It would do citizens well to remember that these sentiments are spoken while hanging out in their backyard with friends over some beer. These words are being yelled out publicly and perpetuating the problems. Shaming the addicts and pounding into them that they are weak and worthless as they enter a system that they won't get treatment in, but will probably get worse — that's just making society's problem larger.

It would be nice to hear a candidate for North Adams mayor to offer an innovative solution to the heroin problem, in conjunction with the local police. There is one very successful one within the commonwealth, if you look to Gloucester and visionary Police Chief Leonard Campanello.

His force used its Facebook page to not shame, but offer kindness, with a program to help addicts beat their addiction. In this scenario, kindness solves problems for the whole community, the same problems that citizens of North Adams are bickering about on Facebook.

Campanello's solution is simple. It offers amnesty, treatment and support for addicts who come down to the station. Just in place this summer, it has been touted as helping 100 citizens already. It is a game-changing policy and it needs to happen in North Adams.

Read about it in this Washington Post article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/08/17/the-only-town-in-america-where-cops-grant-amnesty-to-drug-addicts-seeking-help/). And then tell me with a straight face that the way we do things now works.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at mister.j.seven@gmail.com or at vknid.com.

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“North Adams impresses former county resident”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 7, 2015

To the editor:

I grew up in Pittsfield, went to high school in Adams, did internships and had many friends in North Adams — and I wanted out of Berkshire County so badly. For the past five years, I have been living in the Pioneer Valley, and while it's a short drive, it's a huge difference in culture.

But on a recent night, I drove from my home in the valley to North Adams for Downstreet Art. My dear friend and mentor, Julian Grey, had a gallery opening and I had been looking forward to seeing her large prints all summer. And what I encountered in North Adams was new and strange to me. North Adams, in the five years I have been gone, has seen the start of a metamorphosis.

Walking around Main Street, there was such a brilliant sense of community, and pride, and arts and culture and curiosity and appreciation. Artists of all ages and races and genders were being celebrated, people were out and about and hugging and connecting.

I was honestly astonished by how well the public received Julian's gallery pieces; North Adams has never been known for being a place of acceptance. Trans-identified folks, and especially non-binary folks, face so many struggles, I had predicted the opening to be controversial at the least. But I saw many people travel in and out of the gallery, commenting on the beauty of the pieces and of Julian herself. North Adams embraced her warmly. This town has truly started to embrace and capitalize on its local treasures, its youth, its artists, its strong-willed citizens.

There is hope for North Adams. And if there can be hope for North Adams, there can be hope for the rest of the world, too. North Adams residents, keep doing what you're doing and keep spreading the love. The rest of Berkshire County, take note: this is how you celebrate a town. If these kinds of changes keep happening, and not just for the tourists but for the citizens, then maybe, just maybe, I'll come home someday to stay.

Crystal Hope Garrity, Easthampton

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"Star power rolls into shuttered Mohawk Theater to assess restoration needs"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 8, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons and Lauren Hutton were front and center at the Mohawk Theater on Tuesday afternoon.

But the beloved performers weren't acting — the Mohawk Theater hasn't been in use since 1991 — but rather were giving input on what improvements the space may need so the theater's curtain may rise gain.

The actors and other guests from the film industry joined Thomas Krens, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art visionary and former director of the Guggenheim Foundation, on a motorcycle tour through the Northern Berkshires, including stops at Mass MoCA and the Clark Art Institute. Krens also took the group to the planned future site of The Global Contemporary Collection and Museum, which he proposed earlier this year and is trying to raise capital to build, on Route 2 in North Adams.

Fishburne, perhaps best known for his role in as Morpheus in the "Matrix" series, stood with Mayor Richard Alcombright and others on the theater's balcony and soaked in the space, providing a performer's perspective on needs for an expanded stage and administrative spaces. While walking through the theater's dark stairways, Irons questioned the mayor about potential funding sources for redevelopment.

Harold Perrineau, who played Michael Dawson on the popular ABC series "Lost," also toured the facility.

"It's to show and to tell and to let people see what could be," said John DeRosa, who serves as the city's solicitor and heads the local nonprofit North Adams Partnership, on bringing people through the theater.

Alcombright also was impressed by the input Krens' guests gave on the theater.

"These people had some vast ideas about what this place could be," Alcombright said.

The Mohawk Theater held more than 1,000 seats in its prime, but closed more than two decades ago. Now owned by the city and opened in 1938, the theater has seen some repairs — including to the roof — since its closure, but its walls are bare and the seats are in storage. To bring it to a basic working condition would take an estimated $2.5 million to $3 million, according to city officials.

An initial renovation project was completed in 2009, including the gutting of the 1,100-seat theater and repairs to the roof and facade. Alcombright has sought to foster a partnership the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to complete the work and reopen the theater, but those efforts have yet to bear fruit.

With preliminary mayoral elections less than three weeks away, the vacant Mohawk Theater has become a campaign issue, with Alcombright's opponents, John Barrett III, and Eric Rudd, expressing a desire to bring the theater back to life.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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“North Adams mayoral candidates to participate in health care forum”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 14, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The city's three mayoral candidates will answer questions during a public forum Tuesday night about the state of health care in the Northern Berkshires.

The forum, hosted by the North County Cares Coalition, will ask candidates to address the evolving health care landscape of North Adams since the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March 2014.

The three candidates — incumbent Richard Alcombright, former Mayor John Barrett III, and artist and developer Eric Rudd — all are expected to attend the event at the American Legion from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m..

Since the closure of the former hospital, Berkshire Health Systems, parent of Berkshire Medical Center, has purchased its facilities through U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The facility has since reopened as the Northern Berkshire Campus of Berkshire Medical Center, offering a variety of services that include an emergency department, outpatient diagnostic services, and a neighborhood for health initiative.

The North County Cares Coalition, which was formed by what it describes as "concerned residents, health and community advocates" in the wake of NARH's closure, expressly advocates for the return of a full-service hospital and return of inpatient beds in North Adams.

The forum, titled "Healthcare & the Road to a Healthy Economy," will be moderated by Ed Driscoll, who also serves as the Adams town moderator and oversees the proceedings of Adams town meetings.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"North Adams mayoral candidates debate hospital closure, future of health care"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 15, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The city's three mayoral candidates sparred Tuesday over how the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital was handled in 2014 and over the future of health care in the Northern Berkshires.

The exchange came during a candidate forum sponsored by the North County Cares Coalition, a local organization backed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that advocates for the restoration of in-patient services in North Adams. Residents packed American Legion Post 125 to hear the candidates answer questions prepared by the organization and a few from the crowd.

Mayor Richard Alcombright, former Mayor John Barrett III, and local artist and developer Eric Rudd discussed the months leading up to the March 2014 closure of North Adams Regional Hospital through the present-day services provided by Berkshire Health Systems.

The six panel questions were often lengthy, aimed at prompting the candidates to address the benefits of a full-service hospital. Questions were at times met with confusion by Barrett and once described by Alcombright as "alarmist statements."

Alcombright spent much of the evening defending his response to the hospital's closure, while both Barrett and Rudd claimed they would have handled the situation differently. The incumbent said that although there is "no page in a handbook" for what to do when a hospital closes, he coordinated with state and local officials to respond to the crisis.

During his tenure, Barrett claimed that he helped keep Sprague Electric Co. in North Adams, in some capacity, for eight years after the company announced its plans to leave the city. The former mayor said he would have taken a similar approach to the hospital, not allowing it to close abruptly with only three days of notice.

"I wasn't shocked, from what I was hearing. But I'll tell you this much, the way that it happened was unacceptable," Barrett said of the abrupt closure.

Alcombright said he would welcome new in-patient services in North Adams if Berkshire Health Systems provided them, but continually noted the plethora of services opened here under Berkshire Medical Center since the former hospital closed. He said they represent a "new model" for health care in communities like the Northern Berkshires.

Although he admitted that "at the end of the day, BMC is calling the shots," Alcombright later said, "I want to see a health care and wellness solution that is robust and sustainable."

"What I urge folks to really do is not to continue to dwell on what we lost in March [2014], but rather to be proud of what we have restored with respect to a sustainable and unique model of health care and wellness," Alcombright said.

Rudd was emphatic that a full-service hospital is a necessity in North Adams. He choked up when he relayed a story — which he admitted he couldn't verify — of a patient he said died en route to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. He blasted Alcombright for not sending a message to state officials that "we want a full-service hospital," after the hospital closed, and said there's "no reason" why North Adams can't have in-patient services.

"It was running just fine except for the fact that ... they got into a crazy real estate venture," Rudd said.

Barrett urged efforts to restore in-patient services in North Adams by winning a federal Critical Care Access designation to improve reimbursements to Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams campus. He also advocated for an assisted-living facility at the North Adams location and the return of psychiatric services.

"We should have at least what they have at Fairview [Hospital in Great Barrington] today," Barrett said.

Rudd — who implied Alcombright was acting as a "spokesperson" for Berkshire Medical Center — was outspoken in his stance on Berkshire Health Systems' Northern Berkshire operations. He asserted that it has lost the right to nonprofit status on all of its city operations, other than its emergency services. Were he to win the office, Rudd said, he would send BHS a tax bill for $500,000.

"The only problem I have is that a full-service hospital is not on their agenda, and they're giving us crumbs and we're falling for it like fools," Rudd said.

Barrett positioned himself as a strong voice who has had a relationship with Berkshire Health Systems' executives and would advocate for the restoration of services in North Adams, but stopped short of criticizing its efforts in North Adams.

"I have faith, and I've seen them in action, and I don't have any problem with them being the operator," Barrett said. "I agree with the mayor; they have done a lot for the community. I would just like to see them do a little more and move them to the next level."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"Health care realities and North Adams race for mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 16, 2015

There is no reason to believe that North Adams will be getting another full-service hospital. But over the past year it has been getting a pretty impressive hospital.

Tuesday's debate among the three candidates for mayor in North Adams was sponsored by the North County Cares Coalition, which is backed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and the groups want a full-service hospital to replace North Adams Regional Hospital. They certainly have the right to advocate for that, but agenda-driven debates aren't likely to trigger a wide range of useful ideas or statements. For example, on Tuesday, mayoral candidate Eric Rudd asserted that a patient had died while en route from North Adams to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, a remarkable claim to make without offering those in attendance any evidence of its truth.

The manner in which NARH closed its doors was shameful, with the regulations requiring advance notice to the community and the nursing staff and other employees ignored. The past can't be changed, however, and going forward means accepting current realities in the health care field. North Berkshire, with its current population, would be an unlikely place for a full-service hospital if someone were looking to open one today.

On Tuesday, the day of the debate, Berkshire Health Systems announced that it will open a $2 million nine-chair dialysis care center at what is now BMC's Northern Berkshire Campus. When it opens next summer, North County residents will have easy access to dialysis care for the first time ever.

BHS has opened an emergency department and outpatient services in diagnostic imaging, orthopedics, mammography and other services since purchasing the former NARH campus. The Northern Berkshire Family Medicine physicians' practice has been continued. These may or may not be among the "crumbs" that Mr. Rudd referred to in Tuesday's debate but BHS is in fact in the process of building an impressive North Adams medical facility.

The future of medical care in North Berkshire County is one of the defining issues of the mayoral campaign and it definitely should continue to be when two candidates go forward after Tuesday's preliminary election. That debate should be reality-based, however, and North Adams residents should be cognizant of realities in the health care industry in judging what does and doesn't happen at what is now BMC's northern campus.

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“North Adams needs a hospital, not a campus”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 20, 2015

To the editor:

I was mentioned twice in the Eagle's Sept. 17 editorial: " Eric Rudd asserted that a patient had died while en route from North Adams to BMC in Pittsfield . a remarkable claim to make without offering those in attendance any evidence of its truth."

I specifically said that the information came via a doctor in the emergency room and it was not verified. We know, that if not now — someday, someone, or even several — will die trying to make the distance to Pittsfield, perhaps in the dead of winter in the dead of night. In our family, we had to deal with severe health issues; I know what it means to have the comfort of a full service hospital nearby.

Later in the editorial, after it lists several new services that BHS has provided, the editorial states "These may or may not be among the 'crumbs' that Mr. Rudd referred to in Tuesday's debate but BHS is in fact in the process of building an impressive North Adams medical facility."

I stated at the debate that I applaud the investment that BHS is making in our "campus." However, we — the people of North Adams — want a full service hospital again, with beds and with a maternity ward. We don't want a "campus," we want a "hospital." Our hospital was profitable before the closing, except for the expenses from an irrational real estate venture that a previous hospital administration made and which brought it down.

Our hospital can be economically viable again — if only BHS will give it a chance. Why doesn't The Berkshire Eagle think that North Adams and North County deserve the same care that the more affluent residents of South County enjoy?

Eric Rudd, North Adams
The writer is a candidate for North Adams mayor.

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Letter: “Full-service hospital vital to North County”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/22/2015

To the editor:

In response to The Eagle editorial of Sept. 17, the North County Cares Coalition and thousands of other North Berkshire residents categorically reject the notion that there is no reason to believe North Adams will not have a full-service hospital in our future.

Everyone in Northern Berkshire County truly appreciates the services that BMC has implemented in North Adams. It's great to see the building that Berkshire Health Care Systems bought for pennies on the dollar is being utilized to promote the health and wellness of our community. But each and every one of those services is on an outpatient basis. The Neighborhood Wellness Center requires a referral from a primary care physician and numerous co-payments.

Health care is a basic human right. The challenge we face is how to deliver quality health care in an environment where profits are more important than people. North Adams Regional Hospital was eventually sunk not because the medical services it offered were losing money. According to its own testimony in bankruptcy court, the debt burden it took on from three real estate deals became overwhelming.

The basic human right to health care is not being met when we have residents driving nearly 3,000 miles over a 15-month period between North Adams and Pittsfield as a NCCC member did when his wife was hospitalized numerous times. We regularly hear from residents who traveled over 100 miles a week this past winter in brutal conditions because a loved one was hospitalized at BMC or needed oncology treatments.

The basic human right to health care is not being met when an ambulance picks up a patient in distress and immediately brings them to BMC, leaving their family to travel to Pittsfield if they can so afford to. They call the emergency facility in North Adams a satellite for a reason. It is not a real emergency room.

The area impacted by the closure of NARH was identified in the Stroudwater Report to have the highest concentration of elderly in Massachusetts. It also identified the area as being one of the poorest. The basic human right of health care is not adequately met with outpatient facilities for most of the clientele the report identifies.

What North County needs is a much smaller hospital than NARH was. It needs an 18 -21 bed facility exactly like Fairview Hospital. You speak of a shrinking population, but NARH delivered over 100 more babies per year than Fairview does. Just because the area is poorer than Central or South County does not preclude our right to the same level of care.

The population of North County will only get smaller the longer we go without a real hospital. It will become increasingly difficult to attract new businesses and qualified employees for the few companies still here when they learn that no real health care is available without a perilous ride in the winter to the nearest hospital. A full-service hospital is vital to the economic growth of our region and the replacement of the over 500 jobs that were lost.

Jim Lipa, North Adams
The writer is co-chairman, North County Cares Coalition.

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"North Adams must go forward, not back"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 15, 2015

To the editor:

Headed back home after a long road trip to family and friends is a pleasant thought and a fine plan. Headed back to the John Barrett III regime when the belief system was, "I don't have to prove anything," is not a pleasant thought and would be a devastating plan for the city of North Adams.

When he was asked to prove that the city of North Adams was paying its fair share of the city's insurance trust fund premium splits at the City Council meeting, July 14, 2009, he said, "I don't have to prove anything." The citizens of this community must have confidence that the person leading them is at all times acting in their best interest. It is the duty of the mayor to put public interest before personal gain, and fulfill the duties of that office with competency, integrity, accountability, and transparency.

North Adams suffered a large monetary loss due to John Barrett's belief system and his handling of the North Adams Insurance Health Trust Fund. To "head back" and return to that belief system would be the wrong direction. North Adams must keep moving forward.

Susan Chilson, North Adams

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“North Adams mayoral candidates offer platforms”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 19, 2015

Editor's Note: The Eagle asked each of the three candidates vying to become the North Adams mayor a series of five questions, in preparation for Tuesday's preliminary election. The top two vote-getters next Tuesday will move forward to the November general election. The following are submitted answers from incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright, former Mayor John Barrett III, and artist and developer Eric Rudd. Below are the responses to the first two questions. The responses to the other three questions will be published in Monday's paper.

OPIOID ADDICTION CONTINUES TO AFFECT FAMILIES IN NORTH ADAMS. AS MAYOR, HOW WILL YOU LOOK TO ADDRESS THE HEROIN EPIDEMIC?

ERIC RUDD - It's a major problem. It must be dealt with from both ends — better policing as well as dealing with the addiction from a medical basis. How can we do much if the city is broke? We need to bring in new tax revenues so we can fund new programs. Foremost, we need much better programs for teens, especially a summer jobs program. Education studies prove a striking disadvantage for kids from non-affluent communities due to insufficient summer options. I've been exposed to drug neighborhoods during my lifetime — it's a national-international epidemic. Unlike large cities, we are a small enough community where we can organize neighborhoods and focus on the few hundred most at-risk residents as well as police strongly so that North Adams is not an attractive base for dealing. And we need our hospital back, with beds for these patients too.

RICHARD ALCOMBRIGHT - Continued policing, treatment for addicts and families, education for our children. [In terms of] policing, in 2014, I worked and continue to work with the DA (Berkshire County District Attorney), drug task force, [Berkshire County] Sheriff and local police on aggressive policing that has reduced property crime by 13 percent, seized 14,500 bags of heroin and $65,000 in cash and property. I will look at other models aimed at providing treatment and not jail as a first step for addicts. On treatment: I sit on the [Northern Berkshire] Community Coalition's Prescription Drug and the Massachusetts Municipal Opiate Abuse task forces. I will continue to lobby for long-term, dual-diagnosis treatment for addicts and will work with the state Department of Public Health and Berkshire Medical Center to make that a reality. On education: I am committed to working with the DPH and the department of education to institute curriculum in third grade to educate our kids with respect to self-esteem, making good choices, substance abuse and the hell of addiction.

JOHN BARRETT III - There are several ways I would approach this serious problem. I would begin by instituting a strong and proactive drug education program in our schools. This effort should also be expanded into the community at large so that everyone can understand the dangers and consequences of addiction. The city has to beef up its code enforcement to address the substandard housing problem. I would re-program community development funds to bring back the code enforcement position that was eliminated in 2011. These neglected properties attract drug dealers and gang activity, which leads to increased crime in the surrounding neighborhood. Using seized drug money, I would work with some of our excellent health and social service agencies to implement a drug treatment program to help those who are fighting addiction. I believe they deserve a chance and the support they need to rebuild their lives.

DOWNTOWN NORTH ADAMS CONTINUES TO SEE A HIGH RATE OF TURNOVER AMONG ITS SMALL BUSINESSES AND THE MOHAWK THEATER REMAINS UNUSED. HOW WILL YOU REVITALIZE THE DOWNTOWN AREA?

RUDD - Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) has been open to the public for 16 years, yet our downtown looks as bleak today as it did years before the museum ever opened. When are we going to do something about the obvious? In a very short summary, we can activate our downtown by removing all parking meters, and installing a paid VIP lot at the museum; that will make us more money than before and stimulate visitors to park on Main Street. I want to open a full-service tourist center in the lobby of City Hall, with new signage, and provide shuttle service between the downtown and the museum entrance — all paid by advertisers. I'll use the Mohawk immediately for Mass MoCA art installations and generate investment to re-purpose the many empty downtown buildings — I'm an expert on that type of real estate. I'll turn things around quickly.

ALCOMBRIGHT - Downtown continues to be a challenge. My vision remains unchanged — to have a downtown that is a mix of retail, arts, and service based businesses — as it now is. Our current model is successful and more robust than six years ago. A diverse downtown with the opening of Colegrove Park Elementary School will make it more engaging for continued residential development, upper floor development, both of which has been successful. I continue to speak with MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) to partner with the city on the Mohawk Theater. The simplest way to explain this vision is "MCLA School of Fine and Performing Arts at the Mohawk," bringing the campus into the downtown. When MCLA brings on a new president, I will reopen those discussions. I will include other arts and arts management programming such as Mass MoCA and community theater groups. A sustainable model bringing college programming while providing significant time for community use.

BARRETT - I have never wavered in my belief that one of the strongest factors contributing to a vibrant downtown is having people living in the city's center. One of the big draws to downtown living in a city like North Adams is having cultural attractions within walking distance. When I left the mayor's office in January 2010, I was optimistic about the future of the downtown. Despite a severe national recession, the downtown housing market was vibrant, and the new stores that opened in downtown were doing well. Today most of those businesses have closed. The completion of the Mohawk Theater renovation will be the catalyst for more restaurants, a bed-and-breakfast, and a small boutique hotel on Eagle Street. It is a strategy that I believe can work in stimulating growth in the downtown.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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Mayor Richard Alcombright

Former Mayor John Barrett III

Mayoral Candidate Eric Rudd

“North Adams mayoral candidates chime in before Tuesday preliminary”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 20, 2015

Editor's Note: The Eagle asked each of the three candidates vying to become the North Adams mayor a series of five questions this week, in preparation for Tuesday's preliminary election. This is the second set of responses as submitted by incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright, former Mayor John Barrett III, and artist and developer Eric Rudd. The first part ran in Sunday's paper.

PLANS TO REDEVELOP THE BUILDINGS AT WESTERN GATEWAY HERITAGE STATE PARK HAVE YET TO COME TO FRUITION. IF ELECTED MAYOR, IN WHAT DIRECTION WILL YOU TAKE WGHSP?

RUDD - What a mess! It was a misconceived concept and made more difficult after a mismanaged lawsuit against the pub. I'm really good at real estate and I am the best candidate to get this park back on track. First, we have to dig out of the ditch that both mayors caused. The park has good anchor tenants — FYP (Freight Yard Pub), Visitor's Center, History Museum — and I can build on that, while including it as part of the downtown revitalization efforts that I will quickly implement. Eventually, the city should not be the park's landlord, but like we found out with our hospital, you can't sell something that's in trouble. With more than 40 years of business experience and a track record of successful projects — saving historic properties that otherwise would be in ruin — I have the skills to turn the park around.

ALCOMBRIGHT - I intend to continue my efforts to privatize WGHSP (Western Gateway Heritage State Park). Our efforts working with the Greylock Market concept has stalled as it did not provide the benefits for the city that I was seeking. It is imperative that the city sell or lease the park to the private sector for several reasons. With private development, comes private dollar investment, a marketing plan, growth in small business, jobs and real estate and personal property tax payments to the city. The city has not, nor has it ever had the competencies or resources to manage a retail/commercial marketplace. I am currently working with the lieutenant governor's office and her "Community Compact," to become eligible for funding/resources that will take a look at WGHSP and the plan that was created for it in the early 1980s. When we have secured additional guidance, I will once again reach out to the private sector.

BARRETT - Nearly five years and $1 million have been invested by the present administration in Heritage Park. They are also seeking another $1.6 million, including $75,000 for a mural. If approved, this will mean $2.6 million of public money will have been spent. At the same time, no private sector investments have been made and not one job has been created. My first action would be to return it to solvency and get the empty spaces filled. On Jan. 1, 2010, Heritage Park, was nearly filled and profitable with over $300,000 in reserves. This historic railroad yard was designated as a Heritage Park for the purpose of eliminating blight and to house an exhibit showcasing an important part of our city's heritage — the monumental building of the Hoosac Tunnel. The efforts to privatize it just didn't work and any attempt to try again would be a mistake.

AS MAYOR, HOW WILL YOU ADDRESS THE CITY'S INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS WHILE STILL BALANCING THE CITY'S BUDGET AND KEEPING TAXES LOW?

RUDD - If the city had spent $200,000 a year starting when Barrett was elected, we would not have our $20 million mess (repairs costs were lower then). Neglect and deferred maintenance got us here. First, we need a plan; Dick has talked for six years without developing one single proposal. I'll do that quickly. Foremost, we need to raise tax revenues — I have specific proposals to do that. I want to look at all aspects of city operations with fresh eyes. Much of what a mayor governs is real estate oriented — buildings and grounds — I've done that for 40 years. The Mayor talks about "painting a house." I think we need to deal with "roof and structure" issues first. If you needed a new roof and could reduce utility costs at the same time, it would be economically wise if you could save on a cash basis.

ALCOMBRIGHT - Since coming into office in 2010, I was immediately faced with a $3 million dollar deficit. There were significant financial challenges and crumbling infrastructure to include: water and sewer pipes, retaining walls, bridges, dams, roads, sidewalks, flood control and public buildings. There have not been any significant investments in infrastructure in this city for many years. Struggling to balance a budget for six years, I have had to "Band-Aid" all infrastructure needs. I lobbied heavily and received $750,000 in 2014 from the state for infrastructure and we continue to use those funds for projects. I have fully balanced the budget this year and our reserves are growing. A "Capital Needs Improvement Plan" that will be completed very soon will allow us to set priorities for future infrastructure needs. In the near future, we should have the fiscal capacity to begin to tackle some of our most significant issues.

BARRETT - During my tenure as mayor, much of the city's infrastructure was rebuilt, as Proposition 2 ½ had brought to a halt most capital projects in communities across the state. Some of the investments made included nearly $20 million for a new water filtration plant, including new water pipes; $10 million for neighborhood streets and sidewalks; $6 million in the downtown area including Center Street and Veterans Memorial Drive, and using $4 million in stimulus money. I will continue this policy of investing in the city's infrastructure by using Community Development funds and State Chapter 90 funds. Additionally, I will create a capital outlay plan which will be completed within six months after taking office. The capital outlay plan would be funded with a bond issuance. This plan is affordable and will stay within the constraints of Proposition 2 ½.

THE U.S. CENSUS HAS NOT REPORTED A POPULATION INCREASE IN NORTH ADAMS SINCE 1940. AS MAYOR, HOW WILL YOU ENCOURAGE NEW RESIDENTS AND YOUNG FAMILIES TO MOVE TO (OR STAY IN) NORTH ADAMS?

RUDD - We can have a stampede of new residents if we implement new ordinances. It won't cost the city a dime! Residents create businesses that create jobs! I proved this with my Eclipse Mill, which sold out in two months after the CDC (Community Development Corp.) spent six years and went bankrupt. Here's the solution: For many years, I've proposed tweaking home occupation ordinances and attracting all those folks — not just artists — who want a live/work situation. I want North Adams to be thought of as the first "live/work community" in the United States. (Why are we always last? Adams is now proposing this!) Property values will go up — all over! Would you rather live next to a vacant junk house being used by drug dealers, or next to a house that's renovated by a lawyer or art gallery person or Internet designer who also hangs a small business sign?

ALCOMBRIGHT - Population decline continues to be problematic here and the Berkshires as a whole. There are several things that are happening to attract and retain: Foster entities such as LEVER and Cloud 85, think tanks that are allowing the best and brightest students from MCLA and Williams (College) to craft and develop new ideas that could lead to business development opportunities. Promote the idea that North Adams is a clean, safe and affordable place to be. Young families are looking to relocate to a place like North Adams to take advantage of the physical, cultural, educational and natural amenities. Housing is affordable, taxes are reasonable and there are jobs here in north Berkshire that are not filled. Finally, to expand our outreach to alumni of MCLA, Williams and BCC (Berkshire Community College) to attract entrepreneurs who want to start or expand businesses focusing on high-tech niche light manufacturing that are both clean and green industry.

BARRETT - Residents, as well as those potential residents we wish to attract to North Adams must have a reason for living here. They are looking for a highly rated school system with a curriculum that meets the needs of every child, a growing economy that is creating jobs, and a safe and vibrant community. People want to be proud of their community and that pride comes from a good quality of life for their families. Residents want a clean city with good services with affordable taxes and fees. When I was mayor, I always tried to have something for everybody, whether it was arts and culture, good recreational facilities, community events, and even enjoying a SteepleCats baseball game. I also believe that we should always introduce our kids to what to the arts have to offer at a young age, such as at Kidspace at Mass MoCA.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III swept every ward in the city, winning 51 percent of the vote. (Eagle file)

“Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III sweeps wards; incumbent also advances”
By Adam Shanks and Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, September 22, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - For the first time since 2009, John Barrett III's name was on a city ballot as a candidate for mayor on Tuesday — and voters thanked him for it.

In the preliminary mayoral election, Barrett's 1,240 votes (51 percent) topped incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright and challenger Eric Rudd. Alcombright, who received 974 votes (40 percent), moves on and will face Barrett in the November general election. Barrett won each of the city's five wards.

Rudd was eliminated from contention after placing in third Tuesday with 204 votes, or 8.4 percent.

A total of 2,432, or 28.4 percent, of the city's 8,549 voters turned out to vote. Perhaps due to Barrett's presence on the ballot, turnout was higher in 2015 than the most recent preliminary election in 2011, which saw only a 19 percent turnout.

The general election is Nov. 3. In addition to the mayoral race, the ballot will include 13 candidates vying for nine at-large seats on the City Council, two seats on the Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School Committee, and three seats on the North Adams School Committee.

Alcombright entered September in strong financial position. In the most recent available campaign finance filings submitted earlier this month, Alcombright's campaign had a balance of $9,328.11 — more than eight times either of his opponents, who weren't actively fundraising much of the year. The reports do not cover the final three weeks leading up to the election.

Barrett, now embroiled in his 15th campaign for mayor, has maintained throughout the brief run-up to the preliminary election that he isn't running against Alcombright as a person, but he is opposed his administration's policies and priorities.

Barrett has separated himself as focused on tackling blight within the city through the redistribution of Community Development Block Grant funds, re-establishing a code enforcement officer position and establishing community policing.

In addition to preaching fiscal responsibility, the former mayor has criticized Alcombright's management of the public school system and the Western Gateway Heritage State Park. Barrett also looks to revitalize the city's downtown, partly through increasing the number of residents who live there.

Throughout the campaign, Alcombright has defended his six years in the corner office and focused on economic growth in the region, while arguing that recent tax hikes are the result of declining or flat state aid.

Under Alcombright, the city has seen the beginning of projects such as the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the renovation of Colegrove Park Elementary School, the creation of a Berkshire Scenic Railway Hoosac Valley Branch, and a bike path connecting Adams to Williamstown. Citing progress on those projects, Alcombright has asked that voters let him take care of that unfinished business.

Throughout his campaign, Rudd focused on bringing the alternative perspective of an artist and a developer to the corner office. Rudd consistently noted that only two men — his opponents — had served as mayor in a span of more than three decades.

Rudd's platform included a focus on redeveloping the downtown, including new ideas that would encourage visitors to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to park downtown.

Rudd, whose noted achievements as a developer include the redevelopment of the Eclipse Mill on Route 2, advocated vigorously for the return of a full-service hospital in North Adams and sought to improve the city's property values.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.


Mayoral candidate Eric Rudd and volunteers from the other two campaigns greet voters outside St. Elizabeth's Parish in North Adams during Tuesday's preliminary election. Former Mayor John Barrett III and incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright advanced to November's general election. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

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"Rudd Leaves Ideas for Mayoral Candidates"
iBerkshires.com - Letters to the Editor, September 23, 2015

Well, I got trounced. It was not, unfortunately, unexpected. My plan from day one was to go one-to-one with Dick Alcombright. I thought (and still think) I could have won. And more importantly, the debate — the conversation about how to fix North Adams — would have been educational and constructive for the community. I was hoping that John would stay out of the race. The minute John Barrett got into the race, I knew that my goal was doomed; the city would return to defending the two camps — a division that has delayed progress in the city.

Even with this loss, I hope residents/voters will keep my proposals in mind. Some are so easy to do and will have dramatic results. Why should we continue to live with so many problems without trying to do something about them?

Like fixing the bleak downtown. We should get rid of downtown parking meters, create a VIP paid lot at MoCA which will double our income, put up three big city entrance banners saying "Welcome to North Adams, Home of Mass MoCA and MCLA, Free Downtown Parking," and putting a full-service tourist center in the lobby of City Hall — with lots of signage outside. Plus using the Mohawk for a major MoCA art installation, having summer/fall shuttles from Main to the museum entrance, having a gift/book shop in the library, along with prepared lunch items to increase their income substantially and making it yet another attraction in our downtown. All these things and more are easy to do — they just need a mayor who understands the tourist market.

Another big item is to upgrade home occupation ordinances that will create "live/work" opportunities all over the city.

I've proved this with my Eclipse Mill and I've been suggesting this since that project proved so successful — now the new town manager of Adams is proposing this. This is absolutely free, and can create a stampede of new residents and increase our property values! So why not do this?

And we must be an advocate for our hospital — not just the observer. We can do this with proper political pressure in Boston, along with strong pressure here. And we must not be so feeble that we don't tax BHS the same as we would tax any other large commercial entity; the hospital is now a medical center which is not tax exempt. What I proposed has been supported by the courts — I'm not wrong about this. The next time you get your tax bill, think that perhaps not all are paying their share.

And I have so many other proposals — almost all are reasonable and effective, but I doubt that my opponents will do them. Our city is so divided into two camps that it's hard to hear new voices. You know, most of our problems are self—inflicted and they can be fixed. I tried to get out what I could in a short time — please do read the details on www.NorthAdamsMayor.com.

But voters have returned to their camps. However, it's clear that there is dissatisfaction in our city. I hope Dick and John will have good debates and will study my proposals. They will work. I am not confident they will activate them, but that's the only thing I can urge right now.

Eric Rudd came in third in Tuesday's mayoral preliminary election in North Adams, eliminating him from contention in November.

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"Keep moving forward with Alcombright"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 1, 2015

To the editor:

As we approach the November election, I have taken time to reflect on my four years as a city councilor and the future of the city I was born in and have lived in much of my life.

I entered the council as someone who never much cared for politics. I realized I had a lot to learn and tried to listen and observe my fellow councilors. I come from a sports and recreation background where the concept of teamwork is important. My experience with fellow councilor John Barrett III was not attractive. He argued about everything, always insisted on having the last word, and refused to be a part of any committee unless he was on the finance committee. Ultimately he brought very little to the table.

I don't see opposition for opposition sake and relentless negativity as a very attractive quality in a leader. Through collaboration and teamwork our city is changing for the better. Last week I volunteered at the Fresh Grass festival and was struck by the number of people I spoke with from all over the world who had nothing but good things to say about North Adams. They disagree with John Barrett that North Adams is in decline.

One area close to my heart is Windsor Lake and the Historic Valley camp ground, truly a jewel of our city. Little or no investment had been made there for years. In the past four years we have seen improvement in the bath houses, sewer hook-ups, a new playground on the beach, and work continues on the concession stand.

I realize traditionally council candidates run their own races, but this time it's too important to worry about whether I win or lose. Our community is growing brighter and better and on Nov. 3 I urge voters to keep Dick Alcombright as our mayor.

Nancy Bullett, North Adams
The writer is a city councilor.

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“Former Mayor John Barrett won't participate in MCLA debate”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 2, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Mayoral candidate John Barrett III has decided not to participate in a scheduled mayoral debate at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

The debate, scheduled for Oct. 19 at the Church Street Center, was announced by the college in September and was to be hosted by Assistant Political Science Professor J. Benjamin Taylor and students.

But after a disagreement with Taylor on the topics of discussion, Barrett decided against taking part in the event, according to separate interviews conducted with both men on Friday. Taylor now hopes transform the event into a forum of the 13 candidates running for nine available at-large City Council seats in the November general election.

"We just could not agree on mainly the topic area and some other stuff," Barrett said, "but this is a situation where the best thing happened because I think the voters are going to be more informed about the City Council candidates."

Incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was "disappointed" in Barrett's decision and said he had taken away "an informative session for the citizens and voters of this city."

"I have made every effort through this student-driven process to accommodate him, agreeing to a change of date and a change of panel to include members of the media," Alcombright said.

The only scheduled mayoral debate remaining is on Oct. 27 and will be hosted by local radio station WNAW.

The MCLA debate was to be moderated by a student and include questions from a panel consisting of reporters from WAMC Northeast Public Radio, iBerkshires.com, The Berkshire Eagle, and an MCLA student. Among the planned topic categories were economic development, community development and collaboration, and youth, education and recreation.

Examples of topics within the categories were crime and blight, downtown and the Mohawk Theater, historical preservation and revitalization, redevelopment of Marshall Street, recent private investments, and more. Citing the recent forum on health care in the Northern Berkshires hosted by the North County Cares Coalition, the topic was not included on the list proposed by the college.

"There's some things that I wanted to debate that they didn't have; the issues that I thought were relevant to the debate," Barrett said.

Though he has declined to participate in the MCLA debate, Barrett still intends to participate in the WNAW debate, he said. He also declared his desire to debate Alcombright, one-on-one, in a setting in which they can ask each other questions directly.

Alcombright said his campaign has not received such a request directly from Barrett, but will respond if and when that happens.

While he and Taylor could not come to terms on the MCLA debate, Barrett said the discussions "were not adversarial," and he has offered to visit the college and speak with the students.

'"This is a very serious election and I'm taking it very seriously at this point ion my life," Barrett said.

Alcombright accused Barrett of being reluctant to defend his record.

"For 26 years, Mr. Barrett had attempted to dictate the terms and conditions of life in this city," Alcombright said, "and these habits continue today with his insistence on manipulating and controlling all aspects of this debate."

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"North Adams advancing with Alcombright"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 3, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing in strong support for the reelection of Richard Alcombright as mayor of North Adams. He is honest, a long-term thinker, and an excellent administrator who promotes an atmosphere of openness, transparency and accountability.

I am relatively new to North Adams, having purchased my home three years ago. I was personally excited to relocate to the city, where I could be in the natural beauty of the Berkshires, experience the cultural amenities, and still afford to purchase a home. Since moving here, I have had the opportunity to meet many life long residents. There is a strong work ethic here and the best of honest blue collar values. But, I have also heard the story of the loss of a way of life and of the hardships endured with the closing of the Sprague Electric plant. This left the city locked in a kind of survival mode which still seems to linger on.

Shortly after relocating here, I decided to attend a meeting of the tourist board. As is his usual practice, Mayor Alcombright was there. I mentioned that I had made my living in the performing arts and was interested in what plans there might be for the Mohawk Theater. The mayor graciously offered me a tour of the facility the following week. He spoke of the plans for renovation and subsequently, discussions of a possible partnership with MCLA for the use of the building. Since that time I have had several meetings with the mayor on matters of community concern. His door was always open.

While the legacy of the closing of Sprague Electric still lingers and can be seen in a number of buildings that have fallen into disrepair, and the recent closing of the hospital has been a further blow, there is also a growing sense of optimism here. As things are tuning positive, I believe it is imperative to not change course. The city must not revert to the old ways of doing things, born out of desperation in a time of upheaval.

The Redwood Motel has been sold with plans to build down to the river, opening the waterfront which is currently under-utilized. The Cariddi Mill on Route 2 has been sold to a New York developer with wonderful plans for the buildings' use. Thomas Krens, former director of the Guggenheim foundation and initially a key figure in the formation of MASS MoCA, has proposed a for profit global contemporary art facility near the airport on the Route 2 corridor. The Colegrove Park Elementary School, despite construction delays, is nearing completion. It will be a beautiful anchor for the east end of Main Street.

More and more hospital services are coming back. Things are now finally moving in a prosperous direction. I strongly urge support for Mayor Alcombright and for city residents to keep looking forward to what this city can, should, and will be.

Jack Savage, North Adams

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The two North Adams mayoral campaigns are ramping up with just five weeks left until election day. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

"Alcombright, Barrett focused on next five weeks of campaigning in North Adams"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 3, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Mayor Richard Alcombright was handily bested in last month's preliminary election by former mayor and challenger John Barrett III, but history shows the race is far from over.

Alcombright will be looking to turn the tables — something then-Mayor Barrett did to a challenger after losing the preliminary election in 1997, eventually winning an eighth term in office.

Another similarity between the 1997 and 2015 elections was a third candidate who forced (and lost) the preliminary election. In this case, artist and developer Eric Rudd finished third and was eliminated from the Nov. 3 ballot.

After losing the preliminary election by 145 votes, Barrett defeated challenger Paul Babeu by 353 votes in the 1997 general election — his narrowest victory margin since 1983.

But regardless of the city's political history, both candidates are now firmly focused on the five weeks ahead, which will include an Oct. 27 morning debate hosted by North Adams radio station WNAW 1230 AM.

Despite the similarities to elections past, Barrett — now in the midst his 15th run for office, not including a term as a city councilor — isn't dwelling on them. The former mayor argues that the city's demographics have changed — the population has decreased by nearly 10 percent since 2000 — and says his campaign is instead focused on the issues.

"I'm talking about tomorrow, basically, and what we have to do," Barrett said. "I am not the same person that left office in 2010. I've recharged a lot of batteries. I have a new set of eyes, a new set of priorities."

Alcombright has looked back to 2009, the year he defeated Barrett handily with 3,046 votes. Noting that less than 1,000 people cast a ballot for him last week, Alcombright said he's focused on working his way back to the total he received in 2009.

"We're just going to work really, really hard to get 3,000 people," Alcombright said.

Alcombright concedes he has undoubtedly lost some of those supporters since 2009, but figures he's gained some as well.

"We're going to stay active," Alcombright said. "We're still going to mostly focus on our priorities, our successes, and try to clarify some myths and misinformation."

Barrett has maintained throughout his campaign that he has a set of different policies and priorities than the Alcombright administration. He's touted fiscal responsibility and economic development as his major attributes.

The former mayor finds himself in the role of challenger for the first time since 1983 and lacks the advantages of incumbency. But this time around, Barrett says, "we're a grass-roots campaign," that will rely on $10 and $20 contributions.

The most recently available campaign filings showed Alcombright entering September with a war chest more than eight times the size of Barrett's.

Barrett said he's met twice with Rudd, who earned about 8 percent of the vote in the September preliminary, because he liked some of the candidate's ideas.

Both candidates have already begun outreach in the community, and their campaign lawn signs can be spotted on the lawns of neighborhoods throughout the city.

Barrett has focused on reaching out to the neighborhoods, while Alcombright hosted a forum recently aimed at the city's young voters.

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"Realities argue for full-service hospital in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 4, 2015

Health care realities facing North Adams

To the editor:

The Eagle's Sept. 17 editorial refers to the health care realities of North Adams but never defines just what these realities are and the sources that the opinion is based upon. Let me define the realities.

The reality is Northern Berkshire residents have asthma, heart disease and most cancers at a higher rate than other communities and face public health issues including obesity, alcohol and tobacco addiction. The fastest growing segment of the population is the elderly, many of whom are disabled.

The reality is barriers to access, like the lack of financial resources and transportation, makes North County a "medical vulnerable population."

The reality is the community has a need for inpatient services. Market demand shows a need for 18-21 beds for acute inpatient medical services and 11-12 beds for inpatient behavioral health and substance abuse services.

The reality is obstetric services are the most often-cited need for inpatient care in North County, and the nearly 1,100 babies born in North Adams in the most recently reviewed years support that claim.

These realities are all from the Stroudwater Associates Report commissioned by the Department of Public Health to evaluate the health care market in the Northern Berkshires.

Berkshire Medical Center is making good use of a $3 million grant from the Health Policy Commission to created a "patient-centered medical neighborhood and enhanced behavior health care." we applaud all the outpatient services designed to "keep the healthy, healthy" that BMC has introduced to BMC-North. The focus on outpatient services makes a lot of sense financially. There is more profit to be made in outpatient services than in inpatient services. However, there is an unusually large number of really sick people in our population of 37,000. They need a full-service hospital.

The Eagle says "There is no reason to believe that North Adams will be getting another full-service hospital." I have every reason to believe we will have a full-service hospital. When David Phelps, chairman of the Berkshire Health Systems board, was confronted with a profit vs. service decision in the past, he has been quoted to me as saying, "It may not be the most profitable thing to do but it is the right thing to do."

George Pouridas, North Adams
The writer is a member of the North County Cares Coalition.

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“Barrett represents a move backwards”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 7, 2015

To the editor:

Kudos for the courageous reporting of John Seven on the North Adams mayoral race. His recall of the ominous fear factor of the Barrett years and its troubling mythology is chilling and insightful.

He rightly indicates that a return of Barrett to the corner office would be a step backwards for the fragile and vulnerable status of the troubled and challenged city of North Adams.

Charles Giuliano, Adams
The writer is publisher/editor Berkshire Fine Arts

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“Another benchmark: re-electing Alcombright”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 7, 2015

To the editor:

Benchmark: The first mayor of North Adams was my step-great great grandfather, A.C. Houghton. My great grandfather, Arthur Gallup, was treasurer of Arnold Print Works, and my grandfather, George B. Flood, was treasurer of Sprague Electric Company — the two biggest employers in North Adams history. Philanthropy and community service were my family's legacy as well as their love and commitment to North Adams. Mayor Richard J. Alcombright shares my love and commitment to North Adams.

Benchmark: When I returned to North Adams in 2000 to care for my mother until she died, my eyes filled at the condition of my beloved hometown.

Benchmark: Vin Melito told me about the efforts he spearheaded as a city councillor to place benches downtown, the many who signed petitions and the money raised. The former mayor obstinately kept this beautiful project from happening. Mayor Alcombright made it happen.

Benchmark: In 2008 when I wrote that no one should be making a career out of what is supposed to be public service, the former mayor never spoke to me again. Mayor Alcombright always speaks to me and listens respectfully, even if our viewpoints differ.

Benchmark: The former mayor didn't want benches downtown because of those people! Well, my goodness, I'm one of those people — residents! Mayor Alcombright knows the warmth of being able to sit downtown.

Benchmark: Mayor Alcombright knows how terrific it is for those of us who are seasoned citizens and disabled to be able to rest, relax and reminisce. He knows how important it is for North Adams to be warm and welcoming. He knows how important tone, inclusion and ongoing community participation is.

Benchmark: Mayor Alcombright knows how all of us who love North Adams want to keep going forward.

Let's continue to celebrate North Adams with a strong vote on Nov. 3 for Richard J. Alcombright, our mayor!

Rachel I. Branch, North Adams

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"Mayor Alcombright is an education advocate"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 8, 2015

To the editor:

I am a mother of two young children anxiously awaiting that first day of kindergarten. Approaching this milestone, I'm thrilled with the fact that they will attend Colegrove Park Elementary School in North Adams.

I've watched the progress of this building through pictures online and reporting in the papers and have seen the incredible amount of work involved. Renovating a 100-year-old building is both monumental and historic and we should all be proud of it as part of our downtown.

It was Mayor Alcombright who said that investing in education is the single best investment in the future of our city. I returned to this city because of our ties to the community, and the direction in which this city is moving. I support Mayor Alcombright because I know he values education and has worked tirelessly to see this project through despite construction setbacks. The fact that this project will come in on budget is remarkable!

Education is one of the most important factors we face as parents and I know Mayor Alcombright understands this. Let's continue to move forward! Please join me and vote for Mayor Alcombright on Nov. 3.

Sara Moulton, North Adams

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“Alcombright built welcoming atmosphere”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 13, 2015

To the editor:

I was born and raised in North Adams and now I live here again. I have seen many changes. However, the most significant changes I have seen have been in the last six years.

We have seen the infusion of ideas and private investment because of Mayor Dick Alcombright's willingness to talk with outsiders and collaborate with other communities. I remember working at the Williams College Graduate Art History Department when Tom Krens had a vision for MoCA and John Barrett said it was a poor idea.

Dick Alcombright supported the first master plan for our city in over 40 years and people are reading it! Vision 2030 aligns efforts within North Adams with those of the region. Dick understands that we have to develop and work closely with leaders throughout the entire area. The investors of the Greylock Mill and the Redwood Motel have said that the city's Vision 2030 was instrumental in their decision to purchase these properties.

Another new development in the west end is a museum at the airport. This developer too noted that Alcombright's vision and willingness to work with them has made investing in North Adams an easy decision. This administration is planning for the future and making plans to ensure that North Adams continues to develop and is a welcoming place to live.

I'm disappointed that we no longer have a hospital in North Adams. I don't know if Berkshire Medical Center will do the right thing and provide us with in-patient beds. I do know that Dick did everything in his power to ensure we have the services we do today. I listened to John Barrett at the debate he did agree to attend. His statements were far-fetched, accusatory and not based on the facts. Be wary of rhetoric.

I am encouraged about the future of my city and am confident we will move forward. I do not want to see us retreat to a place of closed doors, arrogant decision-making by one person, or fear from residents to make suggestions.

Vote for the administration that is moving us forward. Please vote on Nov. 3 for Mayor Alcombright!

Jo Ann Bates, North Adams

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“North Adams needs positive action”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 18, 2015

To the editor:

North Adams Councilor Kate Merrigan made a case to re-elect Dick Alcombright with her Oct. 13 letter essentially saying that he cooperated with the establishment of a Public Art Commission, to "make decisions about what art works can be mounted on city-owned buildings and other property."

OK, so we have yet another bureaucratic board to deal with. I don't call that progress or an achievement. North Adams needs actions, not more red tape.

As a participant in the arts, progress to me would be a discussion by the Council and the residents about whether we want public art and if so, who should lead the charge — so far, public art has confused, not complemented, the off-site works sponsored by MASS MoCA — and spell out the visions for the future that will stimulate commerce.

For example, we could go after large NEA grants to do exciting arts-related public projects. An aggressive city arts program would try to do something about the lack of pedestrian traffic that keeps historic buildings vacant and hurts the other art attractions, like the galleries on Main Street (although on a strategic corner, NAACO gallery closed only due to a lack of visitors walking in), or the Berkshire Artist Museum, or the Eclipse Mill Galleries, and so on.

A "with-it" City Hall would know how to better use the (now part-time as an events helper) tourist director position, and team it with a new Chamber of Commerce Visitors' Center, with programs to stimulate tourism outside of MoCA.

An energized and different type of arts commission might have more input as the bike path is being planned, because it should be partnered with a "Gateway Beautification Program" to increase property values along the (oft-ignored/drive-too-fast) Route 2 entrance to North Adams. Imagine a green bike lane, with nice signs, better sidewalk landscaping, and fresh "skins" on some of the historic houses along that route that have suffered from "deferred maintenance!" Using the arts for that area would create an entirely different impression of North Adams when driving in, and would help stimulate tenants for the vacant commercial spaces along the way, while connecting it to the potentially exciting Global Art Center and the Cariddi Mill projects.

Sorry, Kate, I'm not saying the commission is bad — I'm just saying it's not what's really needed and it's nothing to brag about.

I'm not endorsing Mayor Alcombright or John Barrett in this letter — I'm endorsing positive action! I'm anxiously waiting for the two candidates to explain how each will smartly use the arts to re-energize our bleak downtown, stimulate new taxpayers to move and invest here, and increase economic activity. That will mean a lot more than creating another committee. Voters should demand no less.

Eric Rudd, North Adams
The writer is an artist and recent candidate for mayor.

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“Barrett monarchy will divide city again”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 18, 2015

To the editor:

I have seen both sides of John Barrett III. As a young city councilor I communicated regularly with the former mayor, and updated him on local business activity as I worked with many retailers and manufacturers. I would continually defend him against the rumors I heard of how he threatened people's businesses, homes, jobs, and so on. Sure, I knew of his temper, but he treated me fine, so it can't be true that he treats other people so badly. Right?

Sure enough the day came where it was my turn to become a pawn in his power plays, and when I refused to go by his rules, he made me his enemy.

It was during a debate when Barrett said as mayor he made three enemies a day which is why there is so much resentment against him. That's a lot of enemies over 26 years, but making enemies has nothing to do with being mayor. People can disagree with you, not like your decisions, but when you refer to someone as an enemy, that means you've waged a war on them. That is something the former mayor did very well, which is sad since he could have used his influence and power to heal the community, instead of divide and make it a "you're with me, or against me" society.

In the past six years, Mayor Alcombright opened City Hall's doors and allowed people to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Along with that came criticism, and conflicting thoughts of many citizens expressing multiple ideas at once, which takes longer to work out but involves much more of the community.

A great example are the Greylock neighbors who recently expressed concern at a public meeting because they weren't happy about the location of the bike path. Their actions and comments were heard and got the bike path moved. Under the former administration there wouldn't have been a public meeting. If he wanted it, they would have woken up one day and seen a construction crew building a path. Criticism was not allowed. You had the choice to like it, love it, or say nothing at all.

Already with the thought John Barrett could be mayor again people are silencing their voices just in case. It stuns me once again to hear comments like: "You have my support but I can't show it because my son works for the city and you know how Barrett can be," or "I don't need John coming after my business."

We had 26 years of Barrett monarchy, and if it returns, the city will be divided again into those who are with John, and those who are against him. That's no different than a wall that divides a small country, keeping it from fully developing into some much greater. We tore our wall down six years ago. Vote to keep it down, because if it gets rebuilt, God only knows how long it will stand this time, and how much more our city can take of being divided.

Keith Bona, North Adams
The writer is a North Adams city councilor.

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“BHS must do right by Northern Berkshire”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 18, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing in response to The Eagle editorial "Hospital reality and North Adams race for mayor" of Sept. 17. Even though I disagree with what was in the editorial, I welcome its voice as there are many sides to an issue and all have a right to be heard.

It was said that Northern Berkshire would be an unlikely place as it is now for a full service hospital and I would love to know why an area that has two preeminent learning institutions, two major artist attractions, hosts multiple concerts and festivals, three popular ski resorts, and has a population of over 35,000, many with major health issues, does not seem like a place for one.

I agree that Berkshire Health System (BHS) has slowly been putting together an impressive outpatient medical facility and every service, limited though they maybe, are welcome. The reality though is that BHS is failing to meet the needs of North County every time a woman in labor has to travel 45 minutes to an hour to give birth. The reality is BHS is failing to meet the needs of North County every time the satellite emergency facility has to ship a patient to BMC, or beyond, for further diagnosis, due to its limited equipment, or for further observation and/ or treatment because there are no inpatient beds at the North County campus. The reality is that BHS is failing to meet the needs of North County every time a patient with mental illness or an addiction problem has to be shipped beyond the county for treatment.

BHS, a highly profitable organization, often claims that it does not take the cheaper approach in providing services because it is" the right thing to do." Would that it were applying that philosophy to Northern Berkshire and providing us with a hospital with 18 to 25 inpatient beds, some of which could be part of an intensive care unit, a birthing center, and a small psychiatric ward, so that we could have the same basic hospital services that the rest of Berkshire County enjoys.

BHS do it because it is the right thing to do or have the courage to come and explain, in person, beyond the catchphrase "it is not sustainable" to the people of Northern Berkshire why it cannot be done.

Elizabeth Manns, Clarksburg

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"Vote for present, future in North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

The voters of North Adams have a relatively simple but very crucial decision to make in determining who will lead this city.

We can return to the tumultuous and regressive past of the Barrett administration or, we can maintain the positive and progressive leadership by re-electing Mayor Richard Alcombright. The outcome of your vote decision will not only affect the present but as importantly, it will determine the future of our community.

Vincent Melito, North Adams

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“Keep Alcombright's supportive leadership”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

Several years ago I worked with a group of people to grow the North Adams Farmers Market from a few guys selling produce out of the backs of their cars to the vibrant Saturday morning destination it is today. We had to fight the mayor at the time, Mr. Barrett, every step of the way. As I see him running for mayor again, I envision what he would do to squash all of that hard work, should he be successful in his campaign to regain that seat.

Despite repeated requests for meetings he would not speak to us or respond to letters but through his staff we were told if we got an EBT machine he'd shut the market down. We got the machine to make it possible for people to use their SNAP benefits (food stamps) to pay for food. It was the first farmers market in Berkshire County to put those federal dollars into our local farmers' pockets.

We had a grant to promote the market and EBT machine, but we were unable to use those funds. The mayor's liaison to the market told us if the mayor saw one ad, heard one radio spot, he'd shut the market down immediately. Instead of paying local businesses for advertising we turned away that grant money.

We went to a local business and paid for a sign that fit all the criteria of signs they made for the city — the colors, size and font used by the city for signage. We had money to pay the city's cost to install the sign. Mr. Barrett, said no. It wasn't until he was in a heated campaign for his job, one he fortunately lost, that he allowed the sign be put up. This was only if there could be a photo op for him — the newspaper took his picture and he left. You will see a jovial mayor with the director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts next to the sign — the same mayor who continued to refuse to meet with food bank staff or NAFM staff/volunteers and continued to threaten to shut down the market at every opportunity.

BMC had a county wide outreach van doing blood pressure and other health screenings and signing people up for Mass Health and SNAP at Big Y and Walmart. Mr. Barrett threatened to shut down the market if we brought the van to the market. Instead, his office arranged for the North Adams Hospital to send someone to the farmers market — a woman who handed out apples, could not register people for benefits and clearly didn't want to be there.

Because Mayor Dick Alcombright came along when we were in dire need of his transparent and supportive leadership, the market thrives today. I shudder to think what would happen if the city's leadership returned to the dictatorial and threatening style of the previous administration — to the NAFM and indeed, to the city!

Kim McMann, Stephentown, N.Y.

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“Alcombright set stage for North Adams' revival”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

I tend to not be the "face" of any group or organization, more of a background-doer myself. That said, I am a homeowner in North Adams, a member of the Northern Berkshire YMCA board, a business owner in the city, and someone who wholeheartedly loves and dreams for our little corner of the world here in North Adams.

When I first moved to this area in 2007 I was coming from a community that had gone through many similar changes to those that North Adams had encountered. Similar to my love for North Adams now, I loved that place, and loved what the people and leaders had done to make dreams a reality.

At the time of my arrival, North Adams was — OK. I lived on campus for my job, went downtown when I absolutely needed to, and had a decent existence. For my 22-year-old self, it was a very quiet life, and one that I figured I could survive for a couple of years and then move on to bigger, better things.

Then something happened. A dramatic change toward vision, aspirations, and hope. While I could never give 100 percent of the credit for this dramatic change to a single person, I can say it has been a matter of night and day from when I arrived here and where we are today.

I see brilliant ideas being brought to reality through both public and private entities, a new pulse in this place coming from grass-roots activities that I know were consistently shot down by previous administrations, and above all, I see happiness and a sense of pride in accomplishment. Through my own love for this place, friends and family have become inspired as well. Some are now even moving here to become part of this community to live, work and play.

The mayor of any city cannot do everything that the people in their city may want, but they can and should be the person who makes it as easy as possible for the community stakeholders to achieve greatness. They should support and advocate for businesses both established and new, advise those looking to do new and innovative things for the greater good, honestly care for all their residents (including the 1,400+ college students that choose this community to live in), and be willing to step up in our times of need.

When I think of where we were a mere eight years ago and where we are today, I can only say that this place has grown from being a pass-through town on my professional career path, to a place I plan to raise a family, grow my personal community, and continue to make my own. For all of those reasons and more, my vote is with Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Emily Schiavoni, North Adams

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“Bias against Barrett is plain to voters”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

The mayor's election in North Adams is too vital to allow innuendos or personality conflicts to influence your vote. The collective intelligence of the North Adams voters is too immense for those practices to be successful.

Columnist John Seven recently used an unnamed source to state that former Mayor John Barrett would never allow any music event like the Solid Sound Festival As the person was not identified. no one knows if it's a real story or complete fiction. The article was full of innuendoes not facts.

I am sure readers will recall the Night Shift at Mass MoCA. The fact is famous singers were there in the 1990s. Willie Nelson and Arlo Gurthie were just two of the singers that performed there. A simple Google search shows that Willie Nelson appeared at the Night Shift in North Adams on Sept. 12, 1996.

Mr. Seven and others claim Barrett originally opposed Mass MoCA. MoCA, in the words of Joseph Thompson, wouldn't be here today if it weren't for John Barrett.

The Eagle has allowed him to write four negative pieces on John Barrett in the past six weeks, including one on preliminary day. The sad thing is that The Berkshire Eagle is insulting the people of North Adams by allowing this to go on. I guess journalistic integrity means nothing to the powers that be at The Eagle.

I hope that The Eagle will be fair in its coverage of the mayor's race in North Adams and stop this biased slant which is so very clear to the people in North Adams.

Karissa Jandran, North Adams

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Bill Donovan: “Maligned Barrett rebuilt North Adams”
By Bill Donovan, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 16, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - As I watch the race for mayor in North Adams, I've been surprised by the angry tone coming from the Alcombright supporters concerning former Mayor John Barrett III. Barrett was elected 40 years ago to his first public office and is well known by the people of North Adams. There is no need for comments like these, especially about someone who did so much for North Adams.

Barrett was a passionate leader whose accomplishments were numerous. He saw North Adams through some of its most difficult times and made some very tough decisions. In his first two years in office, nearly 2,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in North Adams and Northern Berkshire County. Professionals were leaving North Adams, including many from Sprague Electric who transferred to other Sprague locations.

After the Sprague announcement, he immediately began rebuilding the city's economy with small manufacturing businesses, most of which are still in North Adams. At the same time, he worked to keep Mass MoCA alive as it struggled for credibility.

During this time he invested heavily in the city's infrastructure which included everything from new streets and sidewalks to new recreational fields. A new elementary school was built around the YMCA, saving it from bankruptcy. Barrett capped the landfill and built a transfer station, constructed a water filtration plant, and purchased the Mohawk Theater for future development.

A lot was accomplished in Barrett's first years in office despite a poor national and local economy. He never wavered in his commitment to North Adams, and he was a visionary. Despite it being on life support more than once, he simply wouldn't let Mass MoCA die. In his last 10 years in office Mass MoCA opened its doors, a $22 million renovation of Drury High School was completed, Veterans Memorial Drive was rebuilt along with a beautiful Veterans Memorial, two million dollars in restoration work was done at the Mohawk Theater, a $4.5 million addition to the library was built, and millions were invested in neighborhood infrastructure. And Yankee Magazine, which once called North Adams "a sorry gateway to anywhere," named North Adams one of the "Five Hidden Jewels of New England."

While there will be many more stories coming out painting Barrett as an awful tyrant, people need to remember that a strong leader has to say "no" which upsets people, especially the special interest groups. The last thing they want to see is him back in office.

There have been stories that Barrett wasn't really for MASS MoCA at the beginning, which most know to be false. In 2004 Joe Thompson, executive director of MASS MoCA, presented the museum's Clocktower Award to Barrett, saying, "John Barrett, Mass MoCA would not exist today without your extraordinary political leadership and stalwart support." Thompson said the same thing again in 2010 when Barrett was presented the Francis Hayden award by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Even in the worst of times, Barrett would never give up on North Adams, and he didn't want the citizens to stop believing in the city. Al Bashevkin, the retired director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, spoke about what North Adams was like when he began his job in 1986 in an interview with The Eagle this past summer.

He gives a lot of credit to Barrett for boosting morale during tough times. "He just wasn't going to take that," Bashevkin said. "He always said we were strong, good people. It was like his mantra; he said it over and over again to remind people that this is a good community."

Former Transcript reporter Joe Grande, who covered Barrett, perhaps said it best in a column he wrote in 2009 after Barrett's defeat. "He was all about new roads, clean parks, good schools, and efficient services. To his credit, he did it while keeping taxes relatively low. What's clear to me is that the city never died because Barrett wouldn't let it. He stood up for North Adams when others didn't, and he challenged residents to do the same."

These are perspectives of three people who observed John Barrett in different ways, and at different times. All point to his strong leadership ability in getting things done for the city he loved.

The John Barrett I knew from my years on the North Adams City Council was not perfect. None of us are. But he was an engaged, dedicated leader who fought the good fight for the citizens he cared so much about. The critics of John Barrett may not have liked his style, as he didn't always say yes, but I always found him to act on what was best for North Adams and its citizens.

To those who say "North Adams would be going back to the past with Barrett", could it be, "Let's go back to the future with John Barrett." The choice is yours.

Bill Donovan is an occasional Eagle columnist.

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"Barrett boasts a record of success"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

In 2009, Richard Alcombright claimed he would be North Adams salesman for job creation. Anyone who takes an objective look around North Adams doesn't see any vast increase in commercial businesses or jobs in North Adams since 2009. Where are the jobs? One sees a decrease of businesses, jobs and city revenue

The full-time hospital is gone along with the North Adams Transcript, Staples, Sears, and many small businesses like I Got Goodies. Without naming them all, my point is made. Gone too are the revenues that the business provided to the city in taxes.

When running for mayor in 2009, Mr. Alcombright claimed that businesses weren't entering empty store space on Main Street because of Mayor John Barrett's style of management. In 2015, Mr. Alcombright explained the lack of businesses on Main Street were a result of the downturn in the economy. Sounds like a double standard to me.

When he first ran for office Mr. Alcombright told voters he wanted to work with MCLA to use the Mohawk Theatre. They would bring performances there. Its 2015 and the Mohawk Theatre still isn't being used except as a billboard. Mr. Alcombright wanted to make the Western Gateway Heritage Park private. Six years later, there isn't a private Heritage Park. There is too much talk and not enough results.

The administration arbitrarily shorted hard-working, special education paraprofessionals two dollars per hour in their paychecks. They had to contact their union to get their contractually agreed on pay from the city. Paraprofessionals work hard daily with emotionally, behaviorally, learning disabled children. They deserved better from the administration. Meanwhile, some administrators were given a 30 percent increase in their salaries. North Adams is a working class town that knows right from wrong. What the Alcombright administration did to those paraprofessionals was professionally, legally, and ethically wrong

In 2009 the voters decided for change and elected Mr. Alcombright, Mayor. Six years later mere words will not work this time. Results are what matters. Mr. Alcombright and Mayor Barrett both have records now. The fact is people knew Mayor Barrett's record and his managerial style. Scary tactics of having supporters label Barrett the "Big Bad Wolf" will not work. Mr. Alcombright had his chance. His policies haven't worked.

We need a man with an effective record of results to bring progress to North Adams. John Barrett is that man. I urge all voters to join me in voting for John Barrett for mayor of North Adams on Nov. 3.

James Bergeron, North Adams

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"Barrett defenders drowning out critics"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

Our family lived in North Adams for eight years, and even though practical considerations led us to move to Williamstown in 2011, we developed a real affection for North Adams during our time there and continue to care about the concerns of residents.

One of the journalistic voices we have come to value is that of your columnist John Seven. His thoughtful, occasionally edgy observations about the culture and politics of North Adams are valuable for their intelligence and ethical underpinnings, as well as entertaining.

I've noticed Mr. Seven being targeted for attacks recently because of his criticisms of former mayor John Barrett. I have posted a few online comments defending his columns on the subject of the current mayoralty race, but because of the vituperative nature of some of your columnist's critics I would like to state my strong support for John Seven even more publicly.

Why? Because during the years when Mr. Barrett was still mayor I repeatedly encountered independent and unsolicited accounts from various sources of the oppressive, bullying behavior on Barrett's part that have led Mr. Seven to raise alarm bells at the prospect of returning the former mayor to the leadership position that many people feel he previously abused.

Obviously, John Barrett has his advocates, and they are making their voices heard loudly as election day approaches. That's as it should be; all sides of our local controversies should be aired in the Eagle's pages so that differing opinions can be evaluated by the city's voters for their respective merit.

But I, for one, want to offer my support Mr. Seven's valuable columns. For one thing, He has been fair about offering compliments for Barrett when they are deserved, and his criticisms of Barrett, far from being conjured maliciously out of thin air, square with the stories I myself have heard.

For the sake of rich public discourse I would not want Seven's point of view drowned out by the strident voices that support Mr. Barrett's return to office before the voters of North Adams have had a reasonable chance to compare and contrast all points of view.

Howard Cruse, Williamstown

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Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III (left) and Mayor Richard J. Alcombright (right) respond to questions posed during a mayoral debate held at Drury High School on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III responds to a question Tuesday during a mayoral debate at Drury High School. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright responds to a question Tuesday during the mayoral debate at Drury High School. (Scott Stafford — The Berkshire Eagle)

“North Adams mayoral candidates spar at first debate”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 20, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — The first debate between Mayor Richard Alcombright and former Mayor John Barrett III since 2009 had plenty of fireworks and competing visions of both the future and the past.

Hundreds gathered at Drury High School to watch the only two men to hold the mayor's office in 32 years articulate their job performances and their designs for the city during the next two years.

There were a number of contentious moments, but one theme that was returned to repeatedly was the shape of city finances when Alcombright took office six years ago.

Alcombright said there was a "structural deficit of $3 million," according to figures compiled by the state.

Barrett insisted there was an operating surplus when he left office.

Transparency in government also generated an extended conversation, starting early in the debate.

"Everyone here knows that they can come and sit down with me and discuss their concerns without conditions and without abuse," Alcombright said in his opening statement.

Alcombright kept referring to what he described as Barrett's contentious relationship with the City Council. He repeatedly referred to Barrett's administration as a "government of one," with little transparency to residents or council members.

"When I was on the council, anything I ever needed I had to fight for," Alcombright said at one point.

Barrett denied the charge, saying he provided the council with all the pertinent information they needed in a timely manner. He added that it is the mayor's job to sell the council on something, and member is free to vote either way on every topic.

Alcombright said his administration was the first to put the city budget online.

"There is no transparency there," Barrett responded. "It's a joke. It's a scam. And we will push for transparency. This thing about me not being transparent is just crazy."

Later, Alcombright returned to the topic, noting that the accomplishment he is most proud of is "opening up the government in North Adams in a way that it never was before. If and when I leave office, I will be most proud of our opening government in North Adams, so we now have a government of the people instead of a government of one."

Barrett maintained that his administration was very open, because he communicated extensively with the four news organizations in town. If the people didn't know something that was going on in the city, he said, it is because the press wasn't reporting everything they should be.

"The press is at fault for a lack of open government," Barrett said.

Then there was economic development.

Alcombright touted the significant investments recently announced for the city, including the multi-million dollar plan to revive the old Cariddi Mill, now known as Greylock Mill. He also mentioned the project to re-imagine the Redwood Motel, and the effort to establish a new multi-million dollar modern art museum near the city airport. He talked about the success of Solid Sound and Fresh Grass for bringing thousands into the city for multi-day music festivals.

Barrett said that jobs need to be created, and that over the last six years, there has been a net loss of jobs in North Adams. "You need a plan for economic development," he said. "We haven't created one job in six years."

Barrett also pointed out that the Mohawk Theater is still not operating, referring to it as an anchor for the downtown and a "diamond in the rough."

He advocated for more residential housing downtown along with the opening of the theater.

"When you have a vibrant housing component, it brings vibrancy to the downtown," Barrett said.

Another issue that drew impassioned disagreement surrounded Western Gateway Heritage State Park, which the city operates through the North Adams Redevelopment Authority.

Barrett insisted the park was in good shape and had been well-maintained, was financially sound and fully occupied when he left office, and that now it is nearly vacant and has little left of a $300,000 balance.

Alcombright responded by explaining that in trying to privatize the park, the cost of maintenance was too high because it had been neglected for so long, and that a lawsuit from a tenant over Barrett's policies that lost them money will soon cost the city nearly $300,000. Both issues hampered the effort to put together a private group to buy and operate the area.

"That park was in deplorable condition," Alcombright said. "And yes, we should privatize those properties wherever we can — we should not be competing with local businesses."

Barrett expressed concerns with crime and blight in some neighborhoods, blaming the blight for drawing crime and drugs to neighborhoods. He said he would create a community development fund and return a code enforcement position to City Hall.

Alcombright said the solution to blight is a long-term process.

"Blight ends when you bring in more jobs and new families start moving in," he said.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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“Alcombright works for betterment of all”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

There are those who seek political office for personal gain and control, and there are those who seek office to serve and to better the lives of the community and people they do serve. As a teacher for the E3 Academy, an alternative high school for at-risk students affiliated with Drury High School, I have experienced first-hand how Mayor Alcombright works tirelessly for all the residents of North Adams, including our students.

Students come to the E3 Academy for a variety of reasons. Traditional high school has not worked for them, and life experiences have sometimes not allowed them to connect with North Adams in a positive way. Mayor Alcombright has readily and warmly embraced the E3 students. He has not only validated and participated in our project-based learning activities for the past four years, since the creation of this program, he has supported the students even post-graduation.

He knows our kids on a first name basis, and listens to their input on the visions they have, as young adults, for the city. Our students have been accepted as valued contributors to the city, something they don't frequently experience. He has never been "too busy" to hear the voices of the E3 students, and we are so grateful.

Having only moved here myself three years ago from the Albany, N.Y. area, I can say that I have never seen a more involved city leader. Mayor Alcombright's support of the many people and facets of North Adams is evident in his presence at events large and small. He is available via social media, and is quick to respond to an email or phone call. He is a visible and accessible team leader; I am impressed.

I have seen a great energy and forward momentum in the resurgence of North Adams, and the mayor has called upon all of us to join him in these efforts. This is a man in a job for all the right reasons. I personally love the positive atmosphere and vibe that is North Adams. We need to re-elect Mayor Richard Alcombright so we can continue to move this city in the right direction.

Cathleen M. King, Clarksburg

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“Young resident backs Alcombright”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

I am in Grade 3 at Brayton School in North Adams. I wish I could vote! I would vote for Mayor Alcombright.

He came to my school and met all of us. Every time I see him he remembers me and knows my name. When I was in first grade, I went to the father and daughter dance on Valentine's Day. My picture was in The Eagle. A week later, I got home from school and there was a letter for me in the mail from Mayor Alcombright! He cut my picture out, wrote me a letter and sent it to me. That was a nice thing for him to do because he is so busy being the mayor!

I am very happy in North Adams because we have so many awesome things going on here. I think our mayor has a lot to do with getting new benches on Main Street and we have a new playground at Kemp Park, and as soon as the new school opens, I'll be going to try out that playground too!

I read that Mayor Alcombright is also going to get a dog park in North Adams. I love dogs and my dog Zoe will love to go there. Another great thing is Motorama. I love old-fashioned, antique cars, so you know I'm happy when that comes around.

Please vote for Mayor Alcombright on Nov. 3.

Ava Cariddi, North Adams

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“Vote for Barrett, a hands-on leader”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

It was the type of snowstorm that people in North Adams and Northern Berkshire would remember for quite a while. Schools were closed and events had been canceled. The sidewalks were covered over and the streets were practically impassable. My dad was not happy that my wife and I were bringing our two young daughters down to visit at mid-morning in a toboggan.

It was just a small distance down Estes Street, a little way down Eagle Street and not a very long way up Hospital Avenue to the family home. We had made it not quite to the turn to go up Hospital Avenue when a single four-wheel vehicle appeared coming up the hill from lower Eagle Street. We waited for it to round the corner wondering what the reason for being on the road might be.

As we approached the front of our destination, the vehicle reappeared from the road to the hospital. A single individual was inside behind the wheel. It was the then-mayor,John Barrett. He was out checking the condition of the streets and the most important route to the hospital.

This is type of individual that is needed for mayor of North Adams: dedicated, determined, experienced, a proven leader. He has a new, common sense list of priorities for the city of North Adams. Please vote for John Barrett III on Election Day.

Thomas F. Partenope, North Adams

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“North Adams resident: My favorite hat”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

I wear a plethora of "hats" on a daily basis. Husband, dog owner, higher ed. professional, business owner, city councilor, PhD student, the list goes on; but the one I think I'm most proud of is my status as a resident of North Adams.

I adore this place, it's people, it's past, and it's potential more than I can possibly emphasize in a single letter. Look at where we've come from and where we are today.

Roughly 140 years ago we became home to one of the greatest feats of modern engineering when the Hoosac Tunnel opened. Flash forward; mills and factories in this city contributed key historical game-changers; metal for one of the first ironclad ships, uniforms for the Union army, and eventually cutting edge electrical components that would drive nationwide economic booms.

While we too, like so many other mill towns, confronted an era of uneasy transition, we've entered into a new era in the past 20 years. Arts have taken hold, appreciation for the cultural communities has flourished, the development of Mass MoCA, and huge injections of innovation into our local higher education institutions have created new economies and drawn the eye of the outside world.

Today we stand at a precipice. We have private and public investments pumping new life into old buildings. Things like the Greylock Mill project, the Redwood motel, and the development of Lever and Cloud 85 as new hubs in our downtown. We've seen community members become collaborative advocates and key stakeholders in the development of the new and future North Adams, through things like UNO, NBCC, NAMA Prom, and Common Folk Artist Collective. We have natural beauty that people would drive a hundred miles or more to see.

Beyond all that, we have a willingness to dream beyond the boundaries of the traditional box. People are inspired and empowered to drive projects like the Hoosac River revival forward; to imagine scenic rail tours; to take the reigns and push for dog parks and skate parks, and opportunities for our youth to do great things.

We are so incredibly lucky to be where we are and when we are. The diamonds in the rough are all around us, and we've been given great liberty to polish them as we see fit. We've come a long way, and I can't wait to see how much further we will go, or how many more hats I will have to fit on my hat rack.

Benjamin Lamb, North Adams
The writer is a North Adams city councilor.

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"Barrett Should Not Be Face of North Adams"
iBerkshires.com - Letters to the Editor, October 23, 2015

To the Editor:

I read about Mass MoCA in 1988 and moved to North Adams to participate in what I believed would be a "great awakening" of a struggling community with so much to offer.

In 1992, I purchased my current building, which had been doctors' offices for more than 50 years. But, former Mayor Barrett would not let me open until I changed the zoning on the block — even though it wasn't a change of use and, there were other existing businesses on the block for many years. I canvassed the neighbors and successfully had the zoning changed to a CP-3.

Some time later an irate Barrett approached me and said: "May, you never even thanked me for letting you open your business." His MO is to have people beholden to him, and I wasn't.

In 1996, my wife opened a business, Tangiers, on a Main Street devoid of stores. She had retail, tanning and massage. She and I were exactly what this city needed then (and needs now), people investing in the dream of North Adams. Barrett opposed the business stating to the press; "If we allow massage on Main Street what's next, topless massage?"

In 1999, I started to openly investigate some assertions Barrett had made. A frightened city employee covertly whispered, "Are you sure you want to do this?" To which I answered: "It is because you are so afraid that I need to do this."

Barrett got wind of it. At the Downtown Celebration that year, Barrett told Eric Rudd to tell me to desist or "I can shut his wife's store down." To which Mr. Rudd replied, "You know, John, one of these days someone is going to sue you." To which Barrett responded: "Let them, it will cost them $20,000."

I took that threat seriously, documented it, had it notarized and mailed it to myself in a sealed envelope, "just in case."

This IS John Barrett. It's not just about his failed policies over 26 years but, it IS his personality; a nasty, angry, vindictive bully who discourages businesses from opening here. Is he really who we want as the face of North Adams?

My wife and I persevered in our businesses in spite of John Barrett. So many others didn't even try. After MoCA first opened we had a 10-year window of peak business interest in our downtown. Barrett shut that down. With the doubling of MoCA, The Greylock Mill, Redwood Motel and the proposed museum by the airport, we are on the verge of "a second chance."

Don't let Barrett kill it twice!

Peter D. May, DC
North Adams

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“Hard-working Barrett is dedicated to his city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 24, 2015

To the editor:

If I could vote for mayor of North Adams, I definitely would vote for John Barrett III. I don't live in North Adams, but I have known John for about 50 years. We went to North Adams State College (MCLA) together, worked at Green Mountain Park in Pownal, Vt., have kept in touch over the years, and I consider him a good friend.

I worked for the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (welfare department) for 35 years in North Adams and Pittsfield and did some protective services for some of that time. On a few occasions, John called me to report a possible abuse or neglect case. He was correct and the kids obtained help.

We have a mutual friend who lived in Jacksonville, Fla. and while vacationing there, I accompanied them on a golf outing. John was mayor of North Adams at that time and was on the phone with his office the whole 18 holes. He would hit his drive, call his secretary, hit his second shot, call again. After the 18th hole, I asked him "don't you ever relax?" He said "City business doesn't rest and often needs attention."

John Barrett III may not have been the best mayor in history, but he sure is close. He is the most conscientious and hard-working guy I know and loves the city of North Adams. As another classmate recently said "John Barrett was born to be mayor of North Adams" and he should be elected again to serve in that capacity.

Dan DeSantis, Pittsfield

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“North Adams shouldn't return to grim past”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 26, 2015

To the editor:

North Adams is a more vibrant, engaged community today than it was in 2009, when Mayor Alcombright first took office. Mass MoCA has become a better partner, serving its interests in ways that bring more benefit to the economy outside its gates. We have begun to embody the vision of becoming a cultural hub in the northern Berkshires—something we could only glimpse, dimly, a decade ago.

The danger we face now is a strange nostalgia, on the part of a significant few, for bleaker times. It leads me to wonder: Is North Adams afraid of progress? Afraid of moving forward with a comprehensive plan, a state-of-the art education system, a skate park that embraces the healthy exuberance of our youth, a revitalized river district, organizations and opportunities in place for the incubation of new businesses?

The only thing standing in our way is ourselves. The primary election demonstrated how easy it would be to shut down forward momentum, grind the clock to a halt and try to dial it back to a time when innovation was a dirty word. The way forward is through the voting booth. Take the time, Nov. 3, to say you want to keep North Adams moving in the right direction. Vote for Mayor Alcombright.

Lorraine Maloney, North Adams

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“Barrett is choice to get city on track”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 26, 2015

To the editor:

In a week, the voters of North Adams will be going to the polls to elect the next mayor. As a voter in the city I have always based my decision a candidate's record of success and not on political rhetoric.

I am voting for John Barrett III because of his proven leadership. I also have confidence in him making North Adams successful once again.

Having lived in North Adams for all of Mayor Barrett's tenure I knew he would always do what was in the best interest of the people. He always made sure we had quality services, good schools, an economy which was growing and a city which was affordable.

John Barrett is the most qualified individual to be mayor of North Adams and get the city back on track. There are so many issues our community faces, multiple problems. Who better to deal with these issues, whether it is the hospital or the serious drug problem we now have. All one has to do is look at Barrett's credentials and impressive resume to realize he is the best candidate for the job.

He served North Adams for more than three decades with distinction and integrity. The final question one should ask themselves, is the city in better condition today than it was six years ago?

I urge you to vote for John Barrett III for mayor on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Aaron Crandall, North Adams

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“In final North Adams debate, candidates question each other”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 27, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - In their final debate before Tuesday's election, the North Adams mayoral candidates covered the usual topics; economic development, Community Development Block Grant funding and the city budget.

But toward the end of the session, the debate between Mayor Richard Alcombright and challenger John Barrett III had a twist: the candidates had a chance to question each other.

The morning debate was hosted by and aired on WNAW-1230 AM in North Adams, and also was filmed by Northern Berkshire Community Television. It was the second and final debate between the two finalists.

In his lengthy question, Alcombright accused Barrett of underfunding the city employees' medical insurance trust in his final years in office, describing it as "unconscionable."

According to a 2010 North Adams Transcript article, the trust was underfunded by more than $1 million, a figure confirmed by an outside audit of city finances. Alcombright spearheaded a settlement with city unions in 2010 that did not require the city to reimburse all of the missing money, but stipulated the city pay $880,000 upfront and decrease employees' share of health costs from 30 percent to 23 percent in the first two years of the agreement.

"Who knowingly does this to their employees?" Alcombright asked. "If you're elected mayor will you, immediately upon taking office, publicly apologize to the past and present city and school employees for not contributing the city's appropriate share of health insurance premiums you were obligated to pay?"

Barrett argued that the medical insurance trust fund was not underfunded. He said the money eventually came back to the city. He declined to apologize to the city's employees and scolded Alcombright for the city's increasing health insurance costs.

"You knew it was false," Barrett said. "It was nothing more than a campaign deal that you made with the unions coming in, that you had needed a reason to increase the city's share from 70 percent to 77 percent."

When it was his turn to question his opponent, Barrett asked Alcombright why he did not accept $500,000 in total "linkage" fees from the developers of Walmart and Walmart itself when the new superstore was built. Barrett said a deal was already on the table to give the city the linkage fees, which are funds paid to cities to offset the costs and burdens of development.

"You said no to it because you don't believe in doing that to businesses," Barrett said. "Why didn't you take that $500,000 that you could have taken for the city, for the residents of North Adams, so that we could do special programs like we have with other businesses in the past?"

Alcombright responded that it was the first he had heard of any money on the table. He said during transition meetings after the 2009 election in which Alcombright unseated the longtime incumbent mayor, Barrett never mentioned the potential funds.

"You never offered that information," he said.

Alcombright said while he's open to asking a business for linkage fees, he's opposed to holding up a project because of it.

As they have in previous debates, the candidates questioned each other's records on job creation and economic development.

Barrett accused the Alcombright administration of fostering a one-track economy that has lost a focus on bringing new manufacturing jobs to North Adams. If elected, Barrett said he would work with the Baker administration to create a governor's task force focused on creating economic opportunity, similar to what the city did after the closure of Sprague Electric Co. He also advocated for better work-training programs for local residents.

Alcombright, who noted a sizable drop in the unemployment rate since he took office, trumpeted the recent investments made by private companies in a new brewery at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the renovation of the Greylock Mill. And he noted that Morrison Berkshire, a manufacturing company, is healthy.

For the rest of the debate the candidates sparred over a number of issues they long have disagreed over, including in the 2009 mayoral debates. They disagreed on the approach to the Mohawk Theater — Barrett believes the city can invest funds into its renovation and have a private developer take it over, while Alcombright contends the only sustainable solution is for the city to partner with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for its use.

The two also disagreed on the use of federal Community Development Block Grant money — Barrett again criticized Alcombright's plans to build a roughly $700,000 skate park with grant funding, saying he would instead pour that money into housing and other programs.

And as they have for six years, the men argued over the condition of the city's finances when Alcombright took over. Alcombright estimates he inherited a structural deficit of more than $3 million, a claim Barrett denies.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6276. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“Impressed by welcoming approach of Alcombright”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

My husband and I met out in Utah and moved back to North Adams, where my husband grew up, a few years ago. I first met Mayor Alcombright while my husband and I were going for a run at fish pond. He was with a group of people walking around the trails. We chatted about how awesome the trails were around here and they mentioned they were part of crew helping to maintain these beautiful trails! We volunteered right away to help them, and so they gave us a number to call where we could sign up.

After they left my husband told me who that was, and I thought to myself how cool it was the mayor was so involved in maintaining such a cool place to recreate. Later when I saw him at the Mayors Fitness Challenge, Mayor Alcombright not only supported the event, he actively took a role in leading the event!

He understands that promoting active living through events like these, gives residents a chance for better health. I know the mayor deeply cares about this community, the needs of its citizens, and wants to create a more livable and vibrant city. Raising a two-year-old right now it makes me really happy that I am living and going to be bringing up our child in such a healthy environment, and I can only see it getting better with Mayor Alcombright in office!

We know the population trends in the county and any effort to keep and attract young people is important. As I talk with other young families, this city has so many great things happening with the farmers markets, concerts, music festivals, craft fairs, and even a rad car show. The many activities are noticed and appreciated by young families. I see the mayor at these events and know he is actively involved in the planning and execution of the events.

This mayor is approachable and welcoming to new residents and I am so happy we've made North Adams our home. Please join me by casting your vote for Mayor Alcombright Nov. 3.

Emilie Hart, North Adams

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“Former Northern Berkshire Healthcare chief lands Concord Hospital post”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 27, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The chief executive officer who oversaw the shutdown of North Adams Regional Hospital last year has landed a new job as chief operating officer at Concord Hospital.

Timothy P. Jones, who began his new job on Oct. 1, was CEO of Northern Berkshire Healthcare, parent company of NARH, when the hospital closed in March 2014 and NBH filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

At the time of the closing, 530 jobs were lost — including Jones' CEO position — and thousands of Northern Berkshire residents left to find new sources for treatment.

The emergency room was eventually reopened under the guidance of Berkshire Medical Center.

Since then, BMC purchased the hospital building and properties and has gradually been developing a variety of health care delivery options at its north campus involving investments totaling roughly $10 million. It also hired back many of the laid-off NARH employees.

As COO in Concord, Jones is responsible for the operation of Concord Hospital and for "integrating the strategic plan with its operations," according to a statement released by the hospital.

"I am humbled and honored to join a hospital that has a great history and is poised for an even greater future by significantly impacting how care will be delivered to the Concord community in this age of population health," Jones said in a prepared statement.

Jones started working as CEO for NBH in September 2012. At the time of his hiring by NBH in 2012, Jones said this about his new job: "I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to lead NBH. I am also very excited about our future and look forward to working with our team to provide exceptional care to our patients well into the future."

The financial struggles of NBH began in 2001, long before Jones' arrival. In the 12 subsequent fiscal years, it had posted losses in nine. By 2011, NBH was $49.8 million in debt. A year after emerging from Chapter 11 in 2012, the same year Jones arrived, officials had announced hope that its bottom line would improve, but it continued to shed employees and services.

North Adams Regional Hospital, the local visiting nurse and hospice group, and three medical practices — all owned by NBH — closed March 28, 2014.

The NBH board of trustees approved the resolution to close the company in response to the "worsening financial status," according to a prepared statement released by board Chairwoman Julia Bolton.

"North Adams Regional Hospital opened 129 years ago in 1885, and as an institution we have served the people of this area with dedication and pride," Jones said at the time of the closing in a prepared statement. "Many of those who work here have served our patients for decades, and today's news is a shock. We wish it could be different."

Before joining NBH, Jones spent seven years as COO at Vanguard Health System's Metrowest Medical Center, Leonard Morse Hospital.

At Metrowest Medical Center, according to information provided by Concord Hospital, Jones was known for forming and leading the management team that "transformed the performance and culture of the organization, contributing to significant improvements in quality of care, patient safety, patient satisfaction, staff engagement and return on investment."

Since leaving NBH, according to Concord Hospital officials, Jones has been employed at Simpler North America, which teaches management practices around the world to industries including banking, finance, health care, military and government.

Jones declined to comment for this report.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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“Ignore poison pens, vote for Barrett”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 28, 2015

To the editor:

It sure would be refreshing to see the present mayor and his supporters discuss the facts and what he plans to do in the future instead of wasting time attacking John Barrett.

Supporters on both sides have their minds made up but the uninformed voters will vote by the poison pen. Maybe that is the only way the Alcombright supports feel he can win. Lies and half truths get a lot of press.

For those of us that don't hate either side and look at what each candidate has done for the city of North Adams, the best option is John Barrett III. We need a strong, forward-looking mayor to bring this city out of its slump.

George N. Betourney, North Adams

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“Keep open-door style in North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 28, 2015

To the editor:

As a former North Adams city councilor and business owner I have worked with both mayoral candidates over the past 15 years. It goes without saying that they have different management styles.

My years on the City Council and the Finance Committee were spent trying to find a way to navigate through difficult budgets. The reduction in state aid put our city in a difficult financial position. If we had been level funded over the past eight years the city would have had roughly $15 million available to manage our finances. No matter who was in the corner office during the past six years tough decisions would have had to be made.

As I look at this election our city is once again divided. With a shrinking population it is a shame that we cannot find a way to work together because the issues we face are bigger than one person. No one person can be blamed for our losses or take credit for our victories but the right person can pave the way for all of us to see a better tomorrow. Both men are qualified and have a passion for North Adams and have also done their best to shepherd the city through tough times.

North Adams was not perfect six years ago and it is not perfect now. The city needs to continue with the transparent and open government Dick Alcombright has created. We should not forget the $600,000 the taxpayers had to pay due to the mismanagement of the medical insurance trust fund. This election is too important of a time to revert back to a closed door form of leadership and that is why I will be voting for Dick Alcombright.

David Bond, North Adams

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"Alcombright for mayor of North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 29, 2015

Style as much as substance has been at the core of the campaign for North Adams mayor this fall between incumbent Richard Alcombright and challenger and former mayor John Barrett III.

Mr. Barrett has been portrayed in Putinesque terms on these pages by letter writers unhappy with his aggressive personality and performance as mayor. As he was elected often enough to be at one time the longest serving mayor in the state, it should be acknowledged that he did well by the city as it struggled through significant job losses and a major reinvention.

The soft-spoken Mayor Alcombright takes a more conciliatory approach to the office. His critics take issue with what he has done and not done as mayor but few if any have anything negative to say about him personally.

The defining event of the mayor's current term has been the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, a severe blow to the community. While Mr. Barrett has indicated he could have stopped this from happening, the hospital's economic problems were deep-rooted and there was no one from the governor on down who could have prevented its regrettable demise. A Mayor Barrett would have reacted more dramatically to the closure than did Mayor Alcombright, but the result would have been the same.

So the question becomes — with whom does a city with significant challenges, primarily economic, go forward? On the issue of the hospital, Berkshire Health Systems is building what is now its BMC North campus in ways that displease many in the community. Mayor Alcombright's diplomatic approach could help the city get more of the medical services it seeks in the two years ahead.

Mayor Alcombright pulled the community together behind the Colegrove Park Elementary School project, which will enhance the city's educational system for decades to come. The Greylock Mill project, which will feature both a dairy production facility and an event space, is coming together well on Route 2.

Wilco's Solid Sound Festival attracts visitors and positive attention to the city, and Wilco bass player John Stirratt is part of the team renovating the Redwood Motel. The mayor's welcoming style will continue to help North Adams expand its allure as a Berkshire arts and culture center.

North Adams, like Pittsfield, faces economic, crime and population loss problems common to small cities but magnified by their relative isolation. In endorsing a mayoral candidate for Pittsfield (October 29), The Eagle chose the candidate it felt would best unify the city in the struggle ahead. In North Adams, the incumbent mayor's openness to new ideas, respect for dissenting opinions, and eagerness to collaborate with others in government, business and the community is a good recipe for that necessary unity. The Eagle endorses Richard Alcombright for re-election as mayor of North Adams.

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“North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright defeats rival John Barrett III”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, November 3, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Richard J. Alcombright has been re-elected for a fourth term.

Alcombright bested former longtime Mayor John Barrett III, winning 2,430 votes, compared to Barrett's 2,054.

Of the city's total 8,689 registered voters, 4,513 turned out for the mayoral election, representing a turnout of roughly 52 percent.

"I'd like to congratulate John (Barrett III)," Alcombright said after the results were announced. "This isn't easy for anyone, and they ran a good race and had a lot of support. My hope is that tomorrow we'll wake up and all of us will work together as a community to move things forward."

At the American Legion, Barrett supporters gathered and consoled one another. The former mayor, who said he'll retire from city politics, exchanged hugs and well wishes with his voters.

"We ran a positive 10-week campaign and we stuck to the issues," Barrett said. "I just have to turn the page. ... I will depart from the scene, it's as simple as that."

Barrett lamented the "negative, vicious campaign" run against him.

"It's hard to believe that I was mayor for 26 years ... and they could take make and turn me into whatever it is they turned me into," Barrett said.

Alcombright thanked this supporters for all of their hard work and said that now the election is over, his No. 1 priority would be to get Colegrove Park Elementary School open.

"We want to get our kids settled in there as quickly as possible," he said.

Alcombright added that he would celebrate his win by treating his girlfriend to pancakes and bacon for breakfast, and then get back to work.

"We have to get back to pushing all of these projects forward," he said.

While there weren't lines out of the door, staff working the polls reported a steady flow of voters throughout the day.

Turnout predictions for this year's race were higher than for the 2013 mayoral election, which saw about 3,650 voters cast a ballot for a mayoral candidate. By early afternoon, more voters had turned out for Tuesday's election than had cast ballots in the entire preliminary election.

More than 700 residents took advantage of extended polling hours, which allowed voters to cast a ballot beginning at 7 a.m. for the first time in recent city election history. Polls closed at 7 p.m.

Barrett, out of office since Alcombright bested him by a margin of 3,046 votes to 2,166 in the 2009 election, filed nomination paperwork to jump into the race on the last possible day in August and has campaigned vigorously since.

The former 13-term mayor resoundingly defeated Alcombright and candidate Eric Rudd in the city's September preliminary election, appearing poised for a strong general election showing thanks to what he described as a "grassroots" effort. Sweeping all five of the city's wards in the preliminary, Barrett won 1,240 votes compared to Alcombright's 974 votes and Rudd's 204.

Running for mayor for the 15th time, Barrett boasted "proven leadership," as a campaign slogan, but also maintained he has new ideas and different priorities for the city's development. Alcombright has defended his six-year record in campaign literature and painted himself as a more transparent, welcoming mayor with the slogan "together we move forward."

The discussion and debate in 2015 has mirrored that of 2009 — focusing on economic development, community development, taxes and government transparency. Many residents appeared to quickly entrench themselves in the same camps they did six years ago.

In his campaign literature, Barrett promised he would advocate for the return of a full-service hospital in North Adams, use federal grant funding to enhance community policing and attack blight, and return to fiscal responsibility. In the two mayoral debates held prior to the election, Barrett criticized Alcombright's plans to use Community Development Block Grant funding for the construction of a nearly $700,000 skate park near Noel Field.

Alcombright's campaign defended his record of taxation, noting that the tax levy increased by a smaller percentage during his six years in office than it did in Barrett's final six years in office. The three-term mayor trumpeted recent private development spurred in the city, including the renovation of the former Cariddi Mill and the Redwood Motel. As he did in 2009, Alcombright portrayed himself as a more transparent mayor whose door is always open.

With a late start, Barrett began his campaign in August at a steep financial disadvantage to Alcombright. But the Barrett campaign quickly gained traction, raising $14,341.00 to Alcombright's $10,953 in reported donations during the period from Sept. 4 to Oct. 16.

Over the year, however, Alcombright still reported expenditures of $18,161.76 to Barrett's $9,142.92. The final campaign finance reports, which will cover spending and receipts from Oct. 16 through election day, will not be available until later this month.

Edward Damon and Scott Stafford contributed to this report. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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John Seven: “Troubled by city's negative portrayal”
By John Seven, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, November 4, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - I'm defensive of North Adams. It's where I raised my two sons into adulthood, and where I've spent 13 years writing about the creative revolution here, getting to know dynamic citizens seizing so many moments and making things happen.

That's why I'm angered by a growing vocal negativity, bashing North Adams by painting it as a crumbling shambles of "drugs, blight, crime." I'm annoyed by people making it sound like some post-apocalyptic wasteland of "atrophy" and "stagnation," a city physically falling apart and "chasing will-o-wisp goals," where the downtown is "dying" and "absolutely empty."

Sounds like a horrible place to live. Glad I don't.

North Adams' problems are shared by towns all over this country, but they have not overtaken our city, nor do they define life here. That's a narrow scope. Look past that limited picture and you'll see a place of dynamic efforts stacking up to critical mass, creating a energetic path to a bountiful tomorrow despite present challenges, which always exist, though the energetic, future-building energy that we currently boast doesn't.

North Adams is helped by big picture investments that service current citizens and encourage outsiders to sample the city, become invested in it and follow with physical, emotional, and sometimes financial efforts. These people sample the city by being made aware of its existence, which requires inventive lures. We have many of those in place and more on the way.

For instance, Wind-Up Fest enjoyed excellent national attention, and is aiming to put its events even more squarely in North Adams. Add that to what we already have — Solid Sound, Fresh Grass, the food festival, DownStreet Art, Open Studios, Bang on a Can, Mass MoCA, Fall Foliage Parade, Motorama and more — which allow thousands to encounter our city. The upcoming community arts festival at Windsor Lake, bolstered by improvements there and at the campgrounds, will draw more eager visitors.

Innovative organizations are making investments downtown. Maker's Mill shines pretty brightly with a model that goes well beyond retail, as well as ExPress, the sequel space to the incredibly successful Press Gallery. Downtown Sounds and the Common Folk Collective show innovation in investing not merely money, but humanity and ideas, inviting inclusiveness and community.

NBCC's skate park project will not only service young community members, but thanks to the involvement of Mass MoCA's Susan Cross, include a public art aspect. There's also a BMX component and plans for a splash park and other expansion.

The Colegrove School should do wonders to raise the perception of education in North Adams, crucial to the ratings that communicate desirability to potential homebuyers.

There's Bright Ideas Brewing coming, plus strong efforts to fortify the corridor between North Adams and Williamstown, like the Greylock Mill and the massive Redwood Motel project that now includes Blackinton Mill and acres of riverside property. There's also the Krens museum project.

Complimenting these are the efforts for a bike path to Williamstown, the Hoosac River Revival and City Councillor Josh Moran's plan to make North Adams an Appalachian Trail Community, as well as his "Bikes For Hikers" program. The railway to Adams is another important link in the crucial collaborative future with our neighbors.

This is an incredibly exciting time to live in North Adams. Many people think so and don't recognize the shell of a city described by naysayers. North Adams is truly alive.

Calling North Adams "devastated" is a mean-spirited and short-sighted insult to those citizens working intensely to improve its present for its future. Calling North Adams "devastated" means you're victim to your own lack of imagination. The city is anything but —it's a survivor thanks to all its creative citizens. Its future is all of us.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at mister.j.seven@gmail.com or at vknid.com.

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“North Adams residents likely to see average $65 annual property tax increase”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, November 23, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - Residential property taxes would rise an average of about $65 next year under a proposal by Mayor Richard Alcombright that calls for maintaining the current ratio between commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers.

In a letter to the City Council, which is expected to set the city tax rates for fiscal 2016 on Tuesday, Alcombright recommended maintaining the 1.71 tax shift onto commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers.

The tax levy has increased to $15.73 million in fiscal 2016, an increase of 4.75 percent over 2015, but within the limits established under proposition 2 1/2.

The result of Alcombright's plan would be an increase in the residential tax rate from $16.69 to $17.39 per $1,000 of assessed property and an increase in the commercial rate from $36.03 to $37.93.

"As we establish this CIP shift, we are assuring our community that we will be able to provide, services at acceptable levels," Alcombright wrote.

The council approved the $38.57 million fiscal 2016 budget earlier this year, which saw an overall spending increase of 2.25 percent from fiscal 2015.

The average home in the city of North Adams is assessed at $134,518. If the council were to shift the tax burden as far onto commercial properties as legally allowed, the planned $65 annual increase would drop to about a $30 increase.

By comparison, a return to a single tax rate (1.00 shift) would result in an increase of more than $600 annually to the average residential taxpayer.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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“Making a new home in North Adams, Berkshires”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 30, 2015

To the editor:

Finding home is a lot like falling in love: it may appear to you when you least expect it, or be that place you've known all your life. It carries different forms, evolves over time, can be intimate or grand, and is too often a luxury. Many seek it out, while some resolve to live without it.

I never gave it much thought. Throughout my 20s, I was more concerned with having experiences than building a home. I came to the Berkshires from New York City as a 25-year-old in search of more opportunities and adventures. I didn't equate "winding up" in the Berkshires to "making a home" for myself. But my experiences here, like falling in love, amounted to something more.

The Berkshires and I have been courting each other for over six years. Throughout this time I have seen successes and setbacks, made lifelong friends, reached professional milestones and used community resources. However, I was never sure if the Berkshires were truly where my heart was. Until this past week.

As I was driving back to my apartment in North Adams from a weekend trip to central New York, where I grew up, I crested the mountains on the border of Williamstown and watched the setting sun color the earth and sky pink. I passed familiar streets, businesses, and landmarks along Route 2 and under the dazzling sky I realized I was in love with this place.

Two days later, my appointment to the new Public Arts Commission was approved by the North Adams City Council. I posted this news on my Facebook page and watched as this update received more "likes" and nods of approval than anything I had mentioned, announced or discussed to date. It was then I realized that the Berkshires love me back.

I have much to be thankful for this year, and am thankful for this fact alone. I have tried to recognize and appreciate my good fortunes each day and hope to continue to do so every day in the years that follow. I also mourn the tragedies that constantly strike us — the momentary struggles and heartbreaks my friends face to the losses that communities suffer across the globe. But finding home has restocked the love I have to give to those I can touch, and given me a deeper appreciation for the life I have built in this special community.

Julia Dixon, North Adams

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The Mohawk Theater on Main Street in downtown North Adams is set for redevelopment, according to a development plan released by the city. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

Old train cars and a caboose, historic fixtures at Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, may soon get a new neighbor. A multi-faceted development plan unveiled by city officials on Wednesday features a model railroad and architecture museum at the park as well as redevelopment of the Mohawk Theater. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Thomas Krens envisions project that includes model railroad museum, Mohawk Theater renovation”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 3, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — A multi-faceted development plan unveiled by city officials on Wednesday features a model railroad and architecture museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park as well as redevelopment of the Mohawk Theater.

The three-pronged proposal, spearheaded by Mass MoCA visionary Thomas Krens, also includes the construction of his previously announced Global Contemporary Collection and Museum at the city's Harriman-West Airport grounds.

The full details will be announced during a special event at 10 a.m. Saturday at the park featuring former Massachusetts Govs. Michael Dukakis and William Weld. Architect Richard Gluckman will also be on hand.

"There's a ton of horsepower behind this, and I think that's one of the many things makes it so compelling," Mayor Richard Alcombright said when reached by The Eagle on Wednesday.

The museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park — to be housed in the park's largest building, just past the Freight Yard Pub restaurant — is described in the press release as an "extreme model railroad and contemporary architecture" museum.

It's the first major announcement regarding redevelopment of the park, a former freight yard controlled by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, since negotiations with the group of investors known as the Greylock Market fell apart earlier this year.

The railroad and contemporary architecture museum would not affect current tenants like the Department of Conservation and Recreation's Visitors Museum or the North Adams Historical Society's North Adams Museum of History and Science, Alcombright said.

The nature of a model railroad museum offers a "connectivity to our industrial past," said the mayor, who noted that the redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park has been a "passion" of his since shortly after he took office.

The Mohawk Theater, which first opened on Main Street in 1938, has been closed since 1991 but is often a subject of discussion regarding revitalizing the city's downtown. The press release does not elaborate on the plans for its restoration and reuse.

Krens, a Williamstown resident and former director of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation in New York City, announced his plans for a global contemporary museum at the airport in August. The plans, unveiled at a city airport commission meeting, outlined a privately funded, 160,000-square-foot collection of some 400 works of art.

"The basic concept is to work with a group of essentially investors to put together a world class collection of contemporary art," he said at the time.

The development plans, according to the press release, align with goals set out by the city's Vision 2030 Master Plan and nonprofit North Adams Partnership's Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Krens seeks to create a "cultural corridor" in the valley that connects North Adams and Williamstown with his developments complementing the existing institutions of Mass MoCA, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the Williams College Museum of Art.

Former governors Dukakis and Weld are noted in the press release as each having an instrumental role in the creation of Mass MoCA. The Dukakis administration provided the initial burst of state funding for Mass MoCA and Weld crafted "the blueprint and economic model that led to full public and private funding for Mass MoCA," the press release stated.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.


A multi-faceted development plan unveiled by city officials on Wednesday features a model railroad and architecture museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park as well as redevelopment of the Mohawk Theater. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

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"A new proposal for North Adams' downtown"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 4, 2015

Heritage State Park and the Mohawk Theater have been tough nuts for North Adams to crack over the years. Ideally, this latest effort will get it done.

The plan will be unveiled this morning in a ceremony at Western Gateway Heritage State Park to be attended by former Governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld. The presence of the governors is appropriate as both played key roles in the development of Mass MoCA in the city. Thomas Krens, who pioneered the MoCA concept, is at the center of the new plan to be unveiled today.

The city plans a railroad and architecture museum at the Heritage State Park that Mayor Richard Alcombright says will tie into the city's industrial legacy (Berkshire Eagle, December 4). The remarkable Hoosac Tunnel alone gives North Adams strong links to railroad history. A plan to redevelop the park unravelled earlier this year after struggling to find its footing.

The Mohawk, built on Main Street in 1938 but closed since 1991, has been the subject of a variety of revival plans. A way has to be found for it to fill the downtown role of a draw for residents and visitors that similar buildings do in Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

Mr. Krens, a resident of Williamstown and the former director of the Guggenheim Foundation in New York City, in August announced plans for a Global Contemporary Collection and Museum on the grounds of the Harriman-West Airport. Construction of this ambitious project outside of North Adams' downtown will coincide with the museum and Mohawk efforts downtown. If successful, they will combine to give the city a significant economic boost that is greatly needed.

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Spearheading the plan for a multifaceted development plan for North Adams is Thomas Krens, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and early Mass MoCA visionary, right. He, along with Mayor Richard Alcombright, center right, former Mass. Govs. Michael Dukakis, center, and William Weld, center left, and architect Richard Gluckman announce the project's details Saturday. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Mass MoCA visionary Krens announces plans to revitalize Heritage State Park”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 5, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — What began a few years ago with a prototype in a basement may one day become an extreme model railroad museum.

On Saturday, Mass MoCA visionary Thomas Krens was flanked by city officials and former Massachusetts Govs. William Weld and Michael Dukakis as he proposed transforming a section of Western Gateway Heritage State Park into a massive, multimillion dollar extreme model railroad and architecture museum.

That proposal is part of a three-pronged development plan that also includes the renovation of the city's Mohawk Theater on Main Street and his previously announced vision for a 160,000-square-foot contemporary art museum on the city's Harriman-West Airport grounds.

North Adams and the commonwealth of Massachusetts "have to fully embrace the notion" that culture and education are its primary industries and future, said Krens, the former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, at the press conference on Saturday.

Working with architect Richard Gluckman, Krens has introduced plans to take over the park's largest building with a major addition designed by Gluckman to provide a total of 32,000 square feet for model trains at Heritage State Park, a former rail yard that is controlled by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority.

The team envisions a park with, in addition to its current tenants, a railcar restaurant, Mass MoCA retail space, and a distillery.

The model railroad museum, which would sit directly north of the Freight Yard Pub, would employ about 60 staff and model train operators, Krens said. It could contain some two miles of track and the building would run some 670 feet long, Gluckman estimated.

With an eye on the allure of model architecture and railroads to people of all ages, Krens believes the museum could draw hundreds of thousands annually and complement a growing "cultural corridor" in North Adams and Williamstown.

The closest example to what Krens is proposing in North Adams is the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, which is home to the world's largest model railway and received more than a million visitors annually.

Throughout his career, Krens said he has focused on making museums actually fun to go to. Though dismissed by some art critics at the time, "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit Krens spearheaded at The Guggenheim in 1998 brought in the museum's largest-ever crowds.

"I always thought that museums could be many things," Krens said.

The model railroad is the first major proposal for a transformation of the struggling park since negotiations with investors Greylock Market, LLC fell through earlier this year. Mayor Richard Alcombright has sought to transform the park and limit the redevelopment authority's role in its management since his first years in office.

Unlike the previous iterations of development plans under the Greylock Market, Krens' plans do not leave any doubt about the continued future at the park of the Department of Conservation and Recreation's Visitors Museum and the North Adams Historical Society's Museum of History and Science — though it may be in a different building.

Though Krens has included the renovation of the Mohawk Theater — which opened in 1938 and closed in 1991 — as a part of this three-level approach to development, the plans have fewer of his fingerprints on them. Instead, Krens plans to continue the efforts made within the city in the 1990s and 2000s to restore the theater to its former glory.

Touring through the area this summer, Krens and the Guggenheim Motorcycle Club stopped and toured the Mohawk Theater. Established actors such as Jeremy Irons and Laurence Fishburne walked through the 1,000-plus seat capacity theater and offered ideas for its eventual reuse. Krens envisions it as a future home for an international film festival honoring his late friend and actor Dennis Hopper.

Already familiar to area residents are Krens' plans for a global contemporary art museum at the city's airport grounds on State Road, which he announced before the airport commission in a presentation in August.

Krens, working again with Gluckman, envisions a massive, open, and architecturally simple-yet-elegant museum with some 400 works of privately collected art.

Though he had originally hoped to open the museum in China, Krens said he wanted to open the museum closer to his Williamstown home. Working with Alcombright and North Adams Partnership CEO and City Solicitor John DeRosa, Krens found and saw potential in the airport property.

City officials see enormous economic and cultural potential in the plans, and Mayor Richard Alcombright publicly endorsed them. Krens notes that the development would be in the same spirit of the city's Vision 2030 Master Plan and nonprofit North Adams Partnership's Economic Development Strategic Plan.

The model train museum's attendance was estimated in the area of 150,000 annually — approaching the number drawn by Mass MoCA every year — bringing even more people to a city that's shifted its economic development focus in the past 30 years on increasing tourism.

Krens acknowledges that Mass MoCA, while a success, has not been the "silver bullet" it was originally thought of, as the city's unemployment rate and per capita income still far worse than the state average. But, he argues, Mass MoCA has brought the city "so close," and further development could help achieve those original goals to revitalize the city.

Krens estimates of the some 50 similarly scaled projects he's chased, about 25 percent have come to fruition and he concedes that he can't control a number of external factors.

The support of Weld and Dukakis, a self-described "rail fanatic," is expected to aid Krens make the dream a reality. Both had a pivotal role in the funding of Mass MoCA.

"Give me a $600,000 a year revenue stream and even I can find $10 million to finance the development here in the heritage park," Weld said.

Dukakis said it was a "special day" when he learned of the project.

"I've been very frustrated with the heritage park program, especially with this one, which as you know was created to celebrate railroad, among other things, because of the history of this city and this region," Dukakis said.

ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/50755/Conceptual-Plans-Unveiled-for-Heritage-State-Park-Model-Railroad-Museum.html

related link: http://wamc.org/post/new-museums-seen-transformative-northern-berkshires#stream/0

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Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito meets Friday with local city and town leaders at City Hall in North Adams to announce their acceptance into the Baker/Polito administration's Community Compact Program, built in an effort to assist with and address issues that plague municipalities. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Polito, North Adams officials celebrate city's acceptance into Community Compact Program”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 18, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The city is looking for help from the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker to address its decades-old urban renewal plan.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joined Mayor Richard Alcombright and other city officials on Friday to celebrate the city's acceptance into the state Community Compact Program, which will help it forge a path ahead as it works to update the urban renewal plan.

North Adams was one of eight Massachusetts communities accepted this week into the program, which was built by the Baker administration in an effort to assist with and address the issues that plague municipalities. More than 90 cities and towns across the state have now signed on the program, which was backed by the Legislature with more $2 million in funding this year.

"We formed this compact program so that it would be available to everyone, and what I also like about it is that it is best practices; it's raising the bar higher for your community," Polito said.

The urban renewal plan establishes the goals and constraints of development in the portion of the city controlled by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, including Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

"There are things that we may need to change within that plan to more clearly facilitate the things that we want to do under urban renewal," Alcombright said.

While the new state/city partnership was lauded on Friday, it came on the heels of the announcement that North Adams did not receive the $1.6 million MassWorks grant it sought to continue development of the park's infrastructure. If awarded the grant, the city's plans included the construction of a $1.1 million footbridge that would accommodate a planned bike path and pedestrian traffic from West Main Street into the Heritage State Park.

Alcombright has cited the urban renewal plan as a roadblock to development at Heritage State Park, which he has tried for years to turn over to the private sector. The former freight yard-turned commercial complex is currently under the control the Redevelopment Authority.

The authority had been in negotiations with a group of private investors assembled under the name Greylock Market LLC for a long-term lease of the entire park until the talks fell apart earlier this year.

While that project ultimately fell apart due to the investors' inability to fully finance their ambitious goals, the urban renewal plan is still cited by city officials as a headache. Had the Greylock Market lined up its financing and struck a deal with the redevelopment authority, its commercial development plans would've required revisions to the urban renewal plan to allow for the proposed commercial activity.

Heritage State Park, specifically, has layers of government that are cumbersome to peel back: the land is owned by the state, but the city's redevelopment authority controls the buildings. Alcombright hopes to use the program to coordinate with the multiple state agencies with an interest in the park's future to craft the urban renewal plan.

While the compact allows up to two years for a community to reach its goals, Alcombright stressed the importance of having an urban renewal plan ready as soon as possible.

And that's where North Adams is hoping the state can step in. Alcombright believes the state can provide technical assistance in navigating the old urban renewal plan.

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, thanked Polito and Baker for recognizing the needs of smaller communities like those in Western Massachusetts.

"I think it's so important for you to be able to recognize these kinds of issues for all of them," she said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Our Opinion: “State program should boost North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 21, 2015

As North Adams addresses its struggling urban renewal efforts, a Baker administration program has the potential to make a significant impact.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was in North Adams Friday to mark the city's acceptance into the state's Community Compact Program. The Baker administration program, backed by $2 million in funding earlier this year by the Legislature, is designed to help communities throughout Massachusetts address the many knotty problems posed by urban renewal. (Eagle, December 19).

North Adams has had its challenges in this regard, perhaps best symbolized by efforts to develop the Western Gateway Heritage State Park on land controlled by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority. Negotiations with private investors under the name Greylock Market LLC on a long-term plan for the park unraveled earlier this year in the race of considerable difficulties, and the city has learned it will not receive a $1.6 million MassWorks grant to continue work on the park's infrastructure.

Mayor Richard Alcombright, like the rest of the city, has been frustrated by the lack of progress in the park, which over the years has become wrapped up in a Byzantine relationship among the state, city and Redevelopment Authority which plainly has not encouraged progress. The mayor is correct when he said that changes may have to come with the urban renewal plan "to more clearly facilitate the things that we want to do under urban renewal."

Ideally, the Baker administration's Community Compact Program, which North Adams was an excellent candidate for, will be instrumental in bringing about much-needed and overdue progress in North Adams' downtown.

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“With donation of former liquor store property, North Adams skate park moves ahead”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 25, 2015

NORTH ADAMS - The city's skate park on State Street is poised to move ahead after the City Council accepted a gift of the former Modern Liquors building on Tuesday.

The long-vacant former liquor store, and the parcel it is on, was donated to the city by Porches Inn Owner and local philanthropist John Wadsworth to assist the city in its efforts to renovate and revitalize the Noel Field area.

The building, which was accepted unanimously by the city council at its regular meeting on Tuesday, is expected to be razed by the end of 2016, according to Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The parcel was an important piece of the city's plans for a skate park at Noel Field, which would encroach on the current parking lot near Noel Field. The razed building will likely be used for additional parking as the city embarks on a multitiered development plan they hope will result in a skate park, and spray park.

City officials expect to begin construction on the skate park in 2017.

The city also learned this month that it has won a $400,000 federal Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities Grant, which will be matched with $300,000 of Community Development Block Grant funding to pay for the skate park's construction.

Councilor Keith Bona asked if the city would be accepting the donation of land from Wadsworth regardless of whether the skate park were to move forward.

Alcombright reminded the councilors that the building was under contract to be purchased in 2010 by the city under a previous administration, but Alcombright backed out the sale when he came into office because the city didn't have the funds for it.

"The important thing to keep in mind is the acquisition or the acceptance of this property from the private sector should not be viewed against the skate park," said Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie. "If the skate project never came to fruition, was never an idea, never crossed our radar screens, this is still a good [acquisition]. "

Wadsworth purchased the former liquor store for $198,000 on Nov. 19 and quickly moved to transfer it into the city's ownership. The parcel will come off of the tax roll, but the taxes on the building had not been paid in several years, according to Alcombright, so the city also received $79,000 when the sale went through thanks to a lien on the property.

The building's demolition will be paid with CDBG funds that had been dedicated to demolition of the dilapidated mill houses on Houghton Street, which are now slated to be taken down by their private owners.

There is a private tenant behind the Modern Liquors building, who uses his space for storage and expressed support for the project, but wanted a better idea of the plans moving forward and how they would impact him. Alcombright said he would be happy to meet with the tenant.

The skate park plan will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission in early 2016, according to Alcombright.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“North Adams councilors reflect on local achievements, changes ahead”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 27, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — At its final meeting of its two-year term, the North Adams City Council briefly reflected on its legislative achievements and the changes ahead.

Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who has served as its president for the past two years, noted that the nine-member council worked through two difficult budget cycles in addition to passing a right to farm ordinance and zoning revisions aimed at spurring commercial development and protecting homeowners in the event of a catastrophe.

The final meeting of 2015 also marked the last for Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, who lost a bid for reelection in November by less than 100 votes. Councilor Jennifer Breen, who chose not to run for reelection and was not present on Tuesday, will also not return to the council in January. The seven other incumbents who ran for reelection all won back their seats; former councilors Robert Moulton Jr. and Ron Boucher were brought back onto the council.

Wilkinson, a real estate appraiser by trade, spearheaded the council's adjustments to zoning ordinances earlier this year that will allow the owner of a home on a nonconforming lot to rebuild, by right, in the event of a fire or other disaster. Noting that every other Berkshire County town with zoning regulations had a similar ordinance, without which buying a home can be a headache for prospective homeowners .

The second major change prompted by Wilkinson's interest in zoning allows for reuse of nonconforming commercial properties in residential zones that have not been used in over two years, with the approval of the zoning board of appeals. Under the previous regulations, those buildings would not longer have been able to be used commercially, including examples such as the former West End Market on State Road.

"I think it's important that we get these properties back on the commercial tax rolls, and we're going to generate some additional income to the city," Wilkinson told the council at the time.

At the close of the meeting on Tuesday, Wayne Wilkinson thanked the people who voted for him in the recent election as well the mayor, his fellow councilors, the city clerk's office, former councilor Al Marden, and his family.

"This has been a very rewarding experience, and now I can check that little box off of my bucket list and move onto the next one. Thanks very much," Wilksinson.

Councilor Nancy Bullett lauded Wilkinson for his work on the finance committee and his spearheading of revisions to city zoning ordinances.

"I admire you for that, and I thank you for your leadership on those issues," Bullett said.

During the public forum session of the council's recent meeting, Moulton acknowledged Wilkinson for the work accomplished during his two-year term.

"I'd just like to acknowledge Mr. Wilkinson, I think you've done a fine job on the council, I think you've brought forward some very important issues," Moulton said. "Just to put an ordinance through is a tough thing to do as you found out."

Breen, in a letter read aloud by Blackmer at the close of the meeting, also thanked her constituents.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“Invitation, challenge to young residents”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 3, 2016

North Adams faces daunting challenges, many of which are shared by other Berkshire communities. That includes the need for a youth infusion.

At his swearing-in ceremony New Year's Day at City Hall, Mayor Richard Alcombright, who is now beginning his fourth two-year term, made the point that between he and John Barrett III, the city has been led by two people for 34 years. North Adams, it seemed to the mayor, had "skipped a generation of leaders." (Eagle, January 2).

The mayor's perceptive comments speak to the Berkshires' severe demographic problem. The population is aging while the younger generations go elsewhere in pursuit of the good jobs that are not available here in sufficient number. This is particularly the case for county students who go away to college and find that they can't come back to the Berkshires even if that is their goal.

The county must continue to attract new business, which is difficult, while making it easier for local businesses to grow. Most of the Berkshires' top employers over the generations had roots here and did not move in from elsewhere. The schools, in particular Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, must continue their efforts to prepare students for good-paying jobs, which in this day and age require specific, technology-based skill sets.

At Friday's ceremony, Mayor Alcombright spoke of the economic progress the city had made on several fronts and of the projects that could pay dividends in the months and years ahead. Challenges aside, there is reason for optimism in North Adams as the year begins. To help assure that progress is made, we encourage young people in North Adams to answer the mayor's invitation and challenge "to get involved in leadership roles, elected and appointed." That applies to every Berkshire community, but for it to be realized, the county must do what it can to keep its young people in the Berkshires and attract young people from elsewhere.

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“No tax break for Cariddi Mill owner”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 11, 2016

To the editor:

The New Year has just begun, and already Mayor Richard Alcombright has raised our taxes. Now there is a proposal for the new owner of the Cariddi Mill to receive a five-year tax break. And why? Did the new owner ask for the tax break?

Does he need the tax break? I don't think so. Any developer that can put on a party and charge $200 a person and bus people to the party from down county with a caterer from Williamstown is wealthy enough not to need a tax break.

If his plans for the mill are so precarious that it depends on a tax break then let him take his chances on the project. The taxpayers that really need and deserve a tax break the most, are the homeowners of the city, especially the elderly and underpaid workers.

If granted this break it will be the third time a tax break was given to rich developers in the past three years. Each of these tax breaks have fallen on the backs of homeowners and business. To add insult to injury, how about all the nonprofits that do not pay any taxes and continue to reap the benefits of the city public services of North Adams.

Also, not to mention all of the huge pay increases that the mayor has give out over the past four years which has also come at the expense of the taxpayer. Mayor Alcombright has raised our taxes five times, instituted a sewer and water fee, along with raising that fee one additional time. He has increased fees at the transfer station, cemetery, skating rink, parking fees, and other cost of services have been increased. Meanwhile services are being decreased to the public.

Will this mayor continue to raises taxes and fees to fund this tax break? Is this tax break proposal part of a payback from some of the large out-of-town donations to his re-election campaign? Going forward will Mayor Alcombright continue to give tax break to every single developer that comes into North Adams, asking the public to subsidize these projects? Is this a fair process when other city developers are not seeking a tax break for projects? And is Mayor Alcombright willing to tell us who's idea this was for the tax break for this project? His or the developers?

Knowing the makeup of the City Council, the mayor already knows it is going to pass without any discussion or consideration for the struggling tax payers of North Adams.

I said to myself after the election that I was no longer going to get involved in city politics, however this decision has shown me that the mayor has no desire to bridge the great divide that exists within North Adams.

I am pleased this developer along with others have chosen North Adams for these potential projects, however as North Adams and its residents continue to struggle as one of the poorest communities in the commonwealth we cannot continue to give tax breaks and incentives to these developers.

Robert Cardimino, North Adams

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“Flurry of financial activity marked last days of North Adams mayoral race”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 20, 2016

NORTH ADAMS - Campaign finance records released this week show that in the final weeks of a competitive mayoral campaign, both candidates scrambled to fundraise and advertise.

Despite beginning the campaign at a significant financial disadvantage, challenger and former Mayor John Barrett III outspent Mayor Richard Alcombright $21,138.78 to $14,450 in the period between Oct. 17 and Dec. 31 of last year.

Alcombright defeated Barrett for a fourth term on Nov. 3, sweeping all five city wards and winning by a margin of 2,430 votes to Barrett's 2,054.

The incumbent pulled in several major donations in the final weeks of the campaign; four donors gave his campaign $1,000, the maximum allowed in one election cycle under state law.

In contrast to the 2013 election — which he won by a wider margin — Alcombright spent down almost all of his campaign funds in 2015. According to his report, he ended the year with a balance of $641.

Alcombright's campaign spent $13,124 from Oct. 17 through the end of the year, for a total of $31,286 in 2015. Barrett's reported expenditures totaled $30,281 in 2015 and ended the year with a balance of just $24.

In the days leading up to election day, Alcombright's report shows the campaign spent $1,673 on radio advertising with WNAW; $1,275 to an Oregon-based company that conducted robocalls, and $2,673 to Bona Marketing for mailers, stickers, T-shirts and fundraising tickets.

Barrett invested heavily in mailers in the weeks leading to the election; the campaign finance documents show five payments to Becks Printing totaling nearly $10,000 and payments to the Postal Service totaling nearly $7,000. The campaign also hired Adams-based Gargain Communication for communications services, including $1,119 on Facebook advertising, and paid WUPE-FM $952 for radio advertising.

Only one of Alcombright's 10 largest donors — who shelled out a combined $6,000 — had a North Adams address; seven listed addresses in Williamstown, one in Pownal, Vt., and one in Stockbridge.

Similarly, one of Barrett's 10 largest donors during the reporting period had a North Adams address. They donated a combined $4,150.

"We ran a grass-roots campaign, the people in North Adams really stepped up to the plate," Barrett said. "Nearly 50 percent of our contributions were $50 or less and that was the whole basis of my campaign."

Williamstown residents Katherine Peabody and William "Bo" Peabody, whose occupation is listed as a Venture Partner at Greycroft Partners, LLC, each donated $1,000 to Alcombright's efforts on Oct. 29. Artist Richard Morgenthal of Pownal, Vt., and Williamstown resident John Strachan also each chipped in $1,000.

Other notable names among the list of Alcombright donors in the days leading up to the election included Main Street Hospitality Group owner Nancy Fitzpatrick ($250) and BART Charter School Executive Director Julia Bowen ($250).

Echoing arguments he made throughout the campaign, Barrett said "special interests from outside North Adams really funded the mayor's campaign."

"I rely on anyone who is motivated in any way shape or form to see the city of North Adams and the greater Northern Berkshires succeed," Alcombright said.

Barrett's largest donation during the reporting period was $650 from North Adams resident David Whitney, part-owner of Whitney's Beverage.

Barrett received $500 donations from investment banker Brian Lee and Esther Lee of Mclean, Va., as well as from Katherine Kryzanski, a Chestnut Hill resident and employee of Babson College.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Lisa Blackmer, elected to the North Adams City Council in 2007, has been elected president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. The group assists and advocates for cities and towns on the state level. (Berkshire Eagle File Photo)

“Massachusetts Municipal Association taps North Adams Councilor Lisa Blackmer as president”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — Though it sometimes feels we're forgotten out east, Western Massachusetts just gained another advocate in Boston.

North Adams City Councilor Lisa Blackmer was elected Saturday to a one-year term as president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association's board of directors. The vote occurred at the organization's annual meeting in Boston, where Blackmer became the first MMA president from North Adams.

As president, Blackmer will help the organization — which provides an umbrella for the state's cities and town's to come under together and advocate for municipal interests — shape its priorities and agenda for the coming year.

"The MMA has a big impact on issues that affects cities and towns across the commonwealth," Blackmer said. "My doing it brings Western Massachusetts and Berkshire County to the table."

The MMA is a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of policies and positions that benefit local government, according to Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. The organization advocates for local aid, school funding, Chapter 90 funds to repair roads and bridges, and local control and local decision making. It also helps out cities and towns by providing best practices, education, and workshops for local officials.

"We soup-to-nuts provide services to cities and towns and make sure they're informed," Beckwith said.

Issues important to the MMA in the upcoming year will include securing local aid and continuing to confront the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, according to Blackmer.

Prior to being elected president, Blackmer served as the board of directors' vice president in 2015. She was first elected to the North Adams City Council in 2007 and served as its president in 2015.

"We're just very happy to have her," Beckwith said. "She's provided great leadership for our organization and it's great that she's agreed to now step forward."

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said Blackmer has worked hard on behalf of the city for many years.

"Through this position she'll secure a lot of face-time with state leadership, so I think it's very very good for Lisa personally and professional but also for the city," Alcombright said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“Longer, wider search for new school superintendent”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 27, 2016

To the editor:

With the hiring of a new superintendent of schools, the city of North Adams has the opportunity of a generation to make a difference in education in the city.

Excellent schools are the number one criteria that families and businesses consider when they are looking to relocate to a new community. While the city currently has many excellent teachers and dedicated staff, the practice of hiring from within the system has created an atmosphere that is content with the status quo, and reluctant to reach out to the new and dynamic ideas that pervade education today. The absence of a curriculum coordinator has exacerbated the situation and caused a lack of continuity and innovation where it is most necessary.

The numbers speak for themselves. By any measure the North Adams schools are consistently in the lower third of schools across the state in all subjects and grades. There is a tendency to blame this on the economy, the scarcity of decent-paying jobs, lack of parental involvement and home situations, but these are all just excuses. Some of the most successful schools are dealing with the same problems that exist in North Adams. It is all about standards and innovation, a willingness to explore new ideas and the ability to think outside the box.

Mayor Alcombright has said that this hire is most important for the future of the schools and the city, and he is correct. The entire community needs to step up and involve themselves in this decision. A group of citizens has been appointed to the search committee, and it is worth noting that three quarters of them are connected in some way to the North Adams school system. The net for that group should have been cast more widely to include businessmen, developers, Realtors, social agencies and concerned parents, people with a vested interest in the community, who are not essentially hiring their own boss or colleague. There must be an open, transparent and wide ranging search.

Perhaps most importantly the search calendar time frame is simply too short. There needs to be a thorough analysis of the existing issues in the North Adams School District, and then the search committee needs to hire the best qualified candidate who can find solutions that work. This cannot be done in two months time.

Therefore, I would ask the School Committee to seriously consider extending the search, broadening the committee and hiring a private firm to help conduct the search for the next superintendent of schools for North Adams.

Hulda Hardman Jowett, North Adams

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"Former employees of North Adams Regional Hospital get checks from settlement"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, January 30, 2016

NORTH ADAMS - The unionized employees of North Adams Regional Hospital have started receiving checks from a $370,000 labor settlement over the hospital's abrupt shutdown in March 2014.

Ninety-nine former Massachusetts Nurses Association members have each received a check for $650, according to Joe Markman, a union spokesman. Next month, they'll get another check for the same amount.

Payments to the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East members have been sent, but check amounts vary depending on various employment factors.

Wracked by debt, Northern Berkshire Healthcare declared bankruptcy and shut North Adams Regional, a visiting nurses unit and three physician practices with three days notice. About 530 employees were put out of work.

The National Labor Relations Board, the MNA and 1199SEIU filed claims that the abrupt closing violated federal labor regulations and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Federal laws require employers with 100 or more workers to provide 60-day notice of plant closings and mass layoffs and to negotiate in good faith with unions over terminations.

"During our settlement of litigation with Wells Fargo, we were able to free up some money to get those claims paid," said Harold Murphy, the Boston-based attorney serving as the bankruptcy trustee.

The MNA is receiving $209,598 from the settlements, and the 1199SEIU is getting $160,968, according to figures supplied by Jeff Hall, spokesman for 1199SEIU.

Wells Fargo was a major Northern Berkshire Healthcare creditor. As part of the bankruptcy process, Wells Fargo has received $6.4 million of the $33.9 million owed it by the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare.

All other secured debts have been paid in full, Murphy said.

Those included $430,000 to Adams Community Bank, $593,000 to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., and $147,000 to the city of North Adams for property taxes, water and sewer fees, and other charges.

Murphy succeeded in securing more than $10 million against the debt through the sale of the hospital building and other assets, as well as the collection of bills owed the hospital by health insurance providers and others.

More is still to be collected, Murphy said.

Later this year, unsecured debt claims will start to be paid, but at less than 100 percent of their worth, according to Murphy.

The bankruptcy case could be finalized by the end of the year, he said.

The hospital, which served about 40,000 people in Northern Berkshire County, Vermont and New York, closed on March 28, 2014, leaving employees little time to prepare.

In August 2014, Berkshire Medical Center stepped in and acquired the facility and its assets for $4 million. Since then, after heavy renovation, the BMC North Campus has been steadily re-established with several outpatient services, laboratory services, and more beds for emergency patients.

sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

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"BHS should toss inpatient beds for all of Berkshires"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 1/31/2016

To the editor:

I would like to make a modest proposal.

I propose that Berkshire Health Systems eliminate all inpatient beds at Fairview Hospital and Berkshire Medical Center. BHS sees how wonderfully the residents of North County are benefiting from the lack of a full service hospital, so it is only right to bestow those benefits to the entire Berkshire population.

Eliminating all inpatient beds in Berkshire County would allow the entire population of the county to concentrate on "wellness programs." Eliminating all inpatient beds would likely increase BHS' surplus from $42 million to $84 million. BHS could then raise the compensation for its top 10 people from $6.7 million to $13.4 million. Eliminating all inpatient beds would establish one level of care for all residents of North, Central and South Berkshire County.

I hope the trustees at Berkshire Health Systems act on this modest proposal. The residents of Berkshire County will realize that it is not that far a drive to Albany or Springfield.

Mike Wilber, North Adams

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“Insist that BHS correct a 'wrong situation'”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 1, 2016

To the editor:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Attributed to Edmund Burke

According to the Blue Mountain Meditation Center site: "Mahatma Gandhi has said that to be well adjusted in a wrong situation is very bad; in a wrong situation we should keep on acting to set it right. When Gandhi, at the peak of his political activity, was asked in a British court what his profession was, he said, "Resister." If he was put in a wrong situation, he just could not keep quiet; he had to resist, nonviolently but very effectively, until the situation was set right."

In North Berkshire we find ourselves in "a wrong situation". The 37,000 residents of North Berkshire are without a full service hospital. Berkshire Health Systems will not commit to open a full service hospital in North Berkshire equal to Fairview Hospital in South Berkshire.

North Berkshire residents deserve equal access to health care. They deserve the same standard of care that South and Central Berkshire residents enjoy. Berkshire Health Systems must do the right thing. It has the resources but lacks the will.

It is time for all good men and women to resist this wrong situation. Contact your elected officials and Berkshire Health System CEO and demand that they use their 42 million dollar fiscal year 2014 surplus from BMC and Fairview Hospitals to establish one standard of care for the whole county.

BHS has the ability to correct this wrong situation. BHS has to produce the will to do so. It is the right thing to do. Open a Fairview North in North Adams.

I will not keep quiet. I will not adjust to this injustice. I hope others will join me in this resistance. Please call for justice for the poor, elderly, and sick of North Berkshire.

Richard Dassatti, North Adams

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“North Adams' Greylock Mill project accepted into Brownfields Covenant Program”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 2, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — Developers of the Greylock Mill can move forward with the cleanup of the former industrial site without fear of liability for the contamination.

The project, along with two others in the state, has been accepted into the Brownfields Covenant program, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

Under the program, the developers will enter a special Covenant Not to Sue agreement, which will reduce its liability as it revitalizes the massive, but environmentally contaminated complex on State Road.

"The covenant process was critical to understanding and containing the risks associated with the pre-existing conditions of the site," said Salvatore Perry, developer for the project. "The meetings we had with experienced professionals at [the Department of Environmental Protection] increased awareness among the many stakeholders, and fostered a collaborative dynamic to shape a reasonable plan that will clean up the Greylock Mill site."

In one of its several uses as a working mill, the site was used by an aluminum manufacturer for processing its product. As a result, parts of the site are heavily contaminated, including an underground flume that the developers hope to convert into a pedestrian path under the nonprofit Greylock Flume.

Perry and Karla Rothstein, owners of New York City-based Latent Productions, purchased the former Cariddi Mill for $749,000 in 2015 under the name Greylock Works. They have since outlined a vision to transform the 240,000-square-foot mill into a hub for small-scale food and cheese production, residential spaces and a hotel.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the developers still will be tasked with cleaning contamination, but they will not be held legally responsible for the "sins of the past."

"It just really creates a more expedient process for being able to deal with some of the issues with respect to contamination," he said. "It doesn't mean that they're not responsible for cleanup."

For the multi-phase, multi-million investment into renovating the mill, its owners have looked to outside sources for collaboration and assistance. The Alcombright administration has pledged its support for the cleanup and development.

"The city has already agreed to help them along those lines with whatever we can do," Alcombright said. "Certainly not with money, but partnering with them in applying for grants."

The project was awarded two U.S. Department of Agriculture grants for its food production space, known as Greylock Works, totaling $173,900 last year.

City officials and the developers also are expected to propose a Special Tax Agreement, which would require state approval, to alleviate the project's tax bill over the course of the next five years. Under a tentative agreement that has since been tabled, the developers would have saved about $72,000 in property taxes through the course of the five-year deal.

Tuesday's announcement involved three brownfield sites across the state.

"These agreements will provide permanent jobs and help to revitalize the communities of North Adams, Woburn, and Brockton," Attorney General Maura Healey said in a prepared statement. "Brownfields Covenant Not to Sue Agreements provide protection from liability that developers, prospective buyers, and municipalities rely on in order to move forward with projects that greatly benefit local communities."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.


The area behind the Greylock Mill, formerly Cariddi Mill, seen from the athletic fields on Protection Avenue in North Adams. Developers can move forward with the cleanup of the former industrial site without fear of liability for the contamination. The project, along with two others in the state, has been accepted into the Brownfields Covenant Program, which will reduce its liability as it revitalizes the massive, but environmentally contaminated complex on State Road. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

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“North Adams City Council to shift public comments to start of meetings”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/26/2016

NORTH ADAMS - The City Council is poised to adopt new rules that would move the public open forum period to the beginning of the meeting, but it will not adopt a recommendation to limit what visitors could speak about.

The council voted 7-2 — with councilors Keith Bona and Nancy Bullett in opposition— to adopt a new set of meeting rules.

The most significant change over previous years is that the rules move the open forum period from the end of the meeting to the beginning, where it will be called a "hearing of visitors."

During open forum, any member of the public would be allowed two minutes to speak freely on any "municipal interest." The council members would be prohibited from entering into a debate on the topic except to correct misinformation.

"Members of the public would be able to comment on agenda items or bring up any matter of municipal significance before the council deliberates on the evening's agenda items," wrote Councilor Kate Merrigan in a letter to the council. "The General Government Committee recommends that members of the public still be able to comment on agenda items as they come up during the meeting."

The new rules, which were reviewed by the council's general government committee, were passed to a second reading and final vote next month.

Bona opposed the new rules because he sought to require speakers from the public only address issues that are on the agenda and before the council that evening. He expressed concern that allowing a member of the public to speak on any topic could offer them the opportunity to level accusations or make claims against a person or business that wouldn't be present to respond.

"They're not being libelous in what they're saying, but they could mention very specific names," Bona said. "The problem I have with that is it's not on the agenda."

Bona noted that visitors actually have more freedom to bring up topics not on the agenda than the council itself.

Bullett noted that the council meetings themselves are not the only way to raise an issue to the council.

"It can be provided in writing as a letter, it can be given to us via email, so there's multiple ways," said Councilor Nancy Bullett. "I would have to agree with Councilor Bona."

Merrigan agreed that ideally residents would get in touch with councilors prior to the meeting so that the councilors can be better educated on the topic and be more helpful, but she noted that isn't always possible. She added that she likes having it as a space where people can contribute to the meeting.

"In our popular culture, that's the image people [have of] municipal participation — come and say something at the microphone at a meeting," Merrigan said. "There's a degree to which that's where people are at as a comfort zone."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Letter: “Fear at root of hospital situation in North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/11/2016

Fear blocks hospital progress in No. Adams

To the editor:

Modern airplanes bomb modern hospitals. It's happening in the Middle East. More peaceable deathly chaos hits the North Adams Regional Hospital, which stays closed for money — or is it panicky emotions about money?

The region has vast public money for construction and vast private money for colleges and museums. But amidst riches is where financial panic breaks out. Another odd fear as hospital management and unions shying away from federal "critical access" funding, the aid format that preserves Great Barrington's hospital.

Fear makes problems. Pro-hospital citizens may fear someone raising their house tax or blocking their kid's summer job if they campaign for hospital rescue. Fear implies that one-fifth of US hospitals will be financially doomed within 10 years.

Fears can be excusable. Beloved New England town democracy fixates on town budget savings, not town hospital saving (also, not saving jobs, small businesses, safe water supplies and so on.) Mercifully, fear and chaos sometimes include beneficial effects: the excellent North Adams emergency room reopened, more services also, and more are coming.

A chaotic planet may need chaotic remedies. As North Adams get federal agriculture grants, residents might petition the USDA to reopen the hospital as a base for rooftop agriculture, heroically farming milkweed for monarch butterflies. In a world in disarray — ISIS, Ebola, Zika, crazed comic relief of Trump vs. the Pope — improvements may take odd shapes.

Richard David Greene, North Adams

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"North Adams rolls out five-year, $37 million infrastructure plan"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, March 23, 2016

NORTH ADAMS - City officials have unveiled an ambitious plan to invest more than $37 million in crumbling infrastructure over the next five years.

Major investments in two reservoirs, an aqueduct, 80 miles of sewer lines, dozens of parks and 73 miles of local roads would kick in as its debt service payments begin to drop in the coming years.

The proposed plan, presented to the City Council at its Tuesday meeting and sent to the Finance Committee for further review, was completed by Monica Lamboy of the Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

"We've been working on this document for close to a year," Mayor Richard Alcombright said.

Though not illustrated in fine detail — that will be done in committee meetings — the plan touched on nearly every facet of the city.

Spending items included $9 million for city facilities, $780,000 for technology, nearly $12 million in parks, sidewalks, school facilities, and vehicle equipment, and more than $11 million in water and sewer infrastructure.

"I'm personally very excited to see this level of long-term planning happen," said Councilor Eric Buddington. "I think it bodes really well for our long-term financial situation."

The city's aqueduct, which connects the Mount Williams and Notch reservoirs, which make up the primary source of the residents' drinking water, is in "imminent danger of failure," Lamboy said.

"Water is one of those things we take for granted until we can't take it for granted anymore," he said.

The city will rely on a variety of sources to fund these projects, primarily $21.69 million in state and federal aid and $12.17 million from its water and sewer fee system.

Both the city's general fund and water and sewer debt service payments are expected to decline rapidly over the next several years as the bond for former improvements to the water treatment plant comes off the books.

"One of our first principles is where you are already paying debt service and your debt service is declining, let's capture that and reinvest it back in the community," Lamboy said.

Under the proposed plan, the some debt payments would not drop significantly until fiscal 2043.

"Some communities find debt a bit scary, and I understand it seems like these are big numbers that we're talking about, but the rates of investment, interest rates are so cheap right now that it's really a way to cost-effectively address these long-standing issues that you have," Lamboy said.

Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted that the plan includes funding for a study of the city's public safety building situation, but does not include funding for any actual capital improvement.

Lamboy noted that the plan is flexible and new projects can be inserted in.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"Continued Calls For Full-Service Hospital, Two Years After NARH Closure"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, March 25, 2016

It’s been roughly two years since North Adams Regional Hospital closed and its parent company declared bankruptcy. The move shocked the region and put more than 500 people out of work. Though medical services have returned to the campus, but some in the community still insist they need a full-service hospital.

“We are very grateful for everything that Berkshire Health Systems has done thus far, but it falls short of the needs of our community,” said Dick Dassati, co-chair of the North County Cares Coalition.

The ad hoc group has met nearly every week since North Adams Regional closed on March 28, 2014. It works with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represented about 100 NARH employees, to advocate for a full-service hospital in the North Berkshires. Shortly after NARH closed, Berkshire Health Systems reopened the North Adams emergency room via court order. Making the only bid, the Pittsfield-based company bought the campus in September 2014 for $4 million. Since then BHS has invested millions of dollars to expand beyond emergency care at what it now calls its Northern Berkshire campus.

“The Neighborhood for Health was opened in the middle of 2015 and is seeing patients regularly who need some assistance in preventing hospital admissions,” said BHS spokesman Michael Leary. “We have our laboratory drawing stations there and outpatient radiology services – including MRI and CT as well as screening mammography. Home care services are offered through the Berkshire VNA. We also have outpatient surgery for orthopedics, urologic care and GYN. Our diabetes program is on the North Adams campus. The tobacco treatment services are offered there, wound care and cardiovascular testing.”

Leary says renal dialysis will open later this year. Still, Dassati says Northern Berkshire County deserves in-patient services.

“We’re like the boy in Oliver!, we want more,” Dassati said. “We want one standard of care for all the residents of Berkshire County. Berkshire Health Systems has a monopoly on healthcare in Berkshire County. There is a full-service hospital in Pittsfield – Berkshire Medical Center – and a full-service hospital in Great Barrington – Fairview Hospital. We feel the 37,000 residents of North County should be treated fairly and have equal access to care.”

“We need 32 inpatients beds [citing the state-commissioned report] in our hospital,” Dassati continued. “There are a lot of people sleeping on beds that have political bed that have to wake up and make those beds available for the sick, tired and ill in North County.”

Leary says North Adams’ emergency facility sees about 1,400 patient encounters a month. He says the average of 45 patients a day is close to what the ED was seeing before NARH closed. Comparatively, emergency department encounters at Pittsfield’s Berkshire Medical Center, about 20 miles from North Adams, rose from 60,000 to 65,000 between 2013 and 2014. Final figures aren’t available for 2015, but Leary says they are slightly above 2014’s.

A state-commissioned report released in September 2014 found an inpatient facility was feasible in Northern Berkshire County only if it receives federal critical access designation, which allows for increased reimbursement rates. It’s a status enjoyed by BHS’ Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington. North Adams Regional’s application was denied in 2011. Leary says BHS has not applied for the status for the North Adams facility.

“We’re hearing that people are grateful for many services that are offered up there,” Leary said. “There are a number of services that are or will be offered at the North Adams campus that weren’t even offered there when there was a North Adams Regional Hospital. Part of the goal, especially with a program like our Neighborhood for Health, is to try to prevent the need for hospitalization.”

The closure was a major topic in 2015’s North Adams mayoral race. Challenger John Barrett, who served as mayor for 25 years, said if he was still in office the hospital wouldn’t have closed as abruptly as it did and called for the return of a full-service hospital. Incumbent Richard Alcombright said his focus was on making sure the region’s healthcare system is sustainable. Alcombright was reelected to a fourth term, beating Barrett by roughly 375 votes.

“We have all the major components of a very strong medical service component up there on the hill and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Alcombright said earlier this month. “We have many people who are back at work.”

The North County Cares Coalition is planning a rally at North Adams City Hall at 4:30 Monday, which is the two-year anniversary of the hospital’s closing, to call for the restoration of a full-service hospital.

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Letter: “BHS must do better by North Berkshire”
The Berkshire Eagle, 4/2/2016

To the editor:

After reading the March 29 article on the rally held at North Adams City Hall on the anniversary of the NARH closing, no wonder people are voting for Bernie Sanders.

I guess we're supposed to sit back and sing "Praise the Lord" for the services that have returned to "BMC North." But I think we can do better. As Francisco Ramos said, access to health care is a human right. The North County Cares Coalition should be given credit for not accepting half-measures.

Bob Scrivens, Williamstown

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Letter: “Big salaries for execs. while BHS fails its mission”
The Berkshire Eagle, 4/2/2016

To the editor:

It's been a little over two years since North Adams Regional Hospital closed its doors on three days' notice. The sudden shuttering of the 130-year-old institution put 500 people out of work and created a health care crisis for the 37,000 citizens of Northern Berkshire County. For nearly two months, we had to rely on an overburdened ambulance service to carry us to the Berkshire Medical Center's ER in Pittsfield (or the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's in Bennington) in the event of an emergency.

While some important services have since been restored at what Berkshire Health Systems now calls the North Adams campus of Berkshire Medical Center, no apparent progress has been made toward certifying the facility as a Critical Access Hospital, a federal designation that BHS's Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington enjoys.

The findings of the Stroudwater report (the document produced by the consulting firm hired to assess the health care needs of North Berkshire in the wake of NARH's sudden closing), however, remain as true today as they were in 2014. The bottom line: our community needs a full-service hospital. The only impediment to resuming inpatient care at NARH was the cost associated with serving our region's large number of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

It's worth noting that BHS's mission statement — taken directly from its 2013 Form 990 filing with the IRS — reads as follows: "The mission of Berkshire Health Systems is to improve the health of all people in the Berkshires and surrounding communities, regardless of their ability to pay."

While progress toward the Critical Access Hospital designation for NARH has been nonexistent, things certainly seem to be progressing nicely for David E. Phelps, the CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, and Darlene Rodowicz, the organization's treasurer. According to BHS's 2011 Form 990 — the most recent IRS filing available when I first wrote about the sudden closing of NARH in 2014 — Mr. Phelps took home $493,981 in total compensation, while Ms. Rodowicz received $395,702.

A mere two years later, according to BHS's 2013 Form 990 (again, the most recent publicly available filing), Mr. Phelps took home total compensation of $718,405 (a 45 percent increase over 2011), while Ms. Rodowicz received $500,191 (a 26 percent increase). One can only imagine where these compensation levels are today.

I had trouble reconciling the lavish salaries of BHS's top administrators with its noble mission statement until I realized that BHS's business model is in reality based in part on restricting access to health care for the people least able to pay for it. BHS clearly has a remarkable ability to pay Mr. Phelps and Ms. Rodowicz. It is unfortunate that BHS seems to have no such ability when it comes to health care for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of Berkshire County.

Steve Dew, Williamstown

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“North Adams officials hope to end 2016 in black”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 4/2/2016

NORTH ADAMS — A full two-thirds of the way through the fiscal year, city officials say they're on track to close out the budget without relying on transfers from reserves.

While North Adams appears to have a good shot at ending fiscal 2016 in the black, officials expect to face a large deficit as it begins the fiscal 2017 budget process. That new budget proposal is expected to be unveiled by Mayor Richard Alcombright in the coming weeks.

The current fiscal year's budget has been negatively impacted by greater-than-expected overtime in the public safety budget, largely due to injuries on duty, according to city officials. Public safety is on a pace to exceed its budgeted overtime by about $225,000.

"It's not like you and I going back to work," Alcombright said. "We hurt our shoulder and we go back to work because we can. Police and fire [responders] have to be fit for duty."

Councilor Lisa Blackmer asked officials if the city was taking any measures to try to reduce the number of injuries. But Alcombright said the number of injuries didn't increase; their severity did.

"We had the fire up on Furnace Street. After the fire was out [a firefighter] went down the cellar stairs — it's dark, they had a flashlight, with all equipment and gear — but there was a hole, he stepped in the hole and broke his ankle," Alcombright said. "How do you prepare for that; how do you train for that?"

But due to a relatively uneventful winter — meaning fewer man hours behind snowplows — the Highway and Cemetery budget has paced about $50,000 under budget. Unused appropriations in the Health Insurance and Veteran's Benefits accounts also look like they'll come in some $280,000 below the budgeted amount, leaving the city in the black at the end of the year.

"Actually, we're pacing quite well," Alcombright said.

The public safety overages are largely due to the multiple on-duty injuries both the police and fire departments have incurred. At one point, four employees were out injured, including three long-term.

The city currently crafts its budgets assuming it will lose 24 months of employee time to injuries, but it will increase that figure to 36 months next year. Two of the three long-term injuries the public safety departments have dealt with his year are also expected to bleed into next year.

Because it does not expect to have to utilize reserves to close out the current year's budget, Alcombright expects to use some funds for capital purchases. He will propose fixes to the Center Street parking lot and the purchase of a new police cruiser from the $131,000 parking meter reserve account. The city will also look to use funding from the cemetery lots reserve account to allow for continued restoration efforts at Hillside Cemetery.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“North Adams City Council OKs tax incentive deal with Greylock Mill owners”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 4/13/2016

NORTH ADAMS - The City Council has signed off on a tax deal with the developers of the Greylock Mill.

The 10-year tax increment financing agreement (TIF) provides developer Greylock Works with 10 years of tax relief on new growth in the assessed value of the 230,000-square-foot facility as it is renovated.

To qualify for the tax deal, the developer agrees to reach scheduled benchmarks of investment that total more than $8 million into the former Cariddi Mill property. It must submit biennial reports on its progress in the investment and actively search for local employees.

The developer has argued that the agreement promotes investment into the aging complex and provides "manageable property tax increases in the early years of the project's growth" for the developer and its tenants.

The mill complex was purchased in 2015, under a variety of LLC's, by New York City-based developer Latent Productions. Led by partners Karla Rothstein and Salvatore Perry, the company has already begun significant renovations to the eastern wing of the complex known as the weave shed and held a massive New Year's Eve Party there last year.

"It was a really affirming evening to have so many in the community come out," Rothstein said.

The portion of the building that is the developers' first focus is slated to become a food and agriculture production space. Perry and Rothstein have lined up a baker and a butcher they hope to have on board by the end of the year.

They also have been in discussions to build an apple cider production space for local apple growers. Broader plans include a restaurant, hotel and eventually residential space.

The TIF proposal was a substantially different plan than the special tax agreement Alcombright proposed with the developer in January, but later withdrew. In that deal, the city would have given a tax break on the entire assessed value of the facility, not just newly added value. However, the special tax agreement would have provided tax benefits for only have the duration and required a substantially larger investment (more than $15 million) than the current TIF agreement.

Councilor Eric Buddington made an effort to divert discussion on the agreement to the council's finance committee for further vetting. He questioned the structure of the agreement, which instead of providing incentives in 10 percent intervals over the 10-year deal actually provides more substantial benefits upfront.

Buddington also questioned whether the language allowed the city to terminate the agreement if the developer did not provide reports in line with the agreed upon schedule. City Solicitor John DeRosa assured Buddington the council would have grounds to end the tax incentive should the developer not properly report.

Though he received support from Councilor Lisa Blackmer, Buddington's attempt to move the agreement to committee failed. The full agreement was then approved by the council.

Under the new agreement, the developer receivers 100 percent tax exemptions on new value for the first two years, 90 percent exemptions for years three and four, an 80 percent exemption for year five, a 70 percent exemption for year six, a 60 percent exemption for year seven, a 50 percent exemption for year eight, and a 20 percent exemption for years nine and 10.

Alcombright said that structure was built specifically to reward early investment in the project.

The complex is assessed at a value of $759,200 and currently has a full tax bill of $28,796.45 annually. Because it's difficult to predict the impact the improvements will have on the assessed value of the property, it's difficult to calculate just how beneficial the TIF will be to the developer in real dollars.

But Alcombright notes that, under the agreement, the city will not lose out on any tax revenue it's already receiving from the complex, which will always be taxed fully on its base value.

Councilor Robert Moulton, Jr., said he had initial concerns about the original proposal introduced in July, and preferred the TIF agreement brought forward this month.

The agreement does not apply to the planned residential development, per state regulations. It also does not apply to personal property taxes; for example, a cider press would still be assessed as personal property and taxed accordingly.

Before the agreement is finalized it must be approved by the state.

Councilor Joshua Moran was absent from the meeting and Councilor Ronald Boucher, who is working on the Greylock Mill project, abstained from voting.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“North Adams mayor sees balanced budget, beefed up City Hall staffing in fiscal 2017”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 23, 2016

NORTH ADAMS - Though he has yet to introduce a formal proposal, Mayor Richard Alcombright said this week that he anticipates a balanced budget for fiscal 2017.

Though he anticipates using some of the city's free cash to offset the budget, Alcombright said the plan will include an increase in the hours of at least one city position and possibly the creation of several more.

The spending plan, which is anticipated to fall below the levy limits set under proposition 2½, is still being finalized and will be introduced in the coming weeks. It was painted in broad strokes by Alcombright to the City Council's finance committee in a meeting this week.

Among the noteworthy investments will be an increase in the hours of Director of Community Events Suzy Helme, who will jump from 20 hours per week to 30 hours per week under Alcombright's proposal.

The mayor also plans to increase the budget for a city planner, a position that was budgeted for in the fiscal 2016 spending plan but never filled. Prior to becoming vacant, the position was filled by a part-time planner. Under the mayor's proposal, the position will be increased to 30 hours per week.

Alcombright said the city planner position is important as private and public development projects continue to move forward in the city, and he noted the previous city planner was taxed at far fewer than 30 hours.

Officials also have their eyes on a 30-hour per week maintenance specialist position at about $40,000 annual salary to improve the city's ability to manage its buildings. Similarly, officials are eyeing the possibility of a 30-hour per week assistant electrician, who could free up time for department heads who have had limited resources since the consolidation of inspection services earlier in Alcombright's tenure.

The city also hopes to add an information systems employee, which officials say would be cheaper than continuing to hire outside specialists for assistance.

Other planned investments include improvements to the Center Street parking lot and utilization of parking meter reserve funds to purchase a new police cruiser.

Perhaps the most difficult increase for officials to grapple with is a 12.5 percent increase in public employee health insurance costs, which will push $5 million this year — about 12 percent of the city's overall budget.

The insurer paid out more in benefits than the premiums it collected in the past year, spelling automatic raises for next year. Officials had planned for a 7 percent increase, but the final tally came in much higher than anticipated.

The increase has prompted officials to plan a sit-down with public unions in the fall and work out a new health insurance plan, Alcombright said. Until then, Alcombright expects to pay the larger-than-expected increase from free cash.

The current fiscal year's budget is, barring an unexpected catastrophe, also expected to end in the black, according to Alcombright. He anticipates transferring some $700,000 in free cash to the city's stabilization fund, which will sit at about $1.5 million.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Letter: “Alcombright fails North Adams residents”
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/4/2016

To the editor:

The recent revelation that the city of North Adams has fallen behind in its responsibility to provide its citizens with the most basic legally required health inspections demands a community announcement as compelling as Mayor Alcombright announcing his ending of the winter parking ban to all citizens.

That this important and fundamental position has been neglected is an indictment of the administration of the mayor. It is his duty and responsibility to know and understand the day-to-day operations of our city. How do we know we have or have not been exposed to some of the same health issues that have afflicted national chains and small mom-and-pops in the Boston area?

What is more troubling is the mayor's attempt to blame those under his employ. How does the mayor place the health of citizenry at the mercy of a part-time employees' snowbird migration?

This revelation should not come as shock if you follow the tone of the city CEO.

Recently a property overlooking City Hall was condemned and forced the displacement of some eight families. There is a document trail that will point to a failure of the administration and its policy of defunding important, revenue-producing positions. This response is another example of our mayor not addressing the small things that affect our city today and tomorrow.

Mayor Alcombright has proposed in his budget an increase in hours and salary for an office of tourism position to oversee many events which overlap with county and Mass MoCA events. This office and position should focus solely on the promotion of North Adams and encompass the growth and business functions of our regional farmers market as well as the many important activities that help North Adams distinguish ourselves. This appointment should not be a political reward but provide a benefit for the promotion of our city.

The elimination of the position charged with regulating the issuance of permits and inspections lies with not only Mayor Alcombright but our City Council as well. The City Council is the brakes on or the accelerator of the mayor's actions and holds enormous responsibility and power to honor the laws of our city known as ordinances.

Members of the City Council, some of whom are business owners in our city, are responsible with representing the best interests of the taxpayers of North Adams and to understand that the accelerator and the brakes both need both to be checked to ensure forward motion.

Christopher J. Tremblay, North Adams

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“North Adams aims for official Cultural District designation”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, May 9, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — The city's downtown could soon be dubbed an official Cultural District.

The city and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Berkshire Cultural Resource Center are launching an effort to earn downtown North Adams a Cultural District designation, which advocates say can be a marketing tool for businesses and the community as well as a source of funding for community events.

The Cultural Districts are designated and approved by the Massachusetts Cultural Commission, an initiative spawned by a 2010 state economic stimulus bill. The city is aiming to have the application, which has a rolling deadline, into the state in the coming weeks.

The new designation could bring in outside investment and interest into the downtown, according to the organizations, and continue to attract artists, one of the goals of the Cultural Council's program.

Williamstown and Pittsfield each have already successfully applied for cultural district status in their downtowns.

City and BCRC staff will host two public meetings for input on the proposal at 11 a.m. Tuesday and at 6 p.m. Thursday at MCLA's Gallery 51 on Main Street.

The program also can help a city promote tourism, develop the economy, increase property values and preserve or reuse historic buildings, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

"There are people who are looking for those sorts of, quite honestly, an amenity," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "[It is] creating an environment that might help people make a decision to move here."

The designation doesn't come with any guaranteed financial reward, but Alcombright notes it could be a meaningful asset as the city works to secure grants from both government and nongovernment sources.

The city began a push to win the designation in 2014, organizing and establishing an inventory of downtown assets that could justify the designation, but a quick turnover in city and cultural leadership positions stymied the effort.

Several of those positions have since been filled by new staff, including Suzy Helme as the city's director of community events and Jennifer Crowell as the BCRC's director, who have picked up where their predecessors left off.

"One of the first things we did was talk about this," Helme said.

The organizations have compiled a list of what they say are the downtown's "cultural assets," that make an argument for the Cultural District designation, including galleries, shops, and restaurants around the Main Street area. The proposed region includes the Main Street area and stretches to North to include the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts campus and reaches south onto State Street.

After the application is submitted, the Cultural Council will send staff to the city for a site visit, which city officials hope is during the summer when the downtown is its most active.

If awarded, the designation will last for five years before it must be renewed.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“Proposed North Adams budget increases 2.3 percent”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, May 12, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — Spending would increase 2.3 percent in the coming year under a fiscal 2017 budget introduced on Tuesday by Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The City Council quickly referred the $39.5 million spending plan to committee for further review.

The budget includes several renewed investments in city staff.

After years of consolidating departments and positions, Alcombright is proposing the city hire an assistant technology systems director at $40,000 annually, make the director of community events a full-time position for an additional $10,551 annually, and hire a building maintenance specialist at a $39,357 salary.

Among noteworthy changes in revenue, the budget relies on a 4.5 percent increase in real estate taxes to $16.19 million, though it's unclear exactly what impact this would have on the residential, single-family tax rate until the budget is finalized and the tax rate is set.

For the first time in three years, the mayor's budget also relies on $205,000 in reserves to balance the budget.

State aid is projected to increase 2.2 percent to $18,99 million in fiscal 2017.

Obligations to the city's public school system are expected to rise 2 percent to $16,744,198 in fiscal 2017. The budget also calls for payments to McCann to climb almost 9.2 percent to $993,015.

Medical insurance will see yet another jump 3.8 percent to $4,449,507 and pension obligations will increase 4.4 percent to $ 2,572,081 this year under the mayor's proposal.

"The most notable areas of increase are in public safety, health insurance, and pensions," Alcombright wrote in a letter accompanying his proposal.

The proposal, which was not discussed or debated by the council at its meeting Tuesday, will be reviewed in a series of at least two Finance Committee meetings scheduled over the course of the next two weeks.

The two firm meeting dates of the Finance Committee, which holds less formal meetings that are open to more public input than a regular City Council meeting, are May 16 and May 23. At least one more meeting, in which the Finance Committee will discuss proposed school budgets, has yet to be scheduled.

According to the mayor's proposed schedule, the Finance Committee will return the budget to the council on June 14 and the final budget will be voted on by the full council on June 28.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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One of the new, 12-foot signs strategically placed around North Adams as part of the city's rebranding effort. (Adam shanks — The Berkshire Eagle)

“New, colorful signs in North Adams rebrand city as exciting place for visitors”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — The city has rolled out the welcome mat for visitors — in the form of colorful, 12-foot-high signs.

Thanks to the work of several local organizations, the city has undergone a two-year rebranding process that includes the addition of the large, new welcome signs on Route 2 and Route 8 on the outskirts of the city.

The privately financed rebranding efforts — spearheaded by the city, the North Adams Partnership, North Adams Chamber of Commerce and Berkshire Cultural Resource Center — coincide with a Chamber-funded, fully redesigned tourism and events website, explorenorthadams.com.

The new look comes at a time when local leaders say the city is beginning to turn a corner and become "the place to be" in Berkshire County, with its culture, lodging and restaurants.

The new city logo at the center of the rebranding, initially introduced last year, will be used not only for signage but also marketing materials and in the replacement of wayfinding signs throughout the city. The logo will soon adorn banner on the city's bridges and plans are in the works for banners with the new design to be hung downtown.

"They scream to the new and kind of speak to the old in a really nice way, reflective of our community and our history," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "It's really kind of a great moment ... and there's more to come."

The logo includes a whimsical depiction of the Hoosic River beneath a silhouette of Main Street and its towering steeples. In the background, the Hoosac Tunnel is spotted entering the profile of the Hoosac Range and Florida Mountain.

The city expects the logo and brand to be incorporated into the images of other local organizations and institutions.

Two of the three planned 12-foot-tall welcome signs displaying the new brand were placed this week near the Western Summit on Route 2 and on Route 8 near the Hardman Industrial Park. A third will placed in the west end of the city near the city's Airport on Route 2. The signs were strategically positioned in high-traffic entrances to the city.

"The reason for that sign [atop the Western Summit] is it is about 300 yards before you take this beautiful view over the whole valley. We thought it was be nice to say 'This is North Adams, folks,' " said Duncan Brown, chairman of the partnership's board of trustees.

While explorenorthadams.com has been a central location for city information for several years, the rebranding provides a new emphasis on the calendar of events in addition to the new green-and-blue color scheme.

The design of the new logo, which was crafted with community input, cost $50,000 and was paid for with privately raised money by the North Adams Partnership, a local nonprofit dedicated to community development.

Alcombright ties the new branding to many advancements in the city within the past several years, including DownStreet Art, a planned skate park, and new or rebuilt playgrounds.

"I think when people around town are going to look at these and think it's kind of a touristy thing, and [ask a] 'What does it do for me' kind of questions," Alcombright said. "It's almost like you get a new suit, and you kind of feel a little bit better about yourself."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Letter: "Mayor a spectator to North Adams' demise"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/16/2016

To the editor:

I read with sadness the item on The Eagle's Facebook feed about the spire of the St. Francis of Assisi Church being scheduled for demolition. This steeple is part of North Adams's iconic skyline, and I am shocked that the powers-that-be in the city were not able to foresee this and do something to prevent its demise.

As a resident of Williamstown, I have been repeatedly dismayed by North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright's passivity in the face of challenges to his city and the towns, like Williamstown, that depend upon a thriving North Adams as an anchor for services and commerce in North Berkshire. There are thousands of citizens beyond the North Adams city limits who rely on responsible stewardship of North Berkshire's largest municipality.

The North Adams Regional Hospital closed on three days' notice in 2014. The Price Chopper supermarket on State Road closed earlier this year, leaving many low-income residents of the city without ready access to a grocery store. Now, a beautiful, signature North Adams building is slated for destruction. Mr. Alcombright has been in office during all of these events.

Richard Alcombright seems to be nothing more than a spectator to the slow-motion catastrophe unfolding in his city and region. Protecting his citizens and those who rely on North Adams in the surrounding towns is apparently beyond Mr. Alcombright's capabilities. He should resign and let someone willing to fight for us step in.

Steve Dew, Williamstown

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“North Adams employees likely to face cut in insurance benefits”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 5/18/2016

NORTH ADAMS — City employees likely will be asked to take another cut to their benefits in the coming year.

The city's health insurance costs are skyrocketing again this year after employees received $1.08 in health care services for every $1 they paid in premiums last year, a figure Mayor Richard Alcombright said is to blame for the dramatic increases.

Even after renegotiating the employee health insurance plans in 2013, which immediately netted the city some $400,000 in savings, the city's health insurance budget has increased a total of more than $800,000 in the last three cycles.

In the mayor's draft budget introduced to City Council last week, health insurance costs are expected to rise from $4.29 million in fiscal 2016 to $4.45 million, an increase of 3.7 percent.

"No matter what we do, the question is not going to be how much can we save for a similar plan," Alcombright said. "The question is going to be how much we are willing to take with respect to a cut in benefits."

Alcombright discussed the health insurance situation with the City Council's finance committee during a meeting on Monday. The Finance Committee is reviewing the mayor's proposed fiscal 2016 budget in a series of meetings.

The next scheduled session is on May 23 and will include discussion of the proposed public services and public safety budgets. The final budget was scheduled to be voted on by the full City Council on June 28.

The city will begin the process of reassessing its plans in October, and likely wouldn't receive prices on the plans until March.

The adjustments in coverage could result in higher co-pays, Alcombright said.

"That's the scary part. How are we going to be able to have an impact on that number while still maintaining some level of quality insurance for employees?" Alcombright said. "That's going to be the big question."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Letter: "Mayor is not to blame for struggles of North Adams"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/20/2016

To the editor:

Steven Dew's May 17 letter blaming North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright for being "nothing more than a spectator to the slow-motion catastrophe" of closures in North Adams was so mean-spirited that it reminded me that not all the political venom these days comes from Donald Trump.

I grew up in North Adams, came back from college to teach there, and still care about the city. And I don't like people ripping a leader who has tried to bring the North Adams community together under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It reminds me how people have tried to blame everything from Benghazi to the Ebola epidemic on President Obama. Would Mr. Dew also like to personally blame former Mayor John Barrett for the closure of Sprague Electric or the mills on Union Street?

The reality is that the demolition of the church, closure of the hospital, closure of Price Chopper, closure of The Transcript, while all gut-wrenching, are examples of the kind of economic dislocation that is happening all over America. Economic forces are mostly beyond anyone's control. You might as well try to stop bad weather from happening. Social and economic change happen. Inexorably.

So when Mr. Dew writes that "protecting his citizens and those who rely on North Adams in the surrounding towns is apparently beyond Mr. Alcombright's capabilities," he ironically offers the only insight that is worth preserving in his bitter letter: nobody that I know of has those comic-book super powers to "protect" us as he wants. Like it or not, some of our cherished landmarks are gone — but we are replacing them with others like a vigorous MCLA, an ever-evolving Mass MoCA, mills restored and repurposed, a renewed Conte school, and more.

This is not to say that North Adams isn't still struggling, like most post-industrial communities around our country. St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." I think Mayor Alcombright's style and philosophy live up to these words.

Bob Scrivens, Williamstown

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Letter: “Mayor is bringing North Adams to ruin”
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/22/2016

To the editor:

One of the reasons why the Alcombright administration is a complete failure is his lack of appreciation of the importance of a qualified health inspector. A disagreement with the mayor led a conscientious and knowledgeable guy to resign.

Where are the jobs he promised? Where is the economic development? Why are streets not being maintained? There are potholes all over the city and the mayor cannot blame them on the frost and snowplowing this year. Incompetence is the answer. The mayor takes care of the streets in his neighborhood, around MCLA and MoCA, which pays little or no taxes. All while our residential neighborhoods are neglected. The City Council provides no representatives for homeowners or the average taxpayer.

Houses are up for sale, our population drops, with a high unemployment rate and a high number of underemployed. Teenage pregnancy is a problem as are heroin addiction and substance abuse. Why? A total lack of leadership by Mayor Alcombright.

The mayor single-handedly drove Heritage Park into the ground, driving out tenants and throwing a monkey wrench into the expanded Rite Aid development. Main Street is in sad shape. Where is the trolley to encourage tourists to come to downtown? The scenic railroad is a joke. Three junk yards, the backside of empty industrial buildings, peeks at the Hoosic River, Specialty Mineral stilling ponds, and the backs of many uncared-for yards and dilapidated houses. If this is scenic, I will eat my Trump hat.

Fewer services, increased taxes and fees, all while Alcombright fails to control his bad spending habits. He has given out large tax breaks to rich investors at the expense of the public, an example being the Cariddi Mill.

This is not the same city I grew up in. If we get rid of those running our city, maybe it will return to a place we can all be proud of.

Robert Cardimino, North Adams

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“Audit cautions North Adams about closing in on tax levy ceiling”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 5/25/2016

NORTH ADAMS - An independent audit of the city's fiscal 2015 finances showed no substantial findings, but includes a warning that North Adams will quickly approach the tax levy ceiling.

The independent audit of fiscal 2015 was the fifth conducted by Scanlon and Associates under Mayor Richard Alcombright's tenure. The report was presented to the City Council at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

For the first time, this audit showed an "unmodified opinion," the best possible, which should help it if and when it goes out to the bond market, according to Tom Scanlon, Jr., a managing partner at Scanlon and Associates, which conducted the audit.

It did include a warning to the city that it is quickly approaching the tax levy ceiling and could bump against it soon.

In fiscal 2013, the city had $4,058,094 of breathing room before it reached the ceiling, but by fiscal 2016 that margin had dipped below $2 million.

Though municipalities have traditionally worried about the levy limit, which restricts tax levy increases to 2.5 percent every year, the ceiling provides an absolute endpoint. Once the ceiling, which is calculated as 2.5 percent of a city's total taxable property value, is reached, a municipality can't tax past it without an exemption.

As a rule of thumb, the ceiling caps the single-family homeowner's tax rate at $25 per every $1,000 of assessed value, Scanlon said.

"When I started 25 years ago, levy ceiling was a distant thought," Scanlon said.

Six of the seven cities that Scanlon and Associates audits are facing similar issues with the levy ceiling, Scanlon said. Of its 80 clients statewide, three of its clients have reached the ceiling in the past few years.

"It's starting to become real, where levy ceiling was nonexistent even eight years ago. I think in the next three years you're going to be dealing with this issue," Scanlon said.

Alcombright said the city has suffered losses in property value, which subsequently lowers the levy ceiling due to multiple demolitions in the city. Losses in state aid over the past decade have left holes in the city budget that were made up for through taxation, the mayor argued.

Property values, meanwhile, have lagged, Councilor Lisa Blackmer said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"Berkshire leaders discuss challenges of regionalization"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 5/28/2016

ADAMS - Though its status as a buzzword in local government is firmly entrenched, officials agree it won't come easily.

Local leaders gathered at the Adams Free Library on Tuesday to discuss the challenges and potential benefits of regionalization in the Northern Berkshires.

One thing is for sure: The process will take time.

The public debate and talk on the topic, which has sprouted up in meeting rooms across the county in recent years, was hosted by the nonprofit Adams-Anthony Center.

Speakers included North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, Adams Selectman Richard Blanchard, and John Hockridge, a North Adams School Committee member who also serves as chairman of the Berkshire County Education Task Force.

Although pressure to share municipal services is felt by town and city leaders, all agreed that it shouldn't be done at the expense of quality.

"Cannot be strictly about money. If we're talking about the idea of how much money we're going to save, and that's all we bring to the room, for me it's a total nonstarter," Alcombright said. "Those conversations have to include how these efforts make us more healthy, more viable, more sustainable as communities, and most importantly as school districts."

County government is an institution of the past in the Berkshires, and Blanchard suggested it may have offered services that are candidates for regionalization.

While it may not be able to design an interstate highway, Blanchard suggested that, for example, a county engineering office could be shared by towns and handle smaller capital projects.

Cariddi mirrored Blanchard's sentiments, suggesting that perhaps Berkshire County could have a council of governments. Neighboring local governments in Franklin County share power on a Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Cariddi noted.

Efforts to streamline services across borders tend to gain steam when, like now, town budgets get tight, Cariddi said. The area does have a long history of sharing services, and Cariddi offered McCann Technical School as proof.

"It's one of the showpieces of our region," Cariddi said.

And though the financial benefits of sharing services are universally acknowledged, Cariddi said that the practice should be used to enhance services. While the Berkshires do share a regional planning agency in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Cariddi proposed that that approach be expanded.

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor were its shared services. The local leaders acknowledged that there is a long road ahead in discussions on regionalization.

Alcombright recognized that an obstacle to regionalization could be the parochial nature of towns.

"How to get there, and how do we start? I think conversations like this ... it's going to take some time and work," Blanchard said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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"Regionalization, Collaboration Focus of Adams-Anthony Talk"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, June 1, 2016

ADAMS, Mass. — A declining population and rising costs are pushing communities together to explore ways to share resources.

"We're going to have to look at how we maintain our way of life and continue the services that we need," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright at last week's Adams-Anthony Center talk on regionalization.

The talk was the lasted by the nonprofit organization, which brings together community and creative leaders to discuss various issues related to the Berkshires at the Adams Free Library. Last week, Alcombright was joined by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, Berkshire County Education Task Force member John Hockridge and Adams Selectmen Chairman Richard Blanchard to discuss the challenges and opportunities to regionalizing services.

It was, said moderator Richard Tavelli of Williamstown, a "provocative concept" for some.

Also a spirited one, as Blanchard joked there was a "ghost" hovering in the hall that was pertinent to the conversation: County government.

There was a past selectman who'd avowed "we would regret losing county government," he said. "Now we're finding county government could have stepped in like health inspections, with schools, with anything. ...

"We may be moving out of necessity back to something like that."

County government still exists in a half-dozen eastern counties but was abolished in the late '90s throughout much of the state, including the Berkshires. The state took over most functions, such as the sheriff's departments, courts and land registries.

The speakers pointed to some entities of collaboration — the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste District, Hoosac Water Quality District (North Adams and Williamstown), Tri-Town Health Department (Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge) and the shared services of the North Adams veterans agent in North Berkshire as some examples.

And, of course, six regional school districts. More recently Adams and North Adams partnered to ensure the development of the Berkshire Scenic Railway and the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension between the two communities.

At a higher level, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission provides zoning and transportation planning, as well as collaborative groups on specific issues such as legal support for the defunct Kinder Morgan gas pipeline.

Cariddi pointed to the Councils of Government established in neighboring Franklin and Hampshire counties as possible models. The Franklin Regional Council of Governments,for instance, has centralized building and health inspections and permitting, health service, purchasing, municipal and natural resource planning, emergency preparedness and economic development.

"I talk about a lot of regional things because that's what I have to do on the state level to try bring what I can back here," she said.

Regionalization isn't new, the representative noted, and often is sparked by tight budgets.

"It's universally acknowledged as saving money but there are other advantages ... like enhanced services through economies of scale," said Cariddi. But while talks often start over budgets, they "end with bureaucratic inertia and parochialisms."

Alcombright said any regional discussions have to have a sound foundation on which to build a path to a solution.

"I think we need to understand our municipalities are a business and need to be managed as such ... I think we need to understand our decisions need to be made by policy rather than politics."

Taxpayers will need to take "a leap of faith" into becoming ratepayers, among the pitfalls that any discussion on regionalizing means.

"[Such as] the more parochial needs of individual communities and those may become stumbling blocks and those are the things you have to work through," the mayor said. "As soon as we walk in the door, egos have to stay out of the room."

Any discussions that focus solely on money are non-starters, Alcombright said, but rather collaborations should be about "How they make us more healthy, make us more viable and more sustainable as communities."

Cariddi called for "bold action," and that may be coming in the form of solutions from the Berkshire County Education Task Force. She was able to secure a $100,000 study grant for the group from the state, which is looking at the task force's results as a possible model for moving forward.

The task force was sparked by concerns over the decline in student enrollment and flat or declining revenues that are not only pinching communities but reducing academic opportunities.

"That necessitates looking at regionalizing school districts in the Berkshires," said Hockridge, also a member of the North Adams School Committee. "The primary motivation is enhancing the the schools."

The Berkshires has 17 school districts to educate about 15,000 children — while Springfield as twice that many students in one district.

The county could look at doing one super district, or three or four smaller ones.

But we have the geographic challenges and we don't want the kids on the bus for an hour or two," Hockridge said. "There are lots of things we're looking at ... we're tossing a lot of things around."

Among those are group purchasing, sharing administrative and educational services such as information technology directors or curriculum coordinators.

But Hockridge stressed any solution has "to work for everybody."

"You've got to avoid the pitfall of jumping in the water too quickly ... when the reality is, we have to move carefully," he said.

-

William Kolis, founder of the Adams Anthony Center, welcomes attendees to the latest issues talk sponsored by the center.

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“Spending hike of 2.2 percent passes North Adams City Council”
New positions added to staff for first time in years
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 6/15/2016

NORTH ADAMS — The city council unanimously signed off Tuesday on a $39.5 million spending plan for fiscal 2017.

After the typical vetting process during a series of meetings held by the council's three-member Finance Committee in recent weeks, the full council approved the budget proposed by Mayor Richard Alcombright with little controversy or debate.

The budget, which includes the creation of multiple new city positions for the first time in recent memory, represents a $884,826 increase, or 2.29 percent, over the fiscal 2016 spending plan. It will not require a proposition 2 ½ override.

Among its revenue sources, the budget relies on a 4.5 percent increase in real estate taxes to $16.19 million.

"Our public school budget, McCann assessment, employee health insurance premiums, pensions, and our insurance obligations account for some $791,000 of the overall $885,000 increase. Other operational increases represent only $94,000, once again showing the financial discipline of this administration," Alcombright told the council on Tuesday.

The plan calls for the addition of assistant technology systems director at $40,000 annually, increasing the director of community events to a 30-hour-per-week position for an additional $10,551 annually, and hiring a building maintenance specialist at a $39,357 salary.

The city, like other municipalities in the region, took a hit on its health insurance expenses, which increased nearly four percent. The budget includes use of $205,000 in free cash to offset the sharp rises in healthcare costs.

"We are looking to renegotiate [health insurance] changes for 2018 fiscal year," said Finance Committee Chairwoman and Councilor Lisa Blackmer.

The city budgeted a 2 percent increase to its public school system, bringing the North Adams Public Schools to a budget of $16.74 million. The assessment to McCann Technical School jumped by 9.2 percent to $993,015, largely due to its increases in healthcare costs.

Due to a number of firefighters and police officers injured on duty, public safety costs have also increased.

"While we continue to try and create efficiencies, close gaps, produce balanced documents and build reserves, our challenge now is to stay on track," Alcombright said. "As presented to the council a few weeks ago, the difference between our tax levy limit and tax ceiling is shrinking.

In an action separate from the budget proposal on Tuesday, the council also approved the transfer of $787,752 from free cash into the city's stabilization fund. The amount will more than quadruple the city's reserve fund balance, bringing it to nearly $1 million.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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“North Adams City Council OKs 5 percent water rate hike”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 6/15/2016

NORTH ADAMS — City residents will see a 5 percent increase in their water rates beginning July 1.

The City Council approved the hike by a 7-2 margin on Tuesday, with councilors Robert Moulton Jr. and Ronald Boucher voicing opposition to the plan.

In his initial proposal to the council, Mayor Richard Alcombright requested a 5 percent increase but accidentally and incorrectly included figures that reflect a 3 percent increase. Those figures were amended on the fly on Tuesday, amending the proposed North Adams rate from $3.85 to $4.04 per 100 cubic feet.

Rates for Clarksburg residents tied into the city's system would jump from $6.63 to $6.92 and rates for Williamstown residents would rise from $7.32 to $7.68 per 100 cubic feet.

Alcombright maintained that the city's water rate and sewer fee remain competitive relative to other towns across the commonwealth.

"Not that it really matters to anybody who is paying the bill, and I realize that, but out water rates ... are still very, very reasonable, and our sewer rates are even much more so reasonable," Alcombright said.

Councilor Eric Buddington requested the city consider a rate structure that charges little or nothing for the first "so many of gallons" of water for a given residence, which Alcombright said the city will consider.

"Just consider making it easy on the people who are just scraping by. I recognize there are quite a lot of complexities in choosing how to do that," Buddington said.

Though he said he understood the system, Boucher said he understood the other side as well and noted some people just barely get by.

"It may not seem a lot to us; I have the ability to cover it, but some people don't," Boucher said.

Alcombright noted the water rates have been increased three times in the previous seven years. Prior to that, he argued, the city raised the rates more frequently.

"Water rate increases were kind of just another normal, natural part of sustaining revenue for the city," Alcombright said. "Not throwing a stone, because I voted for most of those [as a city councilor]."

It was under the Alcombright administration that the city instituted a sewer fee, which effectively increased residents' water bills by 50 percent. But Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted that those services were still paid for by residents, but through property taxes based on the value of a house.

"[The sewer fee is] tied into actual usage, and that seemed more justifiable," Blackmer said.

Councilor Joshua Moran noted that, with a water rate increase, there are "things that you can do to offset that cost."

"No one enjoys taxes going up but I think at least this you have direct control over," Moran said.

Councilor Kate Merrigan said she's also had conversations with people "who are homeowners and taxpayers in our community who have said 'I'm happy to pay an extra $40 to $70 a year if that's what it takes to maintain our infrastructure.' "

"I think we don't always necessarily hear from those people live at meetings, but those are conversations I have frequently," Merrigan said.

The council discussed the potential of placing revenues from water and sewer bills into an enterprise fund that could only be utilized for water and sewer related costs.

Alcombright said the city is actively considering such a move, but noted there are some potential pitfalls — including a scenario in which the city collects less in water and sewer revenues than it spends on providing those services. He said the administration would likely come to council in early 2017 with a recommendation.

Administrative Officer Michael Canales noted the city wants to have a water and sewer rate study conducted using Community Development Block Grant funds that would help it analyze the pros and cons of an enterprise fund and different methods of assessing rates.

Revenues are currently about $2.5 million for water and sewer, but the city pays $1.15 million to the Hoosac Water Quality District and more than $700,000 in debt payments for upgrades to the water treatment plant annually.

"You can see how quickly it adds up, and there's some other debt on there too," Canales said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. ashanks@berkshireeagle.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Letter: “North Adams councilors fail duty to taxpayers”
The Berkshire Eagle, 6/27/2016

To the editor:

It has become quite clear in the public eye that the North Adams City Council is not working in the best interest of city residents.

On June 14, a meeting was held for the passage of the fiscal 2017 budget, along with a vote on water and sewer rate increases. Many in the public, especially those not in support of the mayor's fiscal policies, realized long before the vote that it would be just another rubber stamp vote of approval.

What I found very concerning, more than the increase in the water rate, was the arrogance, and disparaging comments made by some councilors to justify an increase. After watching the meeting it became quite evident that the public has no real representation in the city.

These councilors have continued to fail to ask tough questions, vet issues, scrutinize the mayor's fiscal policies, or demand transparency. They lack due diligence. For instance, they never scrutinized the several hefty pay increases in the budget. One was an 18 percent increase equaling $7,800. Another was a $5,000 stipend to oversee an unprofitable skating rink under the administration. The councilors had no problem with raising fees and taxes.

The vast majority of residents are unhappy at paying another increase for water and sewer fees, and higher taxes as they see little or no improvement in their neighborhoods. The City Council has once again allowed Mayor Alcombright to extort the public with increased fees for a basic need for living (water). Those councilors that attempt to justify an increase by insinuating all the money generated is needed to support the operational costs of the water filtration plant are misleading the public. The extra money generated is used as free cash for whatever the mayor so chooses. That is the real issue here.

I, along with many who elected this group, can certainly see a total lack of leadership, knowledge, effort and commitment on making educated decisions in an effort to serve the public well. I am perplexed by councilors who halfheartedly opposed the increase, then vocally supported the mayor's reasoning.

It is unconscionable that these members failed to fully scrutinize and question important issues. These councilors seem to lack a will and conviction to represent the taxpayers. A shameful performance indeed! As frustrated as many may be with this tax-and-spend mayor, the real problem sits with the City Council.

Aaron Crandall, North Adams

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Letter: “North Adams summit reveals a clear lack of vision”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/22/2016

To the editor:

The headline for The Eagle story July 16 on the North Berkshire Economic Summit proclaims "Arts, vision are keys to Northern Berkshire's economic strength." After reading the article, I have some serious doubts about the "vision" of two of the main speakers at the economic summit.

First, Jay Ash, the state's secretary of housing and economic development, talked about a growth model for economic development based on tax breaks for private investors. He promoted the work he did in Chelsea as one we should be following in the North Berkshires. What he apparently neglected to tell his audience is that the (2013) poverty rate in Chelsea is 30.7 percent, twice the rate of the state (15.3 percent), and even higher than North Adams' rate.

Second, Thomas Krens, whose vision led to Mass MoCA, spoke about his economic development and job creation plans for a second museum by the airport and a giant model railroad exhibit at Heritage State Park. Krens apparently neglected to tell his audience that his earlier promise that MoCA would provide 600 direct and indirect full-time jobs had yet to be realized.

But what seems most disturbing about Mr. Krens' presentation was his reference to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project, as evidence that "I know how to do these projects." A quick Google search of that project points out that despite a 2006 agreement with the United Arab Emirates to build a huge museum on Saadiyat Island, construction has yet to begin. If it ever does begin, one hopes that Mr. Krens and the Guggenheim can pressure the UAE government to liberalize its policies, so that workers are no longer forced to labor under conditions of "modern day slavery" (The Observer, December, 2013).

I wonder what Mr. Krens would discover if he took a week to walk the neighborhoods of North Adams and ask its residents about their economic development desires. He could walk along with Mr. Ash, who stated that he doesn't want to lead in North Berkshire, "but I have to figure out how to follow" to listen to the members of the community.

If they took that walking and listening tour, they could ask local residents: Would you rather have a full service hospital or a huge model railroad? Would you prefer another museum by the airport or a government program to put people to work repairing our bridges, weatherizing our homes and subsidizing good quality child care? What else do you think would help you and this community?

I suspect that the answers to those questions would be useful to bring to the next local summit on economic development.

Maynard Seider, Philadelphia, Pa.
The writer is an emeritus professor of Sociology, MCLA.

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Our Opinion: "Independent assessment of St. Francis"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/21/2016

The Steeple City of North Adams has already sustained a blow with the loss of the steeple on the former St. Francis Church. It should act cautiously before losing the building itself.

The building has been vacant since 2008 and essentially left at the mercy of time and the elements. The result was the deterioration of the defining steeple, which was quickly taken down because it posed a safety hazard. This should not have been allowed to happen, as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield owed it to former parishioners, given the church's proud, nearly 150-year history, and to the city to see that it was maintained properly even after it went out of use.

The diocese may now be more interested in the property than the abandoned building that sits on it, and for this reason North Adams should not act in haste if and when the diocese applies for demolition permits. As part of the Historical Commission review, an engineer not associated with the diocese should conduct a thorough structural assessment.

Should an expert analyst independent from the diocese, and the city as well, conclude that the building cannot be saved, former parishioners and current residents could more easily live with that reality. But it is possible that the building has a useful future ahead of it in some form.

As North Adams continues to try to attract new businesses and residents and hang on to the ones it has it must preserve the buildings that have long defined it. If this does not concern the diocese it does concern North Adams. The St. Francis steeple cannot be reclaimed but the church building may be able to avoid a similar fate. The best way to determine that is with a structural review by someone who is not beholden to any body or bodies that may have a vested interested in seeing the building come down.

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Letter: "Hard-working Hinds will be strong advocate"
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/31/2016

To the editor:

It seems that excepting the presidential election, election season locally has been very quiet. With our good friend state Sen. Ben Downing choosing not to run, we all will have a very important decision to make. As a mayor but also as a resident of North Adams, the greater region, and this state Senate district, I know how vitally important an informed, engaged and caring state senator can be.

I have had the pleasure of working with Adam Hinds for several years and I am impressed with him on so many levels. Adam has a stellar background in public service. Most specifically, I am keenly aware of Adam's work in Pittsfield with at-risk youth and I have worked hand-in-hand with him on several topics since he became the executive director at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

Adam is hard-working, intelligent and thoughtful and takes his role as a community leader very seriously. He is laser-focused on all of our needs to include neighborhoods, joblessness, transportation, medical services, education, economic development and the pains and struggles of addiction. What is vitally important is that Adam listens, leads through action, and is driven to serve.

Adam truly cares for the people of our region and has the qualities we have come to know and expect from our representation on Beacon Hill. We need someone who will listen, someone who will act, someone who will advocate for all of us, and someone who will be certain that Berkshire County will be very well heard and very well served in Boston.

On Sept. 8, please be certain to vote and please cast a vote for Adam Hinds for state senator in the Democratic primary. I know I will.

Dick Alcombright, North Adams
The writer is mayor of North Adams

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Letter: “Election transparency lacking in North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 9/15/2016

To the editor:

As a college student majoring in politics, I have to look over election data on an almost daily basis. For a recent project, I looked into elections in Ohio; a plethora of data dating back to the 1960s was available, with only minimal searching. For fun, I decided to look at similar data for Massachusetts, Berkshire County, and North Adams. I was saddened by the results of that search.

The Massachusetts secretary of state's office has records for elections dating back to the 1970s, covering both statewide and county election results in a clear, easy to read, and pleasant on the eyes format. The results were broken down by city for every election, all the way back to 1970, with a color-coded graph of the results.

The secretary of state does not, however, keep track of municipal elections in its online database, so I went to the North Adams city clerk's office's website. That's where I realized there was a problem with our city's transparency.

The city clerk's web page is horribly out-of-date. The last city budget available on the home page is from 2012, the last school budget available is from 2011, and election results are nowhere to be found. More recent city budgets can be found with some digging around on the site, under the city reports section. Campaign finance reports are available dating back to 2010, but the most recent is a 2015 filing by Councilor Nancy Bullet. Are city councilors and mayoral candidates not filing these forms?

The only election-related information on the city clerk's page is the schedule for the 2013 city elections. What if someone is considering running in 2017?

I thought that maybe no city in Berkshire County had this information available, so I checked for Pittsfield. Pittsfield has election results, for primaries and general elections, going back to 2012 available online, with only one click from its home page.

Democratic government is built on trust, transparency, and the fairness and openness of elections. Without official public reporting and recording of election results available online, the easiest way for concerned citizens to look it up, that trust is challenged. When the only way citizens can find election results is in the archives of The Berkshire Eagle, democracy is threatened.

Citizens of North Adams need to stand up and demand that the electoral process be more open, and information made more readily available.

Cameron M. Lapine, North Adams
A member of the Saint Anselm College Class of 2019, the writer is executive director of both the Saint Anselm College Republicans and the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans.

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“Eagle can eat crow”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 9, 2016

To the editor:

The nation has spoken and Donald Trump will be the next president in spite of all you're negative reporting about him, so grin and bear it Eagle and columnist Clarence Fanto. Pushing your liberal agenda have failed.

The Eagle did everything it could to discredit Trump and you lost . Now eat crow.

Robert Cardimino, North Adams

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“Alcombright proposes property tax increase”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 11, 2016

NORTH ADAMS — The average homeowner would see a property tax increase of about $83 next year under a tax levy increase proposed by Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider the proposed $16.1 million tax levy to fund the fiscal 2017 budget — approved by council earlier this year. The levy represents an increase of 2.5 percent from fiscal 2016.

The council approved a $39.5 million spending plan in June; its decision on Tuesday will determine the tax levy and relative burdens placed on residential and commercial, industrial, and personal property owners.

Alcombright has recommended maintaining a shift of 1.71 toward commercial, industrial, and personal property taxpayers, which is close to the maximum of 1.75 allowed under state law. It is the same shift the council approved last year.

"As we establish this [commercial, industrial, and personal] tax shift ... we are assuring our community that we will be able to provide services at acceptable levels," Alcombright wrote in a letter to the City Council last week.

The higher the shift, the higher the tax rate is for commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers. Under Alcombright's proposal, they would pay a tax rate of $38.54 compared to residential taxpayers' $17.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

For the average single family homeowner — whose home is valued at $136,00 — the increase in the tax rate would result in slightly more than an additional $7 per month on his or her tax bill.

The council, however, could alter that figure by deciding a different tax shift than the mayor's proposed 1.71.

The city saw an increase in the assessed value of its residential and commercial properties this year, but its industrial and personal properties dropped. Overall, the city's assessed property value was tallied at $716 million, an increase of nearly $7 million from the previous year.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks

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Letter: “North Adams City Council needs to rein in taxes, spending”
The Berkshire Eagle, December 16, 2016

To the Editor,

Another property tax increase is being proposed by North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright, and with the rubber stamp City Council, passage is a given.

What the taxpayers really need to know is when will the council start doing their jobs? By that I mean when will they begin to act as representatives of the people as opposed to patsies for the mayor? Every time the Mayor asks for increases in taxes or fees, the council, with the exception of Robert Moulton, gives the OK. To me, that seems remarkably like taxation without representation.

North Adams is a poor community that is steadily losing population. In the last four years, more than one thousand residents have left for greener pastures. When will someone on the council step up and address the serious issue of population decline? When will the tough questions be asked? When will the status quo of tax and spend be challenged? When will someone present some outside the box ideas to save money? I have yet to hear any councilor mention consolidation, outsourcing or restructuring. When will the council get out and talk to the residents who are struggling to make ends meet? The tax-and-spend policy of the mayor needs to be challenged. The people need a voice.

If the council does not want to do their jobs, then why are they there? Why do they even run for office? The voters deserve more than a group of yes men!

James Peters,
North Adams

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Our Opinion: “North Adams' path toward a city of dignity”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 16, 2016

It says something about our times that a proposal to declare North Adams a "safe and inclusive community" — with specific ways to achieve that — will require more debate.

Members of the City Council, who considered this resolution Tuesday, most likely agree on use of the word "safe."

It was the ramifications of "inclusive" that seemed to raise objections from two councilors, one of whom suggested the resolution is a case of sour grapes from Democrats disappointed their candidate lost the presidency.

The aspirations embodied by this resolution mean more than that, though Councilor Ronald Boucher was not wrong to link it to the Nov. 8 election of Donald J. Trump.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in online surveys involving 10,000 U.S. school leaders, determined that Trump's campaign rhetoric left children feeling unsafe, particularly those from minority and immigrant families.

The resolution introduced by Councilor Nancy Bullett and Council President Benjamin Lamb hit a snag. But it raises important questions.

Residents of North Adams can strengthen bonds within their community by engaging in a calm but compassionate debate in coming weeks.

The statement imagines a welcoming, respectful, unbiased community in which people "lead lives of peace and dignity, free of fear, harassment, violence, and undue process." It asks the city's top board to commit itself to protecting everyone from "racist, Islamaphobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and anti-refugee sentiments and acts."

And then, digging in deeper on crux issues, it proclaims solidarity for human rights regardless of "race, ethnicity, religion, sexual and gender identity, national origin, or immigration status."

And it called on the city to be "a hate-free zone in which hate crimes and discriminatory actions will not be tolerated regardless of policies and rulings by neighboring communities, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, or the Federal Government."

And with that, a hot issue shot out sparks. That phrasing prompted Boucher and Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. to question whether the resolution sought to identify North Adams as a "sanctuary city" in which police do not cooperate with immigration enforcement actions. Trump, who fanned fears of immigrants and refugees, has vowed to withhold federal aid from sanctuary cities.

A poll by the Pew Research Center just before the election identified a gulf in the way Americans see the issue. Seventy-nine percent of Trump voters rated illegal immigration a "very big" problem, compared to 20 percent for Hillary Clinton supporters. Fifty-three percent of her voters listed racism as a "major problem," compared to 21 percent for Trump backers.

Elections come and go, but the need to protect human rights is eternal.

The North Adams resolution will be revised. It faces further debate Dec. 27, then is headed to a subcommittee and public meeting to gather comment. We hope residents speak to the resolution's many merits, adjust any weaknesses, and help the city reset its commitment to dignity for all.

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“North Adams again dawdles on bigotry”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter, December 19, 2016

To the editor:

Having been the victim of an anti-Semitic act perpetrated by a North Adams city councilor in April 1993, I was disappointed to read that a recent resolution introduced by Councilors Nancy Bullet and Benjamin Lamb stating that North Adams would be a welcoming, respectful, unbiased and inclusive community was not unanimously adopted at its initial presentation.

In 1993, it took the then City Council many months to develop a non-discrimination policy and six months to oust their colleague who perpetrated the act. Thankfully the voters, in the November 1993 election, without hesitation, took a clear and strong stand against divisiveness, bigotry and racism. That was 23 years ago. Why is this still an issue?

I urge the current North Adams City Council to stand up for what is right and pass the proposed resolution in a timely way. As we learned in 1993, a long drawn-out process only divides a community at a time when we should be united.

Arlene D. Schiff,
Lenox

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Letter: "North Adams taxes a strain on residents"
The Berkshire Eagle, December 27, 2016

To the editor:

Another raise in our real estate taxes! I don't know what world our city officials live in, but my world is shrinking financially as fast as the taxes go up.

I just did a simple budget for someone with the income of $25,000 a year. Many people — older, unemployed, widows, widowers — are living on that or less. Many people are at the point of having to sell their homes that they have worked hard to buy and maintain. Older people can't to go work. Many of them lost jobs when Sprague left and never recovered from that blow. Maybe the mayor should consider locking in at say, $3,000 a year at most, in real estate taxes for people age 75 and up.

Following is a sample budget: Rent or mortgage ($7,000); present real estate taxes ($4,000); Prescription drugs, Part D ($200); Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($2,200); heat and electric ($3,000); basic TV, Internet, phone ($960), Food, along with over the counter drugs, paper goods, laundry products, etc. ($7,000); Berkshire Eagle (plus) ($300); car, including gas, excise tax, etc. ($240). That yearly total comes to $24,900, and notice this does not allow for any eating out or entertainment or essential repairs and unanticipated expenses.

Mary A. LaPierre,
North Adams

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Entering his eighth year in office, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright delivers his State of the City Address to the City Council on Tuesday.

“'Promise and hope': North Adams mayor marks State of the City address with emphasis on progress”
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, February 28, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — In his eighth year as mayor, Richard J. Alcombright touted the progress the city has made under his leadership and highlighted opportunities for growth during a State of the City address on Tuesday evening.

Alcombright's speech before the City Council centered largely on the city's financial position, which he argued has rebounded and allowed the city to begin a renewed focus on the future.

Since he took office in 2010, the city's unemployment rate has been cut by more than half and the city's reserves have been rebuilt from $160,000 to $1.8 million today, according to Alcombright. The city is on target to end the current fiscal year in the black, and the administration anticipates an upgrade in its bond rating.

"I am now living with the promise and hope of all that is happening," Alcombright said.

Alcombright also made note of the multiple investments, private and public, being made in the city.

"We continue to see more private and public sector investment over the past two years; investment that will help grow our economy, add to and aid in stabilizing our tax base and enhance this new 'cultural corridor' that is rapidly growing in this city and region," Alcombright said.

He noted the latest expansion of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the ongoing renovation of the Greylock Mill on State Road, the expansion of the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service, and Thomas Krens' proposal for an Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

Alcombright also acknowledged a manufacturer of tiny homes moving into the Windsor Mill on Union Street and the opening of the new Redwood Motel slated for later this year.

"This year, we will continue working with private investors and government partners to finalize and put into play much of what is happening," Alcombright said.

Having already signed off on tax agreements with the developers of the Greylock Mill and the Redwood Motel, Alcombright did not shy away from his penchant for partnering with the private sector.

"I will continue my support of investment efforts with tax agreements where appropriate," he said. "The need to support private investment by providing smart and measured short term tax incentives to projects that promote and promise significant future growth in our tax base is a must."

Alcombright also noted how the city will address its infrastructure in the coming year, including the consolidation of its public services department into a new facility on Hodges Cross Road. The city will also move forward with plans to issue a request for proposals on the city-owned Notre Dame Church, the Windsor Mill, Sullivan School, and former Department of Public Works parcel.

With the proceeds of the sale of those buildings, the administration plans to fund the engineering of several upcoming capital projects, including repairs to dams and retaining walls throughout the city.

But Alcombright also acknowledged some of his disappointments, particularly the Mohawk Theater, which remains a vacant cultural center on Main Street.

"My hopes of partnerships with educational and cultural venues have not yet come to fruition. I am hopeful however that as development continues across many areas of the city, the Mohawk will find its rebirth," Alcombright said.

The Armory building on Ashland Street has also not evolved as the administration had hoped.

"While it is still programmed for youth basketball and a host of other activities, we continue to work to find the right recipe to contain the community center concept we envision," Alcombright said.

The speech ended on a note of hope.

"Our city is not poor, but rather it is rich; rich in its history, rich in its environment, rich in its amenities, and rich in the people who define who we are and who we will become."

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks

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“North Adams bond rating upgraded by Standard & Poor's”
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 5, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — The city's financial outlook has improved in the eyes of its bond rating agency.

Standard and Poor's will raise the city's bond credit rating two levels — from an A minus with a negative outlook to an A with a stable outlook, Mayor Richard Alcombright announced this week.

The new rating is the city's highest since at least 2006, when it began using Standard and Poor's system for bond ratings, Alcombright said.

Although the new rating could have a small benefit to the city when it borrows money, Alcombright said it's more meaningful to have an outside agency simply affirm a more positive outlook for the city.

"It's not about [interest rates]," he said, "it's about an evaluating grade that says `You're doing a lot better.' "

The city's bond rating was an A minus with a stable outlook between 2006 and 2013, when it was downgraded to an A minus with a negative outlook.

According to the agency's website, a borrower with at least an A rating has a "strong" commitment to meet its financial obligations.

Alcombright said the agency takes more than just a peek at the city's financial situation and gauges everything from its union contract to its reserve accounts.

"Standard and Poor's doesn't just come in and make sure you're paying your loans," Alcombright said. "It's an hour-and-a-half grilling for the city."

With debt coming off the books in upcoming fiscal years and a firm capital plan endorsed by the City Council, Alcombright said the rating agency looked fondly on the city's financial footing.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks.

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The Williamstown bike path would end on the east side of the Spruces, where it would cross Main Street (Route 2) and join the proposed North Adams bike path. Credit: Scott Stafford – The Berkshire Eagle.

“Shorter route sought: North Adams seeks partial bike path for now”
By Scott Stafford sstafford@berkshrieeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 5, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — Although a plan to run a bike path through the west end all the way to Mass MoCA was scuttled by a neighborhood's concerns, officials are working to build a section of bike path that ends at the Harriman and West Airport while seeking another route around the neighborhood.

"We're excited about this because it lets us start the bike path into the city," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "And that gives us the opportunity to enhance the economic opportunities it brings to the airport, which we've been trying to draw attention to anyway."

Meanwhile, officials will seek to detour the path at a later time around the reluctant subdivision in an effort to get the path to the grounds of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

"It gives us a new starting point for another project to Mass MoCA," Alcombright said.

At the same time, Williamstown is looking forward to seeing an engineering plan for the $4.3 million bike path from Syndicate Road along the south side of the Hoosic River, all the way through town to the Spruces. There it would cross Route 2 and meet up with the North Adams section of bike path.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said work is in the very preliminary stages, and that if everything goes perfectly, construction wouldn't start for at least two years.

He said the route of the path travels south from Gavin Road between two small neighborhoods until it reaches the west end of the airport's taxiway. Then it would travel east along the run way to Airport Road.

Residents of Chentaille Terrace, behind which the path would run, have been contacted and asked for their thoughts on that route.

Alcombright said there would be a number of public meetings to discuss the plan and the route.

"Like with any other project, we need to be extremely sensitive to the needs and concerns of the neighbors," he said.

If completed the North Adams section of bike path would end at Airport Road, giving hikers and bikers the opportunity to watch planes take off and land at the airport, easy access to the Stop & Shop supermarket, and the under-construction hospitality project at the site of the former Redwood Motel.

Funding for this relatively short stretch of bike path would come from the state in conjunction with the Williamstown path's funding.

But more importantly, it gets the path into North Adams, something the mayor considers to be an important first step.

While work on the Williamstown and west end North Adams bike paths continue, the effort to bring the bike path into the south end of North Adams from Adams is also ongoing.

The ultimate goal is to unite the two ends of the bike path at Mass MoCA. Once that happens, the bike path would be continuous from Simonds Road in Williamstown, all the way through North Adams, connects with the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams, travels through Cheshire, and into Lanesborough, where the trail begins adjacent to the Berkshire Mall.

According to Judi Riley, a spokesperson for MassDOT, the bike path would connect Simonds Road (Route 7) near Syndicate Road to Main Street (Route 2) near Galvin Road. The path will roughly follow the south bank of the Hoosic River.

The path would consist of a 10-foot wide paved surface with 2-foot graded shoulders on each side. The terrain winds through open fields, a 100-year floodplain, some wetlands, and outlying suburban areas. Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2018.

According to Joshua Moran, a member of the North Adams City Council, Mass DOT seems excited about the idea.

"It seems somewhat promising to the DOT because it will make the Williamstown path substantially longer," he said. "And for North Adams, it's a really good first step."

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.

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“Statistics don’t lie about North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, March 12, 2017

To the Editor:

I am writing in rebuttal to a specific point that North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright made in his latest state of the city address. He emphatically denies that North Adams is a poor community. While he and the City Council are experiencing intense delusion, the facts don't lie.

* North Adams is #8 on the top ten list of poorest cities in Massachusetts according to the website onlyinyourstate.com

* Forty eight percent of North Adams residents are considered "very low income.

* Berkshire Food Project served 3,000 more meals to the needy in 2016 than it served in 2015.

* The number of children living below the poverty rate in North Adams is 30 percent vs. the state rate of 14.5 percent.

* The overall poverty rate in North Adams is 25 percent vs. the state rate of 5.1 percent.

* The per capita income in North Adams is $23,000 vs. the state rate of $38,000.

* The population of North Adams has been, and continues to be at a steady decline.

The mayor and the City Council need to get their heads out the sand and face the facts. Residents are leaving. Opportunities to make a sustainable living without public assistance are becoming more scarce every day. Hooray for the arts, but the arts aren't paying the bills.

Mayor Alcombright has become very adept at the art of political spin. Don't lie, but don't really tell the truth either. The truth is in the numbers, and the numbers don't lie.

James M Peters,
North Adams

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“A city without pity for elderly resident”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, March 24, 2017

To the editor:

I have a friend in her 80s who has crippling arthritis in her hands and knees. She lives along and has no family. This recent big snowstorm was her problem. When only a little snow falls she can sweep or shovel her way to the street. She lives on the edge of the road where the city snowplows fill her entranceway. After this recent storm, the pile at her gate measured in feet.

Calls have been made to people for help, including the mayor's office. Everyone has the same answer — no one is available.

I can't believe that there is no one in North Adams who can come to the aid of my friend and others like her in the same situation. It is a terrible feeling to know that you are stuck in your home and can't even get to the street in case of an emergency, and that no one cares.

Isn't there a scout troop or an older class of students that would like to earn a little money toward a planned trip, or even a good Samaritan?

It was so rewarding to watch the news on TV and how the people of Pittsfield were helping one another, even strangers, during the aftermath of the story. Not so in North Adams.

Roma A. Nichols,
North Adams

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“Vigil marks third anniversary of North Adams Regional Hospital closing”
Candlelight vigil for NARH
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — Huddled together outside City Hall, a group of advocates for health care in the Northern Berkshires urged: Keep fighting.

North Adams Regional Hospital abruptly closed, with only three days of notice, in March of 2014 and subsequently declared bankruptcy.

"It's been a long few years. We've had our ups and downs," said Jim Lipa, a leader of the North County Cares Coalition, which was formed to champion health care in the Northern Berkshires. "Hopefully we keep at it."

On Tuesday evening, the North County Cares Coalition hosted a vigil to commemorate the anniversary of the closure and continue to pressure Berkshire Health Systems to expand health care services in North Adams.

About 25 people braved the weather to participate.

"You are doing work that must be done. I know it must be discouraging at times, but you keep at it with persistence and courage," said Maynard Seider, a retired professor of Sociology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the event's featured speaker.

The closure of the hospital, which the advocates blamed on its financial mismanagement, resulted in what was estimated to be the largest single loss of employment in the Northern Berkshires since the closure of Sprague Electric Co. nearly thirty years earlier.

In the immediate aftermath of the closure, Berkshire Health Systems quickly stepped in to open an emergency department at the former North Adams Regional Hospital and eventually purchased the facility through United States Bankruptcy Court proceedings.

The facility, now known as Berkshire Medical Center North Adams, has become the home to an array of outpatient services hosted by Berkshire Health Systems ranging from renal dialysis to endoscopy.

But since the hospital's closure in 2014, a group of residents have formed the North County Care Coalition and have continually called for the restoration of a "full-service" hospital and inpatient care in North Adams.

The Berkshire Medical Center North Adams Campus, for example, lacks the maternity ward that North Adams Regional Hospital had.

They've particularly lobbied for Berkshire Health Systems to open inpatient addiction treatment services at the North Adams campus, to no avail.

"Honestly, from BHS's point of view, it's the bottom line," said Elizabeth Manns, a member of the coalition.

Berkshire Health Systems CEO David Phelps, who the group's members say has refused to meet with them, was a primary target of criticism.

Seider criticized the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' decision to award Phelps, whose decisions he said can have more impact on North County than some elected officials, an honorary degree.

"Until Mr. Phelps provides North Berkshire with the full-service hospital it desperately needs, it remains unearned," Seider said of the degree.

Rachel Branch, another advocate, said to "decimate" a community hospital like North Adams Regional was a "travesty of justice." She plans to deliver a box of more than 600 postcards from Northern Berkshire residents to Phelps personally.

"May we all remain steadfast and continue working to restore our full-service hospital with inpatient beds," Branch said.

Michael Leary, a spokesman for Berkshire Health Systems, declined to comment on the group's call for a full-service hospital, but noted that "Berkshire Health Systems is investing in the present and the future" at its North Adams campus.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks

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“Good news from North Adams audit: City earns improved bond rating and is banking free cash”
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, April 14, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — Three years ago, the city's independent auditor stood before the City Council and delivered a grim message.

"The finances just aren't there," said Auditor Thomas Scanlon, of Scanlon Associates, suggesting either steep cuts to the city's budget or a Proposition 2 1/2 override.

On Tuesday, Scanlon returned, this time with a much brighter message.

"Your financial policies and procedures are working," he said. "I can't say enough about the course you're taking."

In his recently released audit of the fiscal 2016 budget, Scanlon found that the city has generated free cash for the third consecutive year and noted that it's advanced enough to have its bond rating upgraded by the rating agency Standard and Poor's.

The audit, presented to the City Council at its regular Tuesday meeting, included no substantial findings.

"Going back quite a few years, this wasn't as pretty as it is today," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "Our whole financial team has done a lot of work on policy, procedures, on making sure the loose ends are all brought together."

In March the city's bond rating, which impacts its ability to borrow and at what interest rates, was upgraded by Standard and Poor's from an A minus to an A. The city's outlook was also upgraded from negative to stable.

In a report, Standard and Poor's cited additions to the city's reserves and improved budgetary performance as reasons for its improved rating.

Scanlon did note that the city is approaching the tax levy ceiling, which it cannot excede. It currently has about $1.3 million of wiggle room and Scanlon said its impact is likely four to five years, though he cautioned it should be taken into consideration now.

“That can sneak up and get you in a hurry,” Scanlon said.

The only way the tax levy ceiling can increase is with new growth in property value, so the city would be at the mercy of the economy, Scanlon said.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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Berkshire Health Systems Inc., the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, will receive $1.1 million in restricted gifts, bequests and donations originally given to Northern Berkshire Health Care. The funds could not be awarded to hospital creditors. In all, the Pittsfield nonprofit stands to receive $1,135,285.90, including restricted funds from the endowment of the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire Inc. Berkshire Eagle File Photo.

“$1M NARH endowment shifts to Berkshire Health Systems in bankruptcy case”
By Larry Parnass, lparnass@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 24, 2017

PITTSFIELD — More than $1 million donated for use by the former North Adams Regional Hospital will be placed into new hands, but for an old purpose: benefiting public health in northern Berkshire County.

Advocates of the former full-service hospital have strong feelings about what they lost — and how such money should be spent.

"Use it to get one standard of care for the entire county," said Richard Dassatti, co-chairman of the North County Cares Coalition.

Three years after the hospital abruptly closed, stranding 530 employees, the bankruptcy case of Northern Berkshire Healthcare Inc. is coming to a close.

Filings show that out of a reported value of $44,464,487 in assets of various kinds held by the company, the bankruptcy trustee was able to gather $12,117,774 — or a bit more than one-quarter of what the hospital was worth.

While at least one secured creditor, Adams Community Bank, came away whole, others took steep losses. And 89 unsecured creditors stand to receive nothing.

Among the largest unsecured creditors likely to receive no money are a slew of medical care and device companies owed millions of dollars.

One of the biggest losers, the trustee's final report shows, are individuals: No payment is recommended for the One199SEIU Health Care Employees Pension Fund, despite its claim against Northern Berkshire for $11,145,276.

Endowment issue

One of the last steps in the bankruptcy case was to seek advice from the attorney general on how to disperse $1,072,058.90, the value of money donated over many decades to the hospital.

By law, those restricted gifts, bequests and donations could not be awarded to hospital creditors.

In a recent memo, Attorney General Maura Healey supported the trustee's recommendation to shift the funding to Berkshire Health Systems Inc. of Pittsfield.

In all, the Pittsfield nonprofit stands to receive $1,135,285.90, including restricted funds from the endowment of the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire Inc.

In an April 21 memo filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Healey backed Trustee Harold B. Murphy's recommendation to have the money administered by Berkshire Health.

Citing state law, Healey said the funds "should be turned over directly to the appropriate public charity that can administer and expend the Restricted Funds in the manner that most closely approximates" their use by Northern Berkshire.

That public charity, she concluded, is Berkshire Health.

Michael Leary, a Berkshire Health spokesman, said the hospital is committed to using income from the restricted funds for the specific uses intended by the original donors.

In cases where there is no record of how donors intended the money to be spent, Leary said proceeds from investment of the funds will be used exclusively to benefit residents of northern Berkshire County.

The former Northern Berkshire Healthcare funds will add to what is now a roughly $7 million BHS endowment, Leary said. The transfer awaits what's expected to be routine approval by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Bankruptcy end game

By resolving the endowment question, Murphy brings the bankruptcy case to its end game.

In a report filed with the bankruptcy court, Murphy notes that in all, he was able to gather gross receipts of $12,117,774. That included the sale of the former hospital to Berkshire Health for about $4 million. After renovations, that facility reopened as the Berkshire Medical Center North Campus, providing outpatient and lab services and emergency care.

The trustee's final report shows that Berkshire Health paid $4,028,447 for property at the former North Adams hospital.

That is far below the values of the properties, which the report lists as $34,038,800, according to calculations by The Eagle. The 71 Hospital Ave. main building itself was valued at $29.8 million.

The hospital reported having $629,062 in cash on hand at the time of its bankruptcy filing April 3, 2014.

Though many assets of the hospital brought nothing, according to the trustee's final report, $105,000 was raised through the sale of hospital furnishings.

As of March 10, Murphy had overseen payments of $7,350,683 in an interim distribution. That included payments to former employees and to secured creditors.

While Adams Community Bank received $423,011 of an initial claim below that amount, $419,249, others did not do as well.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. received $87,856 of a claim of $593,821, recovering less than 15 percent of what it was owed.

The Wells Fargo Bank did a little better on a percentage basis, getting $6,450,000 of the $33,929,994 of its claim, or 19 percent.

The trustee notes "priority" claims from creditors totaling $1,103,400. The trustee recommends the attorney general's office receive the full $1,072,058 of its claim, while the state was to get a scant $15,810 of its $308,581 claim, or 5 percent.

The long list of unsecured creditors includes Berkshire Health Systems itself, for $1,757,866, a sum less than the amount that is expected to be added to its endowment.

Community reacts

Dassatti, of the North County Cares Coalition, said he is disappointed that the AG's memo does not compel Berkshire Health Systems to work to restore full-service hospital care in North Adams for what he called a "highly vulnerable medical community."

A spokeswoman for the AG's office said Wednesday that members of the coalition should have a voice in how the former hospital's endowment funds are used. She called for "all stakeholders to have a seat at the table."

Dassatti, like other coalition members, feels the "campus" that Berkshire Health created in North Adams, in response to the closing, isn't enough.

"They got it at a bargain price and are only doing what is profitable," he said.

Former employers are still hurting, he said. "It was a very traumatic experience when they lost their jobs."

Jim Lipa, co-chair of the coalition, called the AG's memo on the endowment money significant. "This is big news for us," he said Wednesday.

He too wants to see dramatic gains in health-care options in his community.

As one of the stakeholders identified by the AG's office, Lipa will call for the return of in-patient services.

"It's still a hardship for people to have to go to Pittsfield. It's not easy for people who are low-income or don't have their own cars," he said.

Lipa would also like to see more investment in medical responses to the opioid crisis. "All the money and all the beds for that have been funneled through Pittsfield," he said.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.

Berkshire Health Systems Inc., the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, will receive $1.1 million in restricted gifts, bequests and donations originally given to Northern Berkshire Health Care. The funds could not be awarded to hospital creditors.

In all, the Pittsfield nonprofit stands to receive $1,135,285.90, including restricted funds from the endowment of the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire Inc.

BY THE NUMBERS

Payments recommended - or not recommended - by the bankruptcy trustee, Harold B. Murphy, include:

• $2,729,883.15 in administrative expenses, including the trustee's own fees, which come to $357,552. Additional payments for fees and expenses to Murphy's law firm total $1,348,427. Murphy's hourly billing rate is $650.

• $223,982 to be paid to accountants for handling the case.

• $69,683 in bank service fees.

• Among the biggest losers in the unsecured creditors' category were health care and medical device companies: Olympus America (nearly $400,000); Baystate Elevator Co. ($36,085); Brigham and Women's Physicians' Organization ($84,000); National Wound Care & Hyperbaric Services ($193,254); National Grid ($96,530); Department of Health & Human Services ($1,066,248).

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North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright has announced he will not seek a fifth term in November's election. "I am certain that I have established a gateway to a brighter future," he said in a prepared statement. Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.

“Last term for North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright”
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, June 1, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — This term will be the last for Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Calling it a "time for new leadership," Alcombright announced on Thursday that he will not seek a fifth term this fall.

As a result, November's mayoral election will be first in more than 30 years in which the incumbent won't be running.

"The city of North Adams has been under the leadership of two mayors for the last 34 years," he wrote in a statement. "If nothing else, this number makes me realize that we have missed an entire generation of leaders."

In 2009, Alcombright defeated longtime Mayor John Barrett III, who had been in office since 1984. He has won re-election three times, most recently defeating Barrett in a tightly contested 2015 rematch. His fourth term runs through the end of 2017.

As for his legacy, Alcombright, 63, points to an improved fiscal condition of the city and momentum in private economic development.

"In my initial announcement back in 2009 I talked about some of these issues," Alcombright said. "A lot of these things have happened."

The city's independent auditor recently praised the direction the city is heading in financially, slowly building up reserves and balancing its budgets. A credit rating agency agreed, improving the city's rating to its highest level since prior to 2006 earlier this year.

"When Standard & Poor's raised our credit rating... I wanted to get a T-shirt that said that," Alcombright said. "For the bank geek in me, that is a true measure of success, of what we've done financially here."

Alcombright also believes he has "welcomed business and provided incentives for growth related development." He spearheaded tax deals with the developers of the Tourists hotel, the Greylock Mill and Crane Stationery.

Recently, Alcombright worked with the North Adams Redevelopment Authority to negotiate an option to purchase Western Gateway Heritage State Park for the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum.

On the municipal side, he won voter approval and oversaw the renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School into Colegrove Park Elementary School, which opened in 2016.

The mayor also won City Council approval for the $1 million purchase of the former Berkshire Anodizing plant on Hodges Cross Road, which is being renovated into a consolidated hub for the city's public services.

He also touts what he believes is the increased accessibility of local government, and noted new leadership that has emerged in the city.

"People are feeling empowered to become part of the process and the more I see that happening, the more it helped me to make this decision," Alcombright said.

He described himself as willing to listen to "any and all ideas" from city natives and newcomers alike.

"Whether we agreed or disagreed at any given moment during our time working together, I always felt he has truly aimed at working for the greater good of North Adams now, and North Adams of the future," said City Council President Benjamin Lamb, who does not intend to run for mayor.

In the coming months, Alcombright hopes to sell the city-owned Windsor Mill on Union Street and the former Department of Public Works facility on Ashland Street, as well as continue to "shepherd" the ongoing development in the city.

"I am confident that much of what I have achieved will far outlast me and I am certain that I have established a gateway to a brighter future," Alcombright said.

Despite touting his successes, Alcombright acknowledged the challenges his successor will face.

The Mohawk Theater on Main Street remains undeveloped and the city continues to battle blight in its neighborhoods. Public schools are struggling financially throughout the county, and the city is on pace to approach the tax levy ceiling in three to five years.

Alcombright said he is uncertain what he will do after he leaves office, but he said he does not intend to retire.

"It took me six months to make this decision, it looks like I've got six or seven months until the end of the year," Alcombright said. "We're going to continue to work hard."

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

Open race ...

Anyone interested in running for mayor may pick up papers at City Hall; they are due to be returned Aug. 7. As of Thursday, nobody had come forward, according to City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau. The general election is Nov. 7, [2017].

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Our Opinion: “A 'time for new leadership' arrives in North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 1, 2017

The city of North Adams has had remarkably stable leadership over the past 34 years. Change will be coming next year, however, following Mayor Richard Alcombright's announcement on Thursday that he will not seek a fifth term this fall.

This November will mark the first time in more than three decades that an incumbent mayor has not been on the North Adams ballot. Mayor John Barrett III, who for a stretch of years was the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts, was in office from 1984 until he was defeated by Mr. Alcombright in 2009. Mayor Alcombright won re-election three times, including a rematch with Mr. Barrett in 2015.

The Barrett-Alcombright years assured North Adams of reliable, experienced leadership, but that continuity was half of a double-edged sword. In asserting that it was "time for new leadership," Mayor Alcombright, 63, said Thursday that in reflecting back on those 34 years he realized that "we have missed an entire generation of leaders."

Some of those potential new leaders got as far as the City Council, while others abandoned or never entered the political sphere. Some left the city. But with no incumbent on the ballot this fall since the 1980s, new leaders have a clear path to compete for the mayor's office.

The Barrett-Alcombright years have been defined in large part by the difficult economic times the city has endured since the closing of Sprague Electric in 1985. Mayor Alcombright said he will leave the city in a stable situation economically, pointing to a recent favorable report by the city's independent auditor and a boost in the city's credit rating earlier this year to its highest level since 2006.

The closing of Sprague led to the arrival of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in its abandoned Marshall Street buildings. Mayor Barrett was a major player in the birth and growth of Mass MoCA and the museum continued its growth as a tourist draw and economic generator for the city during the Alcombright administration. Last Sunday, the mayor joined in heralding the opening of Building 6, a significant step forward for the internationally recognized museum. Today, the city sports a vibrant arts community that has grown along with Mass MoCA.

The Tourists hotel, Greylock Mill and Crane Stationery have become contributors to the North Adams economy in part through tax incentive programs put together by the mayor. There is hope for the trouble-plagued Western Gateway Heritage State Park in the form of the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum that the North Adams Redevelopment Authority and the mayor have facilitated. Mayor Alcombright's advocacy of the renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School into Colegrove Park Elementary School led to a successful boost for the city's educational system.

The abrupt closing of North Adams Regional Hospital in 2014 was arguably the biggest blow to the city since the departure of Sprague. NARH's bankruptcy and departure without required notice were brought about by forces outside the control of the mayor's office, and in the intervening years, Berkshire Health Systems purchased the hospital, restored emergency room and outpatient services and consolidated a number of physician specialists on what is now the North Adams campus of Berkshire Medical Center.

North Adams in recent years has confronted many of the same knotty problems that afflict Pittsfield — among them losses in jobs and population and an increase in financial obligations accompanied by little or no room to grow in terms of the tax rate. These problems obviously defy ready solution, but an aggressive, wide open mayoral campaign provides a great opportunity to discuss ways to address these issues, while also exploring ways to build upon the city's strengths. We hope an ambitious shared services agreement with Adams, which has economic challenges similar to those of North Adams and is struggling desperately to keep the Adams-Cheshire School District afloat financially, will be a prominent subject of discussion in the coming campaign dialogue.

Mayor Alcombright has served North Adams honorably. We join him in anticipation of the potential new leaders and their ideas to emerge in the coming months.

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“Local History Destroyed”
iBerkshires.com – Letter to the Editor, May 25, 2017

To the Editor:

Driving to work on Tuesday, I went a different route than usual. As I approached downtown north Adams I thought I was seeing things, The Arnold Printworks Dolls and Mill Children columns in front of Mass MoCA under the Route 2 overpass were gone.

They were a depiction of the essence of this city 120 years ago. When I arrived at Greylock Elementary School, I rushed to my computer to contact fellow artist and co-facilitator on the column project, William Oberst to inquire if he knew anything about their destruction. He answered immediately that he was as surprised as I. As the two artists that planned, led and completed these columns, we remain absolutely stunned.

So many questions ran through my head, Who would do this? Why would they do this? Why weren't we notified? What was the purpose of their removal? I then turned to the larger issue which became, would this have been done if we had been compensated for our work and not simply volunteered our time for 16 months and two summers to design, instruct and complete this project?

DownStreet Art muralists are compensated a small fee for their work. Bill and I and a former MCLA grad, Stephanie VanBramer, taught Greylock School after-school students the history of their city, the process of choosing appropriate images, enlarging of the images and proper painting techniques and care to complete these columns in a professional manner.

We began on the east side with the Arnold Printworks dolls, where we were approached by a Community Service Learning course from MCLA to offer training to Berkshire County educators and an opportunity to learn about our process. The east side columns were dedicated in 2012. The following spring, we began the creation of the west side, the same elementary students signed up and new students joined to participate in this once in a life time learning activity.

Our materials were funded by Community Service Learning grants that have since been absorbed and written in the NAPS district budget with the support of service learning by the district. Parents were educated by their children about the city's history after generations of residing in North Adams. Students learned about Child Labor and how Lewis Hine helped illuminate the country's understanding of using young children as laborers, and finally that Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw child labor due to these convictions.

This is now where the flavor of this destruction sits with me, as an educator I offered my knowledge, my time and energy to get as many citizens involved in what I thought was an incredible opportunity. I shared my enthusiasm for art and technique and the hope that someone would be touched by our work. We were constantly cheered and beeped as cars drove past at each stage of completion.

The students beamed, it confirmed my role as an artist and educator and my love of both. We brought groups of people together that never would have met, students became teachers to the adults that lead them everyday, simply because they had invested their time throughout the school year. Everyone involved in this project did it for the love of it not the notoriety, but because it spread the word and understanding of a huge piece of history of this region and city.

I vacillate between angry and sad now every day, but my heart goes out to the residents of the city. It is their history that has been erased again. Our paintings were beautiful and I will forever be proud of my involvement, but I am wounded by lack of integrity related to the decision to destroy a community project such as this. This level of callousness and disrespect is what permeates our world currently and I will continue to try to share the importance of taking the high road with my students regarding this and other issues that will undoubtedly arise in their lives in the future.

Christina King
Ms. King is an art teacher in the North Adams Public Schools.

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Letter: “Local children failed by MoCA head's hubris”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 7, 2017

To the editor:

In reference to the June 3 article titled "Shades of Gray: Public murals painted over as Mass MoCA restores sound installation," MoCA's Joe Thompson has yet to establish that the original submitted design specified gray pillars as an artist "requirement," let alone a "specific shade of gray." He has not produced any written documentation in that regard. Even if he could, it is admitted by all parties that no contract existed with the city as to how long "Harmonic Bridge" would stay in place, what other artwork could, or could not have proximity to the work, what were the required elements to the sound installation, etc.

Beyond this, the city of North Adams has yet to confirm inquiries in regard to its ownership of the bridge structure, which carries state Route MA-2. As such, it has yet to be established if former Mayor John Barrett III had the right to verbally authorize the installation on areas such as the guard rails and so on.

Joe Thompson was well aware of the existence and mission of the North Adams Public Arts Commission. He was well aware that its purpose is to give voice to public opinion and comment. It also does not take a lot of thought to realize that public opinion would likely have favored the work of local schoolchildren honoring local history over a 19-year-old work that most residents and visitors totally miss when walking under the bridge. The outcry we have seen since confirms that.

If anything the work of the schoolchildren made more people pause under the bridge to take those pieces in, at which point they might have noticed some of the sounds the "Harmonic Bridge" produces. Nothing spoke more to the way the relationship with Mass MoCA and North Adams should be than that co-existence which had been in place for over half a decade.

The small bit of bad press Thompson has gotten was clearly worth the price to him with his declaration that "It just seemed like the time," when this was never his decision to make. His tone-deaf talk of it being a sad time whenever a installation must come down in a gallery shows his hubris to think that this public space was a gallery that he is director of.

It is likely time for "Harmonic Bridge" to end its run on the bridge the city is not sure if it owns or not. It is already past due time figuring out how we give current students a place to create a new public work as at least some kind of positive karma given the travesty that had occurred here. Certainly members of the public such as myself are willing to help fund supplies for such an effort. What is Mass MoCA doing to make some sort of amends? Is it petitioning for a new public space for local schoolchildren to produce a new work? No. Is it offering to donate painting supplies for a new project? No. Joe Thompson got what he wanted.

Mass MoCA has provided much benefit to North Adams. The good has far outweighed any bad. However, what is right is right, especially when local children and local history is involved.

Joseph Smith,
North Adams

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“North Adams Passes $40M Budget for Fiscal 2018”
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, June 14, 2017

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a $40 million budget for fiscal 2018.

The spending plan, at $39,955,755, is up $501,072, or 1.27 percent, over this year. The main increases are in the school budget, health insurance premiums, pensions and the Community Development Office, and three new hires, including filling vacant posts in Wire & Alarm and inspection.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the budget was built on anticipated revenues.

"We have spent hours trying to project local receipts as well as working to consolidate and streamline departments and processes," he told the council in his statement. "We are pacing to close the current fiscal year in the black, having used zero reserves this year for the second consecutive cycle."

The mayor said it appeared that there would be money again this year flowing into free cash.

"If we look at our free cash situation and reserves we've been building, we are right about $2 million in overall reserves," he said. "Typically [the state] is looking at 5 percent of budget numbers, with a $40 million budget, we really positioned ourselves well."

Alcombright, however, said some of those savings came on the heels of years of deferred maintenance.

"That's why with some of these reserves, we're going to be coming back in the next few meetings with some creative thinking on how we might approach some of this stuff without depleting reserves," he said. "We're not going to make a huge dent in anything but we want to make certain now that we have some money we'll be able to start some projects."

The mayor thanked the city's financial team for its efforts in putting together a lean budget.

City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, chairman of the Finance Committee, reviewed some of the highlights of the budget, noting the added positions, the continuing concerns over insurances costs, and the reduction in administrative costs that can be charged to Community Development Block Grants from 18 percent to 15 percent, which affected salaries in the Community Development Office.

The school budget, at $17 million, cut nearly a dozen positions, including the high school's assistant vice principal.

The compensation plan, given final approval on Tuesday, includes a raise of 1.25 percent for police and non-union employees, with retroactive pay to July 1, 2016. The Department of Public Works employees have been reclassified to better reflect their current levels of licensure but are not getting a percentage increase.

Blackmer also noted that the budget being approved was based on revenues and appropriations, and that city and school officials have also pursued grants to fund a plethora of projects and programs.

"This doesn't count the grants that the school has aggressively brought in or the work that the Community Development Office has done to get grants," she said. "That's our budget out of taxation and there's probably another few million that comes from these grants."

In response to complaints that taxes continue to rise, the councilors defended the city's spending plans and the public employees who are continuing to do more with less.

"All of these departments do a lot with less. I just want to say that because I think it's important," Councilor Ronald Boucher said. "I know people yell and scream about things but we do a heck of a job with everything out here, considering what we have."

Councilor Nancy Bullett objected to the idea of making large cuts to the school system.

"We really can ill afford to do less for them, the students are our future ... I hope moving forward we can continue to support our kids," she said. "We have committee meetings that go on and they're open to the public ... if you want questions asked or answered."

Blackmer said a lot of the budget cutting happens long before the final product is voted on, including initial reductions made by department heads and administration even before the Finance Committee sees it.

"Maybe everybody should come in with their wish list," she said, and then compare the final budget numbers with that. "I think we get a good product."

Alcombright cautioned that the next mayor and City Council will have to deal with a looming levy ceiling and the state's failure to keep up with real costs associated with education.

"They need to make discussions around school funding a priority," he said. "Two percent [increases] a year ain't cutting it, so to speak. ...

"The $17 million or so that is in our budget that represents the schools is the only thing that's an investment ... the rest is just paying the bills."

In other business, the council voted to increase in the scale rate at the transfer station from .0506 cents per pound to .0568 cents per pound effective July 1. That translates to $113.64 a ton, an increase of $12.41, on the recommendation of the Public Services Committee and the administration.

The price for bags ($2.25 for blue and $1 for green) will not change, nor will the sticker fees. There will be a minimum charge of $6 for up to 105 pounds over scale.

The transfer station is currently permitted as a Large Transfer Station but the over the past year has not exceeded 50 tons per day. Based on the reduction in tonnage, the administration and state Department of Environmental Protection are recommending permitting the facility as a Small Transfer Station.

Change the permitting would mean material from large commercial haulers would no longer be accepted; smaller commercial pickup trucks would still be allowed.

As a Small Transfer Station, the city would be required to submit state reports every five years rather than the current annual and quarterly reports. Administrative Officer Michael Canales says that will save the city upwards of $10,000 a year.

• The council also affirmed the reappointment of Gail Sellers to the Public Arts Commission with a term expiring in 2022. But it postponed a vote on her colleague, Eric Kerns, at the request of Councilor Eric Buddington who raised concerns over Kerns ability to attend meetings. The mayor said he would speak to Kerns and the commission chair.

• The council referred a question over the removal of several parking spots on the west side of Ashland Street near the Holiday Inn to the city solicitor. The Traffic Commission had recommended the change last month as part of the city's Complete Streets program to create bicycle lanes.

However, the letter on the removal was confusing in that it didn't address the spots, only the meters. A more specific letter was submitted and Traffic Commissioner Amanda Chilson and Eammon Coughlin of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the city's Complete Streets adviser, attended to provide information.

Councilors endorsed the idea but questioned whether an ordinance was needed. The matter was referred to the city solicitor for an opinion.

• The council approved a resolution for the mayor to apply for a $778,000 grant from the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovation for Communities Program for Phase II of the Noel Field Athletic Complex renovation that will include new basketball courts and a splash pad.

• And an application submitted by Richard Bostwick of Bracewell Avenue to drive taxi for RJ Taxi was approved.

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“North Adams City Council OKs $39.96 million budget: City looks for new revenue as state aid falls and costs increase”
By Adam Shanks, ashanks@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, June 15, 2017

NORTH ADAMS — The City Council has unanimously signed off on a budget that increases spending by little more than 1 percent.

The $39.96 million proposal for fiscal 2018 is an increase of $501,072, or 1.27 percent, over the previous year's spending plan. It is balanced with the use of $115,000 from the city's reserve accounts.

"We have spent hours trying to project local receipts as well as working to consolidate and streamline departments and processes," Alcombright said on Tuesday.

Despite the modest increase in the overall budget, the tax levy is expected to increase more sharply. With local receipts expected to decline, and state aid barely increasing, the increase to the tax levy is $786,043, or 4.1 percent, to $16.98 million.

The budget calls for the filling of two past positions, one electrician in the city's Wire and Alarm Division and one inspector in Inspection Services. Each department was consolidated by budget cuts in previous years.

Among the largest increase to the city's budget is funding for the public school system, which will increase from $16.7 million to $17.08 million.

As has been the case in recent years, the city's obligations to its employees are also driving cost increases. Employee pension costs are rising from $2.57 million to $2.67 million, while employee health insurance will increase from $4.45 million to $4.67 million.

"Health insurance is obviously an issue," said City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who chairs the council's Finance Committee. "I think it's an issue in every community."

Alcombright said the city's gap between its annual tax levy limit and tax levy ceiling — the point at which the city can longer raise taxes — is shrinking. The only solution, Alcombright said, is to foster new growth in the city.

"With several very exciting projects in process and development," Alcombright said. "I am hopeful that we will see continued growth over the next several years."

City Councilor Ronald Boucher credited city departments for doing more work with fewer resources.

"We do a heck of a job with everything out here, considering," Boucher said.

The budget was vetted in a series of Finance Committee meetings prior to its passage by the council on Tuesday, but received no substantial cuts.

Explaining the absence of budget slashing by the council, Blackmer noted that the document submitted by Alcombright is a "good product."

Alcombright noted that the city's reserves have recovered from mid-recession lows, to about $2 million, but that improvement is at the cost of deferred maintenance.

The administration expects to return to the council in the coming weeks with requests for funding to address some of the city's infrastructure issues, but Alcombright noted it would not significantly deplete the city's reserves.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter

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Letter: “It's North Adams: spell it out fully”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 7, 2017

To the editor:

One of the first things that John Barrett III did when he became mayor of North Adams was to change the road signs from "Entering No. Adams" to "Entering North Adams." He felt that because Williamstown had more letters than North Adams, but wasn't abbreviated, then North Adams shouldn't be abbreviated either — and he's right. In speaking with former state representative Dan Bosley about this recently, he said that a mindset like this instills pride in a community when it has an identity.

This is relevant today because North Adams just opened the coolest skate park in Western Massachusetts and right in front, in capital letters, it reads NADAMS. That's not even an abbreviation of North Adams — it's a misspelling of North Adams.

When this was posted on social media recently, two camps formed. One camp, made up of predominantly native and long-term resident baby boomers of North Adams (who grew up spelling every word out properly) were hurt by it. The other camp, made up of a younger generation, grew up misspelling words for convenience's sake and felt that it wasn't a big deal.

Well, it is a very big deal if you lived in North Adams through the dark years in the 1980s when it was stated that they should flood North Adams so that Williamstown could have waterfront property, or in the 1990s when Yankee Magazine wrote, "North Adams — the gateway to nowhere." Then just last month the kids' artwork got painted over on Marshall Street. And now, NADAMS.

I love the fact that North Adams has a younger generation that is very excited about our city, and there's a vibe in town that has never been there. It's also great that for the past five or six years, North Adams has gotten some good press. It really feels as though we're coming out of our shell and all of those mean-spirited remarks are a thing of the past. But we need to keep our formal name of North Adams.

The two camps can compromise as there is a solution. First off, it will cost only $500 (a few people have offered to pay for this) to fix. A local stone engraver has stated that he would get a one-inch slab of matching granite that fits perfectly, carve NORTH ADAMS into it and secure it over the NADAMS sign. Then one side of the sign will read NORTH ADAMS and the other side will stay NADAMS. It will be symbolic in a way. This will make the old guard very happy while the younger crowd can stay ambivalent and it won't cost North Adams a dime.

David Willette,
North Adams

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50th Anniversary - 2009

50th Anniversary - 2009
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Columbus Avenue in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Go Red Sox!

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Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., left, and the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., listen during a hearing on modernizing insurance regulations, Tuesday, March 17, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh). - http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090318/pl_politico/30833

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The bottlenose is just one of the new animals set to appear on the price-change stamps. It will serve as a 64-cent stamp for odd shaped envelopes.

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www.boston.com/business/gallery/2009pircechangestamps/ -&- www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/02/27/new_stamps_set_for_rate_increase_in_may/

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Go Red Sox!

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AP photo v Shepard Fairey

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A 2007 US Penny

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Sledding for dogs

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Hartford, once the wealthiest city in the United States but now the poorest in Connecticut, is facing an uphill battle.

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Mayor Jimmy Ruberto
Tanked Pittsfield's local economy while helping his fellow insider political hacks and business campaign contributors!

Journalist Andrew Manuse

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www.manuse.com

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New Hampshire Supreme Court Building
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Supreme_Court

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The Oscars - 2/22/2009.
Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles teamed up for a musical medley during the show.

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009

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Hugh Jackman pulled actress Anne Hathaway on stage to accompany him during his opening musical number.

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A Progressive News Commentator

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That is chump change for the corporate elite!

THE CORPORATE ELITE...

THE CORPORATE ELITE...
Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric

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Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton & Carter.

5 Presidents: Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, & Carter!

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White House Event: January 7, 2009.

Bank Bailout!

Bank Bailout!
v taxpayer

Actress Elizabeth Banks

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Joanna Lipper
Her award-winning 1999 documentary, "Growing Up Fast," about teenaged mothers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

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Happy Holidays...
...from "Star Wars"

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Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states, but it is also very inequitable. For example, it boasts the nation's most lucrative lottery, which is just a system of regressive taxation so that the corporate elite get to pay less in taxes!

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon
Hollywood Actress

Peter G. Arlos.

Peter G. Arlos.
Arlos is shown in his Pittsfield office in early 2000.

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The 44th US President!

Vote

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President Bush with both John McCain & Barack Obama - 9/25/2008.

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Ward 4 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

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Betsi DeVries
Ward 8 Alder-woman (& NH State Senator) for Manchester, NH (2008).

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Michael Garrity
Ward 9 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

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George Smith
Ward 10 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

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Ward 11 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

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“Mike” Lopez
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U.S. Representative John Olver, D-Amherst, Massachusetts.
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Ed O'Reilly for US Senate in Massachusetts!
John Kerry's 9/2008 challenger in the Democratic Primary.

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In a tax revolt, Massachusetts farmers fought back during Shays' Rebellion in the mid-1780s after The American Revolutionary War.

Julianne Moore

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Actress. "The Big Lebowski" is one of my favorite movies. I also like "The Fugitive", too.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III & "Superman"

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He wants online-privacy legislation. Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent.

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She gained fame with her antiwar vigil outside the Bush ranch.

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Go USA!

Exxon Mobil 2Q profit sets US record, shares fall

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In this May 1, 2008, file photo, a customer pumps gas at an Exxon station in Middleton, Mass. Exxon Mobil Corp. reported second-quarter earnings of $11.68 billion Thursday, July 31, the biggest quarterly profit ever by any U.S. corporation, but the results were well short of Wall Street expectations and its shares fell as markets opened. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole, File) 7/31/2008.

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Al Gore, Jr.

Al Gore, Jr.
Al Gore issues challenge on energy

The Norman Rockwell Museum

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Stockbridge, Massachusetts

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's financially wasteful pork barrel project!

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's pork barrel public works project cost 50 times more than the original price!

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My favorite journalist EVER!

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer
Note: Photo from Mary E Carey's Blog.

Tanglewood

Tanglewood
Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine.

Google

Google
Chagall

Jimmy Ruberto

Jimmy Ruberto
Faces multiple persecutions under the Massachusetts "Ethics" conflict of interest laws.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
Obama vows $500m in faith-based aid.

John McCain

John McCain
He is with his wife, Cindy, who were both met by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (right) upon arriving in Cartagena.

Daniel Duquette

Daniel Duquette
Sold Mayor James M. Ruberto of Pittsfield two tickets to the 2004 World Series at face value.

Hillary & Barack in Unity, NH - 6/27/2008

Hillary & Barack in Unity, NH - 6/27/2008
Clinton tells Obama, crowd in Unity, N.H.: 'We are one party'

John Forbes Kerry

John Forbes Kerry
Wanna-be Prez?

WALL-E

WALL-E
"out of this World"

Crisis in the Congo - Ben Affleck

Crisis in the Congo - Ben Affleck
http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/popup?id=5057139&contentIndex=1&page=1&start=false - http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=5234555&page=1

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen
NH's Democratic returning candidate for U.S. Senate

"Wall-E"

"Wall-E"
a cool robot

Ed O'Reilly

Ed O'Reilly
www.edoreilly.com

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
World Champions - 2008

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
J.D. Drew gets the same welcome whenever he visits the City of Brotherly Love: "Booooooo!"; Drew has been vilified in Philadelphia since refusing to sign with the Phillies after they drafted him in 1997...

Joe Kelly Levasseur & Joe Briggs

Joe Kelly Levasseur & Joe Briggs
www.2joes.org

NH Union Leader

NH Union Leader
Editorial Cartoon

Celtics - World Champions!

Celtics - World Champions!
www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_18_08_front_pages/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_17_08_finals_game_6/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_17_08_celebration/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_15_08_celtics_championships/

"The Nation"

"The Nation"
A "Liberal" weekly political news magazine. Katrina vanden Heuvel.

TV - PBS: NOW

TV - PBS: NOW
http://www.pbs.org/now

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone
List of Twilight Zone episodes - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Twilight_Zone_episodes

Equality for ALL Marriages

Equality for ALL Marriages
I, Jonathan Melle, am a supporter of same sex marriages.

Kobe Bryant leads his time to a Game 5 victory.

Kobe Bryant leads his time to a Game 5 victory.
L.A. Lakers holds on for the win to force Game 6 at Boston

Mohawk Trail

Mohawk Trail
The 'Hail to the Sunrise' statue in Charlemont is a well-known and easily recognized landmark on the Mohawk Trail. The trail once boasted several souvenir shops, some with motels and restaurants. Now only four remain. (Caroline Bonnivier / Berkshire Eagle Staff).

NASA - June 14, 2008

NASA - June 14, 2008
Space Shuttle Discovery returns to Earth.

Go Celtics! Game # 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Go Celtics! Game # 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
Boston took a 20-second timeout, and the Celtics ran off four more points (including this incredible Erving-esque layup from Ray Allen) to build the lead to five points with just 2:10 remaining. Reeling, the Lakers took a full timeout to try to regain their momentum.

Sal DiMasi

Sal DiMasi
Speaker of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives

Kelly Ayotte - Attorney General of New Hampshire

Kelly Ayotte - Attorney General of New Hampshire
http://doj.nh.gov/

John Kerry

John Kerry
He does not like grassroots democracy & being challenged in the 2008 Massachusetts Democratic Party Primary for re-election.

Tim Murray

Tim Murray
Corrupt Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts, 2007 - 2013.

North Adams, Massachusetts

North Adams, Massachusetts
downtown

Howie Carr

Howie Carr
Political Satirist on Massachusetts Corruption/Politics

Polar Bear

Polar Bear
Global Warming

Elizabeth Warren - Web-Site Links

Elizabeth Warren - Web-Site Links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Warren & http://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/WarrenAuthor.html

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren
Consumer Crusader

Leon Powe

Leon Powe
Celtics forward Leon Powe finished a fast break with a dunk.

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett reacted during the game.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo finished a first half fast break with a dunk.

Teamwork

Teamwork
Los Angeles Lakers teammates help Pau Gasol (16) from the floor in the second quarter.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant took a shot in the first half of Game 2.

Kendrick Perkins

Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins (right) backed down Lamar Odom (left) during first half action.

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed the national anthem prior to Game 2.

K.G.!

K.G.!
Garnett reacted to a hard dunk in the first quarter.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce reacted after hitting a three upon his return to the game since leaving with an injury.

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
Kobe Bryant (left) and Paul Pierce (right) squared off in the second half of the game.

James Taylor

James Taylor
Sings National Anthem at Celtics Game.

John Forbes Kerry & Deval Patrick

John Forbes Kerry & Deval Patrick
Attended Celtics Game.

Greats of the NBA: Dr. J, Bill Russell, & Kareem!

Greats of the NBA: Dr. J, Bill Russell, & Kareem!
Attend Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis
The actor (left) and his date were in the crowd before the Celtics game.

John Kerry

John Kerry
Golddigger attends Celtics game

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Ends her 2008 bid for Democratic Party nomination

Nonnie Burnes

Nonnie Burnes
Massachusetts Insurance Commish & former Judge

Jones Library

Jones Library
Amherst, Massachusetts

Barack Obama & Hillary Clinton

Barack Obama & Hillary Clinton
2008 Democratic Primary

"US vs Exxon and Halliburton"

"US vs Exxon and Halliburton"
U.S. Senator John Sununu took more than $220,000 from big oil.

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen
4- U.S. Senate - 2008

William Pignatelli

William Pignatelli
Hack Rep. "Smitty" with Lynne Blake

Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke
Federal Reserve Chairman

Gazettenet.com

Gazettenet.com
www.gazettenet.com/beta/

Boys' & Girls' Club

Boys' & Girls' Club
Melville Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Denis Guyer

Denis Guyer
Dalton State Representative

The Berkshire Eagle

The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Carmen Massimiano

Carmen Massimiano
Williams College - May 2008