Jonathan Melle on Politics (2024)

Mayor Thomas Bernard is sworn in as the Mayor of the City of North Adams in City Hall chambers on Monday, January 1, 2018. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

Mayor Thomas Bernard speaks during inauguration ceremonies of city government in City Hall chambers in North Adams on Monday, January 1, 2018. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“Bernard sworn in as North Adams mayor”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 1, 2018

North Adams — As he stood behind a podium for his first speech as the city's new mayor, Thomas Bernard made only one promise.

"I will make mistakes, but I will never fail for lack of trying," he said.

Officially sworn into office on Monday, Bernard gave an overflowing crowd in the City Council chambers an inauguration address that both praised the efforts of his predecessors while setting forth a new vision for North Adams.

"Their actions and decisions shaped the city we live in and lead now," Bernard said. "We have the responsibility to take the best from their examples while adapting ourselves to the conditions, resources, tools, and opportunities available to us."

Despite having never run for political office in North Adams, the city native handily won the race for mayor last November.

Replacing Mayor Richard Alcombright, Bernard becomes only the third city mayor in the last 34 years.

A former administrator at both the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Bernard ran a campaign on the platform of creating economic energy by improving the city's education, infrastructure, and public health.

On Monday, Bernard gave a passionate inauguration address that drew a standing ovation from the crowd. His emotion was evident throughout the morning — it took about two lines into Bernard's swearing in for his voice to begin to waver.

Mirroring comments he made throughout the campaign, Bernard sought to reconcile any differences between city newcomers and lifelong, deep-rooted residents.

Bernard read a passage from an 1885 edition Gazetteer of Berkshire County that described North Adams as "the smartest village in the smartest nation in all creation."

"Our strength is indeed in our people, whether they count their North Adams tenure in generations, months, or mere days," Bernard said. "And while we have work to do in the arena of economic development outreach and advocacy — particularly throughout our downtown — signs of progress and entrepreneurial vision are everywhere."

He noted the investments made in the Greylock Mill by Greylock Works, the Tourists Hotel project, B&B Micro Manufacturing, and other growing or new businesses in the city.

"Our job is to nurture these investments and the financial equity and social capital being generated in our city — from our neighborhoods and schools to our public services and city government to our anchor institutions," Bernard said.

The inauguration ceremony at City Hall drew a variety of local dignitaries, including state Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III, 1st Berkshire District, who served as the city's mayor for 13 terms prior to Alcombright's tenure.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Gov. Charlie Baker sent representatives from their respective offices to the ceremony. Also present were former state Rep. Daniel Bosley, MCLA President James Birge and former MCLA president Mary Grant.

Bernard became visibly emotional when welcoming Grant, whom he worked under while an administrator at MCLA.

The new mayor was also joined by his wife, Jen, and their daughter, Alex, as well as his parents, Jane and Tom Bernard.

Bernard gave a special thanks to former Mayor Richard Alcombright and read a proclamation in his honor.

"Thank you for eight years of committed leadership as mayor as well as for your decades of service to our community in so many ways," Bernard said to Alcombright.

The new mayor also made note of the late state representative and former City Councilor Gailanne Cariddi, who died in 2017.

Bernard ended his speech on an optimistic note.

"We will learn and we will grow together. We will deliberate and we will disagree. We will face challenges and celebrate achievements together. We will do all these things animated by our belief in the awesome responsibility of service and by our love for, and our belief in, the potential of our bright, busy, bustling, dashing North Adams."

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376.


"North Adams City Council OKs rules letting president ban individuals from speaking at meetings"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 23, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — Council President Keith Bona had hoped to prevent belligerent members of the public from attending future City Council meetings.

The problem, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, is that such a rule would violate the state's Open Meeting Law.

This month, Bona proposed a draft of the City Council's Rules of Order that would give the president the power to ban any person from attending an unspecified number of future meetings if that person needs to be removed from a council meeting by police.

"I don't buy into the free speech argument [that] anyone can say anything at our meetings. They can't do it at the state or federal level, nor should they here. Stick to our rules, keep it to city business without attacking people, and all will be fine," Bona told The Eagle on Tuesday.

Though state law provides the president of a public body broad discretion over who is allowed to speak at meetings, it doesn't provide the president the right to keep people from entering the door.

"A public body cannot prohibit a member of the public from attending future meetings unless there is a stay-away order issued by a court for the location where a public body meets," Assistant Attorney General Hanne Rush wrote to the council this week.

In response to the attorney general's advisem*nt, Bona amended the proposed council rule to allow the president to ban such a member of the public from speaking at, but not attending, a certain number of future meetings.

Bona's amendment passed by a vote of 6-2 at a regular City Council meeting Tuesday, with councilors Wayne Wilkinson and Jason LaForest in opposition.

Wilkinson said it was an "infringement a little bit on the First Amendment, so I can't go along with this."

LaForest recognized the president's authority to eject a disruptive community member, but stopped short of endorsing the new rule.

"I won't support silencing people at future meetings," LaForest said.

But Councilor Marie T. Harpin noted that residents have the ability to comment on every agenda item and during the hearing of visitors at the end of the meeting.

"I think we have to have faith in [the president's] ability to make the decision when this room is out of control," Harpin argued.

This authority, under state law, already has been given to the president, Bona noted.

"It doesn't have to pass, and I can still do it," Bona said, adding that "I prefer to have the approval of the council behind this."

The current/previous iteration of the rule gave the president authority to shut down any member of the public who uses "slurs, connotations, libelous remarks or innuendo."

Bona's amendment adds that "if the member continues to disrupt the meeting, they will be asked to leave," codifying a practice that was in place.

"The president often gets questions about where these rules are listed in our rules. They didn't have to be [listed in the rules], but by having it listed, it will clarify it for future councilors if this is legal or not," Bona said.

Bona said he is unsure how heavy he will be with the gavel.

"Questioning and criticizing government is accepted, but slander, libel and rumors is not," he said.

The new version of the council's rules also moves the hearing of visitors from the front of the meeting to its end.

The full council rules were presented after a series of amendments, including Bona's amendment, and were passed unanimously by the council.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376.


Our Opinion: “Balancing free speech with rules of decorum”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 26, 2018

Berkshire County artist Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech," which depicts a working-class individual standing to say his piece at a local town meeting in Vermont to the approval of his neighbors, is a stirring illustration. It represents the ideal of democratic government practiced at the grassroots level — but it is only an ideal. In reality, town meetings can be tedious, contentious, and far less inspiring, particularly if those bent on grandstanding or otherwise disrupting the proceedings abuse their constitutional right to express themselves.

Accordingly, Keith Bona, president of the North Adams City Council, proposed a draft of that body's rules of order that would give him the authority to ban disruptive persons from council meetings. While those who have ever attended a public meeting that descended into chaos due to the antics of an overly demonstrative attendee would applaud such a measure, certain legal niceties need to be observed, like the state open meetings law — which does not allow such bans. Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Hanne Rush, in an opinion, put the kibosh on that notion. Mr. Bona then came up with another plan: let the transgressors in, but prevent them from speaking.

This solution has precedents. While the First Amendment is sacrosanct, there are limits — shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater being a prime example. The danger is that the solution could be interpreted as prior restraint, which would violate constitutional principles.

Mr. Bona already had statutory authority to shut down any member of the public who uses "slurs, connotations, libelous remarks or innuendo," but wanted the council's imprimatur on this as well as the added flexibility of ejecting an offender who continued to disrupt. With two dissenting votes from councilors with legitimate concerns about government encroachment on First Amendment rights, the council gave him that authority.

Mr. Bona's counterpart in Pittsfield, Council President Peter Marchetti, told The Eagle that his council's rules give him the ability to stop someone from speaking if they "go off the rails." He does not pre-emptively silence anyone, but shuts them down if they give good reason. For him, personal attacks directed at councilors or swearing at them would provide such reason. As for making demonstrably false comments, he said: "I think people can judge for themselves if what [a member of the public] is saying is true."

Mr. Marchetti allowed that he wouldn't mind having the pre-emptive silencing power that North Adams' Mr. Bona was given by his council, particularly since Pittsfield council meetings have fallen victim to chronic disruption of late, but "I doubt the council would go along with it." The North Adams City Council went along with Mr. Bona, and he must use this new authority, as limited by the attorney general's office, rarely and judiciously or there will likely be a backlash in the community.

In a perfect world — that depicted by Mr. Rockwell, for example — such legal needle-threading by local government officials would be unnecessary. Mutual respect would be the order of the day, and attendees at public meetings would comport themselves as responsible citizens. At a time when the loudest, rudest and brashest among us appear to be prevailing in the public square, however, all remedies — judiciously applied and always within Constitutional limits — must be resorted to if serious business is to be accomplished on behalf of the people.


Letter: "Still Awaiting Answers on Repainting of Pillars" - Letter to the Editor - January 28, 2018

To the Editor:

Just a public update concerning the paint over of the mill workers and products painted on the pillars on Marshall Street.

The paintings were done by children in the North Adams school system and represent an important part of the community's history. A meeting between the students supervising artist and a representative from the museum was held in December with no resolution reached.

From information received, another future meeting is in the works but, the question arises concerning why the long dragged out time in resolving the issue? Possibility the tactic is to keep putting off a resolution with the goal of hoping the public will forget the issue.

The fact of the matter is that, this citizen and others, have not forgotten and want the issue to be resolved quickly with the ultimate goal of restoring the North Adams children's works.

Vincent Melito
North Adams, Mass.


North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard

“North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard ready to give first State of the City”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 18, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — Despite being in office fewer than two months, Mayor Thomas Bernard will give a State of the City address this week.

The new mayor views the speech as an opportunity to update the public on the efforts he's launched thus far and set the tone for policy moving forward.

"I've had a chance to make a start, and I want to acknowledge work already [underway]," Bernard told The Eagle on Tuesday.

In a departure from recent tradition, Bernard will not give his State of the City address during a City Council meeting. Instead, it will be held in the City Council chambers at 7 p.m. on Feb. 20.

Among the topics he plans to cover, the mayor expects to outline the work being done in North Adams Public Schools to explore shared services agreements with nearby districts and consolidation of the School Department's administrative offices into City Hall.

Bernard noted that, working with the City Council, the city has launched an effort to combat domestic violence in the wake of the killing of city resident Christa Steele-Knudslien earlier this year.

Looking toward the future, Bernard said he also hopes to "frame out what the budget process is going to look like this year."

In explaining his decision to give the address as a standalone event, Bernard noted that last year Mayor Richard Alcombright was forced to delay his State of the City address when City Council agendas became too saturated with other city business.

Alcombright also gave a State of the City address during his first year in office, but waited until May.

Bernard's first State of the City address will like have a different outlook — in his first speech, given during the depths of an economic recession, the former mayor warned residents that taxes and fees would need to increase by more than 10 percent to keep the city afloat. Now, the city's economic tone is markedly more hopeful given the recent wave of outside investment like those renovating the Tourists hotel and Greylock Mill, as well as growth from longtime city developers like David Moresi.

Bernard's address is open to the public and will be broadcast by Northern Berkshire Community Television.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“Success, Struggle In North Adams Mayor’s State Of The City”
By Josh Landes, WAMC, February 21, 2018

Eight weeks into his tenure as Mayor of North Adams, Tom Bernard delivered his first State Of The City address Tuesday night.

Speaking in city council chambers, Bernard drew on a quote from author Scott Turow to talk about North Adams as a living narrative:

“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and believe?” said Bernard.

Bernard’s story of North Adams was one of progress and confidence:

“It’s a view that encapsulates the best of who we are, and the energy, optimism and pride that will propel us forward," said Bernard.

The mayor took office after winning November’s election for the open seat in Massachusetts’ smallest city. Richard Alcombright stepped down after eight years.

Bernard, a political newcomer, celebrated the city’s current wave of development, including the Norad Mill project, hotel development, the Hoosac River Revival, two new museums, a second brewery, and Greylock Works.

“Our job is to support these efforts, and to create the conditions that translate the success of these projects into a vital, vibrant community,” said Bernard.

He announced plans to work with State Senator Adams Hinds, State Representative and former North Adams Mayor John Barrett, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to get North Adams a qualified opportunity zone designation. It’s a new federal program that encourages investment in low-income communities.

The mayor said the city has landed grants, allowing it to expand parkland, increase arts education in the schools, and begin a study on a new public safety facility. He introduced plans to explore collaborative school administration with nearby districts, and promised to overhaul the city’s website in an effort to improve access to public services.

Bernard also mentioned North Adams’ struggles:

"At the same time, I remain realistic about the challenges we face. Of a declining and aging population in our city and across our region of a budget that continues to approach our tax levy limit, of significant infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs, of the continued need for durable downtown revitalization, and of economic and social challenges such as poverty, addiction, abuse, and mental illness, challenges that far too often land far too close to home,” said Bernard.

Bernard announced a listening tour to meet with city residents and hear their ideas about North Adams.

The speech ended with optimism:
“When there is an issue to tackle, the people of North Adams and the Berkshires know how to mobilize," said Bernard. "We know how to roll up our sleeves, and get things done.”

“I was very happy," said City Councilwoman Marie Harpin. "I was happy because I noticed three things about the mayor’s speech: one, he has a lot of enthusiasm, two, he is very realistic about our community, and three, has a lot of compassion, and he seems like he’s really going to engage the community, so I’m excited about those things.”

She encouraged the mayor to think of North Adams’ most vulnerable:

“I want him to be aware of people that are struggling, and raising our taxes, and making sure that he’s aware that people out there — we have an elderly community that has fixed incomes, and we have a poor community, and I want him to be aware that it’s tough when he raises taxes, and I think that should be at the forefront of all our minds,” said Harpin.


“North Adams State of the City: Mayor talks economic development, infrastructure plans”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 20, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Thomas Bernard used his first State of the City address Tuesday to lay out a template for addressing the city's long-standing challenges and summarize the progress he has made.

Bernard touted his administration's initial efforts to find efficiencies in city government, develop an economic development strategy to attract new residents and invest in the city's aging infrastructure.

The first-term mayor gave the speech to a standing-room-only crowd in the City Council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday, choosing to make it a stand-alone event instead of adding it to the agenda of a City Council meeting, as previous speeches have been.

The speech lasted less than 30 minutes, but it covered a range of topics.

Bernard matter-of-factly laid out the challenges facing the city, including an aging population, significant infrastructure problems, the need for improvement in the downtown economy, and additional economic and social challenges.

"We must commit ourselves to writing a new story. One that never shies away from hard truths. But one that never lets those truths and challenges define us," Bernard said.


Bernard highlighted the economic activity underway in North Adams.

The city also is working to create economic development strategies for the city as a whole and collaborating with community institutions like the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to help revitalize the city's downtown.

Bernard used local developer David Moresi, who last year purchased the former Excelsior mill on Roberts Drive and is rapidly filling it with tenants, a sign of the city's recent success.

"This is a product of sound business planning. More than that, however, it is evidence that people are looking to North Adams as the place they want to do business," Bernard said. "I know there are more exciting announcements yet to come about new businesses coming to the mill, and the jobs that will follow."

Ongoing developments of the Tourists Hotel, Greylock Mill, the Hoosic River Revival and more also received a shout-out from the mayor.

Projects in the works, like a new restaurant from the owners of the Freight Yard Pub on State Road and Rising Glass Brewery on Curran Highway, also received a shout-out from Bernard.

"The projects we have underway and planned in the community have the potential to make North Adams attractive to investors, and to offer them the promise of a great return on their investment," Bernard said.

The mayor announced that he also plans to, in collaboration with local and state representatives, apply for a federal Qualified Opportunity Zone designation for North Adams.

"This new federal program promotes investment in low-income communities by providing tax incentives for the reinvestment of capital gains in housing and economic development projects," Bernard said.

In the coming weeks, Bernard will launch a community conversation to discuss the future of the Mohawk Theater, facilitated by a moderator.

He will also begin a citywide listening tour, he said.

"I want to get out of City Hall and into the community to hear your thoughts, concerns and ideas," Bernard said.


Bernard said the city is developing an investment plan to address the city's infrastructure needs, and noted that $1.2 million for the study of a new public safety facility was passed in a Senate bond bill this month.

"When available, these funds will support a design, engineering and siting study for a new public safety building. This is a critical need for the city," Bernard said, adding that he will begin to explore the issue before the money is released.

Bernard also noted the release this year of $400,000 in federal funding for the construction of a splash park and other amenities at the Noel Field complex on State Road.

The mayor also committed to attacking blight, an issue that has long plagued mayors of North Adams.

City government

Bernard also outlined the steps the city is taking to become more efficient.

He announced efforts to upgrade the city's website and update the city's employee handbook.

The School Committee recently approved a shared services agreement for a business manager with the North Berkshire School Union and has agreed, with the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, to conduct a feasibility study regarding a shared superintendent between the two districts.

The city is also strongly considering relocating the school department — it currently rents administrative office space on Main Street for $78,000 annually — into City Hall.

The mayor also noted the marijuana regulations and ordinances moved forward to the City Council by a working group he established in January.

"The result continues to be a work in progress," Bernard said. "The goal is to ensure we have a zoning structure that enables us to take advantage of the economic potential of retail marijuana sales or cultivation, one that has been fully and fairly vetted by both city government and the community at large."

Bernard also pointed to the work that has begun, in collaboration with the City Council, to address domestic violence in North Adams — an effort that began in the wake of the killing of city resident Christa Steele-Knudslien this year.

Looking forward, Bernard said he has begun the fiscal 2019 city budget process, saying that the fiscal challenges it presents leaves" little room for strategic investment." He noted in the speech that the city is quickly approaching its tax levy limit.

Bernard continued to strike the optimistic tone for the city he set at his inaugural address Jan. 1, a momentum that, he said, has not stalled.

He pointed to the successful WinterFest the city held last weekend, the TedX conference organized by local volunteers that featured several local speakers and the recent success of McCann Tech's robotics team — Mad McCannics.

"Clearly, we have much to celebrate," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.

North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard State of the City address Feb. 20, 2018 by The Berkshire Eagle on Scribd


David Moresi, far left, looks over renderings along with Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and state Rep. John Barrett, D-North Adams, as the NORAD mill. Caroline Bonnivier Snyder - The Berkshire Eagle

Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, right, talks with Paul Lovegreen, owner of Tunnel City Coffee, who rents space on the second floor of the NORAD Mill in North Adams. Caroline Bonnivier Snyder - The Berkshire Eagle

“Former Excelsior Mill humming with new energy”
By Adam Shanks , The Berkshire Eagle, March 2, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — When David Moresi purchased the Excelsior Mill in 2017, he set out with a five-year redevelopment plan.

So much for that.

In less than a year, Moresi and Associates has signed 22 leases with businesses that have committed to 80 percent of the 100,000-square-foot historic 19th-century facility, which he has rebranded as the NORAD mill.

Moresi led Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and state Rep. John Barrett, D-North Adams, on a tour of the Roberts Drive mill complex Friday.

The tour concluded with the announcement of yet another new business.

Freia Yarns will be relocating to North Adams from California, bringing approximately 12 jobs when it is up and running.

"This is exiting, they're coming cross-country," Moresi said.

The company, which specializes in hand-dyed yarns, has international distribution and first connected with Moresi in 2017 and has signed a lease for a 4,000-square-foot space in the NORAD mill.

"She saw the potential here, she was ready for a life change, and she has a solid business," Moresi said of owner Tina Whitmore.

Freia is one of a slew of businesses — ranging from startups to well-established companies, some local, and some new to the area — to find a home in the NORAD mill since Moresi purchased it in May 2017.

Moresi Commercial Investments LLC purchased the mill from Crane Currency in Dalton for $47,500.

"They gave us a good deal on this because we are holding true to what we told them right from the start. We said our intent with this project was to bring businesses and jobs to the city," Moresi said.

Since the purchase, Moresi's company has focused on renovating the massive mill, one tenant space at a time, he said.

Cordmaster Engineering has been headquartered in the Hardman Industrial Park for decades, but a recent spike in business necessitated more space.

A day after Moresi closed on the purchase of the mill, Cordmaster signed the first lease.

The company uses the space to produce a linked system that keeps the center rail of an electrical railway heated and ice-free in the winter. One of several customers for such a product is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

"When we moved over here, David came in and in 30 days — not even, 15 days — turned this entire space over for us and allowed us to say yes to a customer that we couldn't fit in our existing facility," explained Cordmaster owner Hugh Daley.

Upstairs, Tunnel City Coffee Roasters is using the mill for its coffee-roasting operations, as the business has grown from one cafe on Spring Street in Williamstown to three with the opening of its cafes in the Williams Bookstore and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art campus.

Moresi was quick to point out to Ash that the project has been entirely financed with private dollars.

Ash said the reuse of mills like the NORAD mill are important to Gov. Charlie Baker's administration, which wants to see them used to create new jobs.

Ash lauded Moresi's approach to developing the NORAD mill, noting, among other things, the flexibility it provides to businesses to grow.

"I'm particularly impressed with the partnership with the businesses. You're more than just a landlord, you're a trusted adviser, which is important," Ash said.

Moresi began his business in 2000, during the "dot-com bubble" that sparked growth in North Adams, but faced hardship when an economic downturn struck.

But the city is gaining momentum once again, Moresi said.

"Finally, we're seeing it," Moresi said.

From its humble beginnings, Moresi and Associates now has 28 employees in its core real estate development business.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“North Adams mayor submits 'pure maintenance budget' in first spending proposal”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, March 26, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Thomas Bernard has introduced a $40.7 million budget proposal.

The mayor's spending plan is an increase of $771,599, or 1.9 percent, over last year's budget.

The proposal, which will be reviewed by the City Council over a series of committee meetings in the coming weeks, is Bernard's first since his inauguration earlier this year.

Bernard attributed much of the spending increase to contracts with employee unions in public safety, education, and public services that had been settled under former Mayor Richard Alcombright.

Bernard said it was "terrific news" that he did not have to settle contracts with unions in his first year in office, but said one effect it had was to predetermine the city's budget increases.

"It's a pure maintenance budget," Bernard said. "There's not a lot of room to be strategic or make investments."

Looking ahead to fiscal 2020, Bernard said the city will have "a little more flexibility" thanks to debt that will come off the city's books.

The current proposal includes a $110,316.85 structural deficit that will be left to the council to close before finalizing.

Bernard said his administration will provide options for closing the gap, but said he would also listen to proposals from councilors and the community.

"I wouldn't say it's a `rounding error,' but we have the ability to do a little bit of adjustment," Bernard said.

As it stands, the budget does not call for any staffing cuts.

The city's school system, under the proposal, would see an increase from $17.08 million in last year's adopted budget to $17.42 million, a rise of just under 2 percent.

As advocacy continues for more Chapter 70 education funding — and a new funding formula — Bernard indicated the school department will have to make difficult decisions and is still building its budget.

"I don't know what the choices, what the trade-offs, what the harsh reality of that looks like," Bernard said.

The council is not expected to hold any substantive debate on the budget at its meeting on Tuesday. Rather, Bernard has requested that the council refer the budget to its Finance Committee for additional review, as had been past practice under his predecessor.

The process, as outlined in the proposal by Bernard, would include Finance Committee public hearings on April 11, April 18, and April 25.

The final version of the budget proposal would be brought back to the full council on June 12 and final approval would be expected on June 26.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


"With city solicitor retiring, North Adams goes with municipal law firm KP Law for city's legal counsel"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 23, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — The city has transitioned to a municipal law firm after the retirement of former City Solicitor John DeRosa.

The city joined more than one-third of municipalities in Massachusetts represented by KP Law, which is based in Boston but has an office in Lenox.

After more than 35 years as the city solicitor and chief legal counsel, DeRosa announced last month that he would step down at the end of March and more vigorously pursue his work for private clients.

In planning for DeRosa's absence, the city reassessed its options for legal representation and settled on transitioning to a municipal law firm rather than a solicitor.

"It gives you a different level of expertise and responsiveness," said North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard. "The solicitor had a deep well of North Adams-specific municipal knowledge."

KP Law, on the other hand, has numerous attorneys with specific knowledge in different areas, Bernard said.

"They have a stable of attorneys that can deal with specific issues, and the chances that they've seen something before are much higher, so we're able to get a quicker response," Bernard said.

KP Law, formerly known as Koppelman and Page, will be able to more readily provide templates for agreements.

"When we start to need contracts or agreements, we're able to look to them and get a good starting point," Bernard said.

But contracting to a municipal law firm will place a higher responsibility on city employees to research and fill out the template provided for, as an example, a goods and services contract.

"It puts a little more on ourselves," said City Administrative Officer Michael Canales. "Sometimes we might have just turned something completely over to the solicitor."
Canales noted that the city has worked with KP Law in the past, such as in drafting solar pilot agreements.

Bernard said the city expects the city's legal costs will not change, despite the transition, but the impact remains to be seen.

"At the end of the year, we'll do a comparison and we'll keep track," Bernard said.

The city budgeted $48,000 in fiscal 2018 for legal services, $45,000 of which was for DeRosa's salary.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“No staff cuts in North Adams school budget”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, May 4, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — City classrooms would be spared any cuts under a 2018-19 budget proposed by schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

The $17.67 million budget, which reflects an increase of slightly less than 2 percent over the current spending plan, achieves cost-saving measures elsewhere in the budget.

Malkas said the district focused on meeting its needs without putting additional burdens on the taxpayer.

"You're not going to have a whole laundry list of requests from myself and the principals who are here talking to you about our needs," she said. "We do have them; there are needs within the district, but there has been a concerted effort put forward by the district leadership team to also recognize the needs of the community."

The School Committee will hold a public hearing and vote on the budget on May 29, in the district's headquarters. If approved, the budget will head to the Finance Committee for review before coming to a vote before the full City Council in June.

The school budget proposal is in line with what was assumed in Mayor Thomas Bernard's citywide budget introduced earlier this year.

The proposal, like last year's budget, relies on $250,000 from the district's school choice reserve account. It calls for a 1 percent decrease in district leadership and administration expenses, including the savings from a new shared services agreement with the North Berkshire School Union for a business manager.

The district also will see savings from moving its administrative offices from a privately owned space on Main Street into City Hall. Although there is an immediate cost to the move, reducing the savings in the first year, it is expected to reduce the school department's budget by $50,000 to $65,000 every year moving forward.

The move is expected to take place in April 2019 or earlier, Malkas said.

The district will also see a savings from the impending retirement of three full-time teachers, whose positions will be filled by new employees at the bottom of the pay scale.

Professional development expenses would take a sharp cut from $157,149 to $52,431, a decrease of nearly 67 percent, under the proposal.

The budget assumes a small increase in Chapter 70 state aid, from $18.82 million to $18.83 million.

The largest increase in the budget is to teaching services, which will rise from $9.13 million to $9.47 million.

Enrollment in the city's school system is expected to decrease by 33 students, from 1,506 to 1,473. Committee member Tara Jacobs praised the budget for prioritizing funding directly to classrooms.

"We are increasing basically what we're in the business of doing," Jacobs said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“North Adams Mayor Reflects On First Six Months In Office”
By Josh Landes, WAMC, May 24, 2018

North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard is approaching the end of his first six months in office. He recently spoke with WAMC about what he’s accomplished and what challenges face the smallest city in Massachusetts.

After an April 13th article on North Adams real estate in the New York Times, WAMC asked Bernard about the possibility of increased economic development raising the cost of living in the city, one of the poorest in Massachusetts.

“That’s a real concern, and it’s something that I have given a lot of thought to," Bernard told WAMC, "because as exciting as that New York Times article is, you do have to think about the whole picture, and people who are struggling, and we do have people at the socioeconomic margins who are already challenged, and as valuations rise and as rents increase, we’re going to have to really look at that carefully. We’re going to have to lean on the support of agencies that already exist to provide support. But we’re going to have to calibrate all of this carefully and there’s — some of this is city work, some of this is a natural consequence of economic development and we’re just going to have to watch it as it plays and intervene where we need to.”

Bernard says the city is well prepared for the arrival of legalized recreational marijuana on July 1st.

“What I can say is that we did a very good process with our ordinance development, and we’re well positioned," said Bernard. "We have seen some interest and inquiries from businesses interested in a couple of different things. Some retail, some cultivation. Nobody’s come forth with their official proposals yet, but I know that there are some in the works. There is at least one organization that’s done their community meeting. A couple others that have made steps in that direction and haven’t held the meeting for different reasons, but there are people looking for places to site. Some have space under control, some are still looking for it. But we’re going to see that interest increase, and hopefully we’re going to be in the forefront of that wave of development.”

As he plots out the city’s budget for 2019, Bernard has to factor in some serious limitations.

“We have a good budget for next year," he said. "It’s probably the most challenging one in a few years, and fortunately the previous administration and the finance team set the stage for that knowing that this year is going to be a particular challenge, but next year we’ll have a little more flexibility as a little debt that we are carrying comes off the books, and that gives us the opportunity to look at investment. This year is really a maintenance budget, we’re not looking at investment, so anything that I might be thinking about from a strategic standpoint around economic development I’m going to have to be really creative about, because I’m not going to do it within budget funds this year.”

Bernard says the city’s budget will include an almost 2 percent increase over last year, coming in at just under $41 million. Having gone through three Finance Committee hearings, the final budget will face the city council on June 12th, with final approval possible on June 26th.


“North Adams City Council unanimously OKs 'maintenance budget' up 1.92% for FY19”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, June 12, 2018

NORTH ADAMS — The City Council unanimously approved a new budget that aims to maintain current services, but does not include major investments.

The $40.72 million fiscal 2019 budget is a $766,430, or 1.92 percent, increase over the previous year's spending plan.

Mayor Thomas Bernard outlined the budget as one that does not rely on the city's reserves to balance expenditures, but also does not reduce city services to residents.

"This really is a maintenance budget. We did our best to hold the line on everything we could. This is not a budget where we're making big investments," Bernard said.

The property tax increase to the average single-family home, assessed at $138,000, is projected to be $93 annually, according to city officials.

The fiscal 2019 budget projects a slight decrease in the city share of employee health insurance premiums in the upcoming year due to "highly favorable negotiations" with the city's insurance provider, according to Bernard.

The final budget increases the city's tourism director position from a 0.75 part-time position to a full-time equivalent, adds a half-time clerk in the treasurer and collector's office, and funds a temporary position in the city clerk's office to assist in the transition as City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau prepares to retire.

The budget calls for a one percent raise for all nonunion staff, and accounts for the increases in negotiated contracts with the city's union workers.

The original budget proposal included a gap of $114,000, which was closed in the final budget primarily through two reductions.

The city reduced its labor reserve account — money set aside to settle contract negotiations with unions — because its labor contracts have been settled.

The city also decreased its veterans benefits expenses to be closer in line with actual expenses.

"That's not a reduction of one penny in service to our veterans. That's just bringing our budget line closer to what we're actually paying," Bernard said.

The mayor acknowledged the city's finance team anticipates a smaller allocation of free cash at the end of the year. But the city also expects to close on the sale of its Department of Public Works building to Cumberland Farms and reissue requests for proposals on other city-owned properties that could bring in revenue within the upcoming fiscal year.

On Monday, the School Committee passed a $17.7 million budget for fiscal 2019, an increase of slightly less than 2 percent. The school budget also avoids staff cuts, but relies on $250,000 in funding from its school choice reserve account.

Under the budget, the city does not expect to raise sewer and water rates for residents and businesses.

Originally introduced by Bernard in March, the budget was reviewed by the council's Finance Committee in a series of meetings held over the course of several weeks this Spring.

After four lengthy meetings, the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the budget.

"They were long, a lot of time was put in, there were a lot of hard questions asked and, I must admit, we got a lot of very reasonable answers," Finance Committee Chairman Wayne Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson described the budget as lean.

"There's nothing to take away. You can look at this as long as you want, there's nothing to take away," Wilkinson said.

As has become routine, the council eschewed substantive debate on the evening of the vote after thorough vetting in the less formal, more inclusive Finance Committee meetings.

"We worked really hard to get this budget out—checked and rechecked. I feel confident in the budget," said Councilor and Finance Committee member Marie Harpin.

Councilor Keith Bona, the longest-serving councilor, noted the work of former Mayor Richard Alcombright and previous city councils to maintain the budget through state cuts and more difficult financial times.

"Not to say we're totally out of the water," Bona noted.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “Mayor must find solution to art lost to MoCA paintover”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 26, 2018

To the editor:

Over the past year, I have joined a number of North Adams residents in an effort to restore schoolchildren's paintings of Berkshire County mill workers that were depicted on the cement pillars on Marshall Street in North Adams until workers from Mass MoCA illegally painted over the historic work. Below is the letter sent to Mayor Bernard following our meeting on July 24, in which he refused to take any steps to restore the historic community art.

To Mayor Thomas Bernard;

Tom, I enjoyed the give-and-take of our discussion today and reflecting on that, have concluded that some of your logic is counterproductive to the work of our schoolchildren, teachers, artists and general public of which many parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went off to work in the mills in support of their families.

With that said, here are a couple of points to be made that need to be examined:

You said that no contract was ever signed between both parties and, the city has pointed out, that there is no legal obligation to either party. That being said, is your primary obligation to the people of this community or to Mass MoCA and the sound artist whose work would continue to be present at the very site?

You indicated that you feel that all new public art work will have a contract with a timeline. (Isn't the 20 years that you told me of the existing sound art enough ... do you think that they should have 50 years?)

MoCA destroyed part of our history by painting over those millworkers and their efforts (without the city's approval). Did you take them to task?

The Public Art Committee of North Adams failed to follow up on our request for information and the disclosure of other public communications to the committee which was never presented by the chairperson of the board. One committee member told me that they dropped the ball on the issue.

You indicated that you would not even approve the examination of a sample removal of the gray paint encompassing the millworkers. That sample would be essential in determination of the feasibility for restoration.

I have been around long enough to know that money and power talks and often those facts put the general citizenry at a disadvantage in the decision-making of our leaders. But nevertheless, we must and shall stand up for what we feel is right and reflects the best interest of the community. It appears that it is easier to acquiesce to the desires of the haves rather than to the havenots.

It is easy to say that we need to move forward but it is not comprehensible that we should forget about our past. It is also essential that leadership takes courage and determination to put the people ahead of special interests.

When things go a person's way, it is easy to say, "Hey, it's time to work together." That is OK and good if one is playing on an even playing field. I think that all those people who were mentioned in the beginning of this communique are not in that balance.

Clearly, when you worked at MoCA you observed the influence in some of the decision-making process. Now, as mayor, you can either hold the line that you have established or step forward in seeking a mutual solution in testing the site, looking for the sound artist to accept the addition of art to the city's space and, lastly, to truly represent the historical and emotional interests of the people of this city.

Vin Melito, North Adams


Our Opinion: “New Tourists continues North Adams renaissance”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 30, 2018

The renaissance of North Adams continues with Monday's official opening of Tourists, a unique hostelry rising out of the old Redwood Motel near the Williamstown line. Tourists, according to the group that bought and renovated the Redwood and adjacent property, seeks to build on the character of the Mohawk Trail motor courts of yore, but with modern twists. The venture represents a contemporary attitude toward lodging as well as the power of imagination to transform an unpromising reality into an asset.

The tourism industry is ever-changing, and the emerging trend is to provide more than just a place to sleep, or even a bed with breakfast included. Tourists, the hotel, is on the cutting edge of this movement, which is to include an "experience" as part of a guest's stay. The owners, including managing partner Ben Svenson, Wilco bassist John Stirratt, and Eric Kerns, co-founder of Bright Ideas Brewing in North Adams, have taken property that once even included a wastewater treatment plant and turned it into a hiking and nature trail with the help of a suspension bridge across the Hoosic River.

An abandoned church will become a restaurant by early next year, an old guesthouse has been converted into an events facility and a disused mill will someday house more guest units. There is a new pool, outdoor art installations, and rooms designed to create a peaceful environment. Tourists intends to be a destination hotel, melding its own charms with the growing number of cultural attractions proliferating in the Northern Berkshires.

Tourists, which has already been celebrated in national travel magazines, is a standout example of how what some might think of as a deteriorating local infrastructure can be converted into an attraction. We congratulate the owner/developers on their vision and commitment and wish Tourists every success, hoping that will lead to more of the same.


Letter: “Breadcrumb trail of art in downtown North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, August 17, 2018

To the editor:

In the past year there has been a steady flow of artists purchasing real estate and planting roots in North Adams. They are a significant aspect of a stronger creative economy. Mass MoCA has expanded and is the primary magnet. Other museum projects and development form an axis from North Adams to Williamstown.

There is progress and real estate speculation but foot traffic in downtown North Adams remains sluggish. Public art, particularly of the quality shown at MoCA and other current and future museums, has the potential to create a breadcrumb trail for visitors. Imagine, for example, that MoCA's upside down trees or a comparable project, was sited along the Main Street center strip. Consider a Sol DeWitt mural on a downtown wall.

The potential of branding North Adams, and the museum axis to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, is now in jeopardy. As Adams Shanks reports in the August 14 issue of The Berkshire Eagle. "The final say on public art installations should come from the mayor's office, not the Public Arts Commission, according to Mayor Thomas Bernard."

There is no evidence that Mayor Bernard has any knowledge of contemporary art. One shudders to think what projects would be approved by a politician. Surely he would veto any work of a provocative nature.

If major commissions and competitions occurred, over time, that would create a remarkable legacy. There are resources in the community to make this possible. Moving forward that should be the focus of discussion and debate.

Charles Giuliano, North Adams
The writer is publisher and editor of the Berkshire Fine Arts website.


Our Opinion: “Proceed cautiously on North Adams hotel plan”
The Berkshire Eagle, September 1, 2018

After years of struggle and occasional glimmers of hope, North Adams is attracting the kind of investment that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. For example, Notre Dame Church on East Main Street — a disused structure purchased by the city in 2008 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield for $500,000 and faithfully maintained in hopes of attracting an eventual buyer, recently received three bids from redevelopers for the property when just last year there were none (Eagle, August 28).

Such news is indeed welcome, but amid the stir of excitement, city leaders need to follow a measured approach to ensure that today's glad tidings don't turn into a tale of woe.

None of the offerings for the church property would have made the city whole. There were two offers from established businesses with a proven track record, including one bid for $1 from developer David Moresi and another for $25,000 from artist and developer Eric Rudd.

Both of these bids included the construction of market-value housing units, sorely needed in the Steeple City's downtown area. A surprise entry from newly-incorporated The Square Office came in at a relatively whopping $253,000 — and even though that company's plan for the property is more on the fanciful side, the offer underscores its determination to pursue the project to a successful conclusion.

North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard told The Eagle that throwing the city's eggs into The Square Office's basket was one of the toughest decisions he and the City Council have had to make, and there are definitely risks involved — risks that can be mitigated by careful oversight on the part of the city's various boards whose approval will be needed for the project to progress.

The proffered purchase price, as losing bidder Rudd joked, might have resulted in the mayor's impeachment had he turned it down. The Square Office, whose bid was accepted at last Tuesday's City Council meeting, was incorporated only three days before the request for proposals deadline, and will be relying entirely on outside investment to finance its conversion into an $18.5-million luxury hotel. The two city residents behind the project aren't proven commodities as are the other bidders.

Two factors work to lessen the impact to the city in the event such an ambitious project fails: First, upon purchase by a private owner, the property will immediately be listed on city tax rolls, a position it never occupied as a place of worship or subsequently as a city-owned asset. Second, the purchase price stays with the city regardless of success or failure.

While a luxury hotel at the end of East Main Street will add yet another component to enhance the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's appeal and attract well-heeled foot traffic to downtown businesses, questions regarding the impact on the local neighborhood and nearby elementary school remain. Parking is problematic, as well. These and other details will need to be addressed by the appropriate boards with jurisdiction over such an undertaking, and while the temptation is to move quickly, North Adams will be better served in the long run by a deliberate approach that ensures all concerns have been addressed and that the project's continued financial viability is carefully scrutinized at various steps along the way. Much depends upon the contract details negotiated by the Bernard administration with the proposed hotel's developers. Caution must remain the watchword.

Taking these risks into account, North Adams, a city with few resources to spare, should be commended for its foresight in maintaining the Notre Dame property in the hope that a moment such as this one might eventually arrive. Had the church been allowed to deteriorate, it would have degraded into an eyesore best demolished, rather than remain the solid bones of a project that could eventually bring more jobs and income to a city that desperately needs it.


“North Adams program would give vets, seniors chance to 'work off' tax bills”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, September 23, 2018

North Adams — Military veterans and senior citizens could soon see relief on their property tax bills — if they work for it.

Mayor Thomas Bernard has proposed the city institute tax work-off programs that would allow seniors and veterans to reduce their property tax bill by working for the city part time.

If the programs are approved by the City Council on Tuesday, seniors could work to reduce their tax bills by up to $1,500, while veterans could work for up to $1,000 in tax credit.

"Even with a modest [tax] increase, we're always thoughtful about the fact that for people on low or fixed income every dollar is a challenge," Bernard said.

Other cities and towns throughout the area, including Williamstown, Lanesborough, and Dalton, have already implemented similar programs, which are allowed under Massachusetts General Law.

The mayor said he has samples of eligibility criteria and applications from other communities, and will compile the city's own application process. The current hope is to hold the application process this fall and begin the program in January.

Bernard said he has spoken with the directors of the Mary Spitzer Center, North Adams Public Library and North Adams Public Schools to explore opportunities for assistance from seniors and veterans.

"They're aware of the program; they see the benefit to it," Bernard said.

Departments could use help with tasks such as filing, answering phones or other duties.

Bernard said he could even envision using some extra help in his office, for filling in when his assistant is at lunch or to tackle other projects as they come up.

The city could also use assistance in the consolidation of School Department staff into the City Hall.

Bernard expects there to be five or fewer people enrolled in the initial run of the program. "I also could imagine us deciding that we would just do one [senior] and one [veteran] in the first year just to get a feel for how this works," he said. "I think we can do more than that because I've talked to enough of my staff — there's interest and perceived need to have that help."

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “North Adams moving too quickly on taxable property”
The Berkshire Eagle, September 28, 2018

To the editor:

Your writer Adam Shanks did a good job with his "Future bright for Sunshine Park," but he did not complete what should be written. The tax rate of the destroyed property, Berkshire Hills Development, has taken over $2 million worth of taxable property off our tax rolls.

The burden of paying the city bills fall on the taxpayers. Over 60 percent of North Adams residents are over 65 years old and living of a fixed income.

The tax rate of what they have torn down or donated to nonprofits is $38.65 per $1000.00 value, while the residential tax rate is $17.67 per $1,000 valuation.

Now it looks like they are going to tear down the old Taylor store (Harvest Christians Building) which would take about $9,000 off the city income and place it on the backs of the senior citizen taxpayers.

We all know that progress is going on in our city, but please wait for the new adventures to start paying taxes before you start tearing down taxable buildings.

Alan Doyle Horbal, North Adams


“North Adams, Pittsfield again among highest Mass. violent crime rates”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 15, 2018

North Adams — Though violent crime is declining statewide and nationally, it continues to rise in Berkshire County's two cities.

For the second year in a row, North Adams and Pittsfield rank among the cities and the towns with the highest violent crime rate in Massachusetts, according to federal data.

North Adams had the highest violent crime rate in Massachusetts in 2017, while Pittsfield's was the fifth-highest, according to new figures released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September.

North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard described the report as "disappointing, but not surprising" given the city's historical crime rate.

"We have work to do; we know we have work to do," Bernard told The Eagle on Monday. "If you look at the population of communities we're in with, it's post-industrial communities that are continuing to revitalize and reinvent themselves."

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The overall number of violent crimes North Adams reported ticked up from 181 in 2016 to 193 in 2017, an increase in the per-capita rate from 1.38 percent to 1.49 percent. There were 15 rapes, 11 robberies, and 167 robberies reported in North Adams in 2017.

In Pittsfield, the number of reported violent crimes rose from 340 to 375, a jump in the per-capita violent crime rate from 0.79 percent to 0.88 percent.

Elsewhere, the picture is improving.

Statewide, violent crime decreased for the sixth consecutive year, according to the report.

Nationally, there was a 0.2 percent reduction in violent crime, including a 0.7 percent decrease in murders and a 4 percent decrease in robberies.

The North Adams Police Department has undertaken new efforts that Bernard hopes will begin to lower the crime rate in the coming years.

North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said the community struggles with mental health issues and addiction to drugs and alcohol.

The department has worked to increase its presence in schools and neighborhoods while increasing its collaboration with mental health professionals and staff in local courts, Cozzaglio said.

For example, the department just launched a new program this week that allows for a Brien Center clinician to respond along with police to a call with a person in crisis. The program had already been utilized by Monday, including about an hour prior to Cozzaglio's discussion with The Eagle.

When it comes to reporting the crimes, Cozzaglio noted, the department does not try to obfuscate the data. The crimes are recorded as they are called in, even if the case ultimately never leads to an arrest or criminal prosecution.

"We report the crimes as they come in to us. We don't put them into some 'other' checkbox," he said. "We document as reported."

Bernard also noted that the City Council recently approved the administration's efforts to withdraw the North Adams Police Department from the Civil Service system, which limits the pools of candidates the department can hire for an open position.

The city claims it can institute its own testing to ensure it hires qualified police officers, without having to stick to a list of potential candidates provided by Civil Service — making hiring more efficient.

Property crimes reported in North Adams — which include burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — actually dropped notably in 2017, from 433 to 399. In Pittsfield, property crimes rose from 1,016 to 1,092.

In terms of crime statistics, both North Adams and Pittsfield are negatively impacted by their declining populations. As the overall population decreases, the violent crime rate increases — even if the actual number of violent crimes stays the same.

In North Adams, the population dropped from 13,162 in 2016 to 12,948 in 2017, a decline of 1.6 percent.

The population saw a similar dip in Pittsfield, from 43,031 in 2016 to 42,546 in 2017.

Despite the relatively high crime rate, Bernard maintains North Adams is a safe city, a sentiment that Cozzaglio emphatically echoed.

"By and large, we're looking at crimes that are not random. The ability to walk down the street safely is there," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Our Opinion: “Confronting causes of crime in our cities”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 17, 2018

Berkshire County is one of the most scenic and culturally vibrant regions in the commonwealth. In yet another manifestation of the region's inherent economic schizophrenia, however, its two cities — North Adams and Pittsfield — regularly appear at or near the top of the state's list for violent crime rates. (See story in today's Eagle). While that rate is declining in the rest of Massachusetts and the nation as a whole, North Adams at No. 1, and Pittsfield at No. 5 have not only managed to hold their own in this undesirable category, but have actually defied the trend with worsening rates.

Some of this unwelcome news can be ascribed to a statistical quirk: As the population of both municipalities declines, the same number of crimes committed year-over-year increases the rate per thousand residents. That does not, however, account for their position among the top five Massachusetts cities in the first place. That problem is shared by other previously prosperous industrial centers that have fallen into decline as industries closed and jobs moved away, leaving behind shells of a once-thriving communities struggling to maintain their tax base.

Violent crime does not exist in a vacuum; it is a symptom of deeper societal problems like joblessness, lack of opportunity, hopelessness and frustration that lead to substance addiction and spousal abuse, among other ills. The symptoms can be alleviated somewhat by more robust law enforcement, but policing has its limits, and is a treatment for an illness rather than a cure. Ultimately, the underlying causes of crime must be addressed if a community is ever going to free itself from the scourge of residents preying upon other residents. One reassuring aspect of the Berkshires statistics emphasized by civic leaders is that "stranger" violence remains relatively rare, which means that it is still relatively safe to walk the cities' streets.

While there is a temptation to respond to such depressing statistics by burying one's head in the sand and hoping that the preponderance of such crimes remains restricted to neighborhoods where upstanding residents don't venture, Berkshire cities instead must acknowledge that the only effective and lasting solution for their community as a whole is to invest aggressively in education, transportation, businesses that hire workers, infrastructure, workforce training and other essential foundations of a thriving economy.

Neither North Adams nor Pittsfield should expect to have its local economy jump-started by a white knight — as was Springfield's by its new MGM casino — but imagination, determination and the proper alignment of priorities can create a favorable environment for the kind of revitalization that becomes its own perpetuating cycle.

As a step in the right direction, Pittsfield can point to the new Taconic High and the soon-to-be-constructed Berkshire Innovation Center as gleaming new technology-oriented facilities dedicated to developing a skilled labor pool. North Adams is building a thriving arts and culture community that appeals to millennials. Another asset is the county's scrappy legislative delegation, which knows well how to leverage what clout it has on Beacon Hill to extract the greatest possible state funding for the perennially neglected region.

Finally, the Berkshires has been historically populated by those who know how to take care of their own, dating back to the days of the original settlers. While such robust community spirit doesn't have a bank account, this intangible but nevertheless priceless asset lies at the core of any strategy that has any chance of eventually pulling the region out of its economic doldrums and, we all hope, conquering nagging problems like an outsize violent crime rate.


“Reporting error may have inflated North Adams violent crime stats”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 3, 2018

North Adams — Almost one-third of aggravated assaults in the city may have been incorrectly included in federal data, artificially inflating the reported violent crime rate in North Adams, officials said on Monday.

After a recent FBI report, city officials looked to understand more about how and why the city has the highest violent crime rate of any reporting municipality in Massachusetts.

The answer — at least partly — could be that certain crimes have been incorrectly reported to the FBI.

On Monday, the city released a letter written Nov. 20 by North Adams Police Lt. Jason Wood that claims the police department's computer system was, by default, labeling certain domestic assault charges as felonies that should have been documented as misdemeanors — and thus should not have counted toward the city's "aggravated assault" statistic compiled by the FBI.

Under the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting, the charge should have been coded as a 13B — simple assault — but the department's in-house computer system defaulted to 13A — aggravated assault.

"I will continue to monitor these numbers in the future and make corrections as needed," Wood wrote in a letter to Police Director Michael Cozzaglio and Mayor Thomas Bernard. "Making permanent corrections with [the city's computer software] has proven more difficult than I anticipated."

The city again had the highest per-capita violent crime rate of reporting cities and towns in Massachusetts, according to the FBI statistics for 2017 released earlier this year. (Municipalities are not required to participate in the program, though a majority do.)

Wood analyzed the 2018 data compiled through Oct. 31 and found that, accounting for the reporting error, the number of aggravated assaults drops from 111 to 76 — a reduction of 32 percent.

Aggravated assaults make up a majority of the city's violent crime. Thus far in 2018, there have been six reported robberies, 27 reported rapes and alike offenses, and one murder, according to Wood.

Had the crimes been appropriately labeled in 2017, Bernard suggested the city may not have had the highest reported violent crime rate. It is unclear for how long the error has impacted the city's crime reports. There were 181 violent crimes reported in 2016 to 193 in 2017, an increase in the per-capita rate from 1.38 percent to 1.49 percent.

"None of this means that we're complacent about any of these numbers ... they're still data points for the city," Bernard said. "For the purposes of the annual report and the media analysis that comes out immediately after it, we see a difference, but it doesn't change the fact that a lot of these issues are still things that we have to deal with."

Both the mayor and Wood, in his letter, have noted that the FBI cautions users to "not rank locales" solely on the data because of various factors, including population data, economic conditions, and more.

In the 76 cases of aggravated assault not attributed to a reporting error, Wood said only five involved an assault by a stranger.

"The city of North Adams is not a dangerous city by any means," Wood wrote. "These numbers are predominantly generated by a small circle of individuals with a high tendency to offend multiple times."

It's also unclear if the city can have the record corrected in the FBI's reports, or if other departments have had similar challenges with the reporting process.

"I don't know that the FBI reopens the data once they've filed the report, I don't know if they'd amend, that's something we would have to look into," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Thomas Bernard: “North Adams mayor urges 'Yes' vote on Q3”
By Thomas Bernard, op-ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 27, 2018

North Adams — In 2016 the Massachusetts legislature passed, and Gov. Baker signed, "An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination." This legislation provides legal protection to transgender people in our Commonwealth. Specifically, the law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in places of public gathering, including restaurants and bars, entertainment and recreation venues, retail and service establishments, and healthcare facilities, among other spaces where transgender people have faced discrimination in the past.

Question 3 on the November state ballot asks voters in Massachusetts whether they approve of the anti-discrimination law. This presents an opportunity to affirm this important legal recognition of and protection for transgender people in Massachusetts.

I unreservedly and unequivocally say Yes to Question 3, and will vote accordingly.

The alternative would roll back protections and take a step backward in our shared commitment to civil rights and social justice for everyone in Massachusetts. More than that, it would deny the identities and threaten the personal safety of transgender people because of a narrow reading of one of the law's provisions.

In addition to public spaces, the anti-discrimination law also enables all people to access public restrooms and changing rooms based on their self-identified gender identity. For many, this is the crux of their objection to the law. Fears about safety and privacy have fueled the repeal effort, despite clear evidence since the anti-discrimination law's passage that such fears are unfounded. To the contrary, by providing freedom of access the current law helps protect transgender people from the verbal and physical abuse they experience when using public amenities.

The law validates the lived experiences and the honest identities of transgender people. While legislation alone cannot change hearts and minds, it can offer protection from discrimination. That is why the Yes on Question 3 campaign has received support from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, NOW, the League of Women Voters, Jane Doe, Inc., and nearly 30 current and former Massachusetts mayors. While we cannot legislatively relieve transgender people of the entirety of that burden of discrimination, we also should not use the law to add to it.

That is what is at stake should a no vote on Question 3 prevail. We would turn back the clock on civil rights for transgender individuals and deny them the legal protections that many of us have the luxury of taking for granted when dealing with public accommodations. This would place a cruel and unnecessary burden on transgender people, one that would add to the many risk factors they face simply by trying to live authentic lives publicly and privately.

While the anti-discrimination law does not specifically address violence against transgender people, there is overwhelming evidence that the transgender community is especially vulnerable to violence. As a mayor, it is my job to protect the safety, and the rights, of thousands. Four days after I took office in January 2018, North Adams resident Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, a prominent advocate in the transgender community both locally and nationally, was the first transgender person this year to be murdered in the U.S. Since then, I've thought long and hard about these issues and believe that voting Yes on Question 3, preserving transgender rights, makes everyone more free and no one less safe.

History demonstrates that there are several indelible truths about the pursuit of civil rights and social justice. First, that every time minority groups assert their rights they face resistance fueled by fear, ignorance, and prejudice. Second, that such resistance always seems inexplicable, indefensible, and shameful in retrospect. Finally, that discrimination has no place in the law. It is, quite simply, a denial of our highest ideals and aspirations. Transgender people in Massachusetts deserve better than this.

Supporting our transgender friends, neighbors, and family members is just as important in the small cities and towns of the Berkshires and western Massachusetts as it is everywhere in Massachusetts. A Yes vote on Question 3 affirms the right of transgender people in every corner of our Commonwealth to conduct their public lives with the same dignity, respect, and protection that so many of us are privileged to take for granted.

Public accommodations include our most private spaces. Our public decisions as voters will affect other people's most private moments. Publicly, I stand in solidarity with the transgender community. I will continue to do so in the privacy of the voting booth on Nov. 6 by voting 'Yes' on Question 3.

Thomas Bernard is the mayor of North Adams.


“North Adams councilors bristle at lack of direct access to city solicitor”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, October 30, 2018

North Adams — Hello, KP Law?

It's the North Adams City Council calling.

Several city councilors expressed a desire for more direct legal representation this week, but city officials are defending a process that has councilors route requests for legal opinions through City Hall.

"That's absolutely unacceptable. It's a violation of our charter and ordinances," said Councilor Jason LaForest at a meeting of the City Council's General Government Committee on Monday.

The city's charter states that "the city solicitor shall, whenever so required by the mayor, the City Council or any officer of the city government who may need the same in the discharge of official duty, furnish them or any of them with his legal opinion, upon any subject touching the duties of their respective offices."

After the retirement of former longtime City Solicitor John B. DeRosa earlier this year, the city contracted with KP Law, which provides legal representation to more than 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Under this new representation, Mayor Thomas Bernard's administration established a process: questions for the city solicitor will be funneled through Bernard or Administrative Officer Michael Canales.

If the administration can't determine an answer on its own, the question will then be forwarded to KP Law for a legal opinion.

"It is inappropriate for someone without a legal degree to determine what constitutes a question requiring an attorney's response," LaForest argued.

City officials defend this process as a way to minimize cost and avoid asking questions that can easily be answered by city staff or personnel at state agencies — instead of an attorney charging by the quarter-hour.

The process applies not only to city board and committees, but internally to department heads, Bernard said.

"How we manage the contract and the cost of these services is to have a single point of contact," Bernard told The Eagle. "It's not a question of not wanting to use the solicitor or constraining access."

Though the city charter specifically names the City Council, it also uses the word "required" — a word Bernard and Canales highlighted.

For example, questions about procurement can often be answered by trained professionals in City Hall, Bernard noted. Thus, according to the administration, a legal opinion would not be "required."

"We are an elected body and I believe that we should be trusted with questions, that are going to be valid, to the solicitor," said Councilor Rebbecca Cohen.

Cohen added that she would include the mayor on a written question to the solicitor for transparency, but "in the end ... asking somebody without a law degree to mitigate my question or tell me whether or not it's valid, it's questionable."

Council President Keith Bona, the longest serving member of the council, said the procedure "is nothing like we've ever had to deal with before." In the next budget cycle, Bona said he would seek to compare the cost of KP Law's legal representation with that of the former city solicitor.

"If it costs us the same as what we'd been paying, we need to go back to what we were," Bona said.

The three-member committee unanimously agreed to recommend, as part of its committee report to the full City Council, that the city provide direct access to the city solicitor and follow the city charter.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Our Opinion: “Sound strategy to boost local manufacturing”
The Berkshire Eagle, November 24, 2018

TOG Manufacturing, a North Adams precision parts manufacturer, is poised to increase its workforce from 29 to 57, thanks to negotiations currently underway between the employer and the city (Eagle, Nov. 23). It makes use of a strategy that has and will work across the Berkshires with proper safeguards.

The mechanism creating the environment for TOG's expansion is called a tax increment financing agreement, or TIF, which was designed for precisely this kind of situation. Essentially, a current employer contemplating expansion can, if it meets the right benchmarks of investment and employment, reduce the tax burden on that expansion for a limited time period, thereby increasing its incentive to stay put and not move its entire operation elsewhere. Tourists Hotel and Greylock Works already operate under such an agreement.

In this kind of pact, everyone wins. The tax rate on the company's existing infrastructure remains intact; only the expansion qualifies for the reduction benefit. The city receives a partial tax loaf rather than a full one, but new jobs are created that employ more workers who spend money in the community and buy properties subject to city taxes. The expansion's demand on city services is negligible. A time limit on the tax reduction is agreed to in advance (in this case, the period being considered is five years). Pittsfield, which was burned on projects that received taxpayer money but did not provide sufficient employment, has embraced the TIF concept.

The TOG news is significant because there has been a creeping perception in the Berkshires that its days as a high-tech manufacturing hub are long gone, and that cultural tourism, and more distantly marijuana cultivation, offer the region's main paths out of its economic slump. As Jonathan Butler, CEO of the regional economic development agency 1Berkshire told The Eagle, 7 percent of the area's workforce is still employed in the manufacturing sector, and the county needs a rich mix of employment opportunities to counter job losses.

One does not need to have a degree in economics to understand that the sustaining of a healthy economy relies on diversity. While North Adams is home to a world-class art museum in Mass MoCA, Berkshire County's industrial history and significant technological training facilities should not be treated as has-beens. The Feigenbaum Center for Science and Technology at MCLA is dedicated to keeping manufacturing alive in the Berkshires, and North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and North Adams city councilors are demonstrating their willingness to cultivate the growth of a local business by providing flexibility regarding taxes. Should their city develop a reputation as an amenable locale for businesses to locate, the TOG deal will have been well worth the modest price.


"North Adams' Commercial Tax Rate Likely to Break $40" Staff Reports, November 26, 2018

North Adams, Massachusetts — Mayor Thomas Bernard is recommending the City Council reverse last year's shift in the commercial rate in an effort keep the residential rate from rising higher.

The council will vote on the tax classification for fiscal 2019 on Tuesday. Should the council approve, the commercial, industrial and personal property shift will go from 1.71 back to 1.73, where it had been for several years.

The rate was shifted more toward the residential side last year to prevent CIP taxes from exceeding $40 per $1,000 valuation. If approved, the CIP rate would rise from $39.85 to $42.10 per $1,000 valuation.

Four communities, all in Western Massachusetts, were close to the $40 mark in fiscal 2018: Springfield ($39.28), Holyoke ($39.69), North Adams ($39.85) and Pittsfield ($39.98).

"While I am reluctant to reach this milestone, I believe the 1.73 shift represents the most equitable approach to apportioning tax obligations between residential and commercial taxpayers for this fiscal year," the mayor wrote in his communication to the council.

The tax levy for this year is $17,651,077, an increase in levy of $744,487 order or 4.4 percent from fiscal 2018. There are 2,641 residential parcels and their property taxes account for 40 percent of the revenue to support the city budget.

With a CIP shift of 1.73, the residential rate would rise 58 cents to $18.96 per $1,000 valuation, or just over 3 percent. This translates to about a $90 a year increase for an average single-family home assessed at $138,780, or a total bill of around $2,630.

Since 2015, the average home has risen about $2,500 in value and the bill by about $270.

If the shift is kept at 1.71, the residential rate would be $19.11, increasing the average bill be $111, and the CIP rate would be $41.61.

"While we continue to manage our budget carefully this proposal represents use of the city's full levy capacity," Bernard wrote. "We remain $482,031 under the city's levy ceiling of $18,133,108. I request that Council adopt the accompanying order as presented."

The City Council will also hold a public hearing on the installation of underground gas tanks for the new Cumberland Farms planned for construction at the old City Yard.


“North Adams tax plan would place heavier burden on businesses”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, November 26, 2018

North Adams — Businesses will likely bear the brunt of this year's increases in taxes.

In a tax classification hearing on Tuesday, the City Council will decide how it wants to raise $17.65 million in tax revenue, and how it will divide the tax burden between businesses and residents as the city looks to fund its 2019 budget. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Under Mayor Thomas Bernard's proposed tax classification, city homeowners would see their tax rates rise from $18.38 to $18.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value, resulting in an increase to the average tax bill from $2,542 to $2,631 annually.

For businesses, the classification plan will likely result in a tax rate greater than $40 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the first time in the city's history.

"While I am reluctant to reach this milestone, I believe the [proposed] 1.73 shift represents the most equitable approach to apportioning tax obligations between residential and commercial taxpayers for this fiscal year," Bernard wrote in a communication to the City Council.

The $17.65 million total tax levy is a 4.4 percent increase from last year's levy, which totaled $16.9 million.

The City Council in June approved the $40.72 million budget for fiscal 2019, which increased $766,430, or 1.92 percent, over fiscal 2018.

Throughout a series of Finance Committee and City Council meetings this spring, Bernard referred to the budget as a "maintenance budget" that avoided major investments.

The tax classification hearing on Tuesday determines how that budget will actually be paid for, and who will bear the burden.

In years past, the city has adopted a split tax rate and saddled commercial, industrial, and personal property taxpayers with a larger proportion of the city's tax bill. In recent years, former Mayor Richard Alcombright advocated bringing residential and commercial taxpayers slightly closer to equal footing, proposing a reduction in the tax shift.

Still, last year's shift toward commercial, industrial, and personal property taxes was 1.71 — close to the legal maximum of 1.75, but a small decrease from the year prior. That shift resulted in a residential tax rate of $18.38 and a commercial tax rate of $39.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

This year, Bernard has proposed raising the shift back to 1.73, resulting in a commercial tax rate of $42.10 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The tax levy increased because the city's other sources of revenue — local receipts and state aid — did not keep pace with the rise in expenditures. It continued a trend that has seen the city fund more of its budget through its own local tax revenue.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Owners of commercial property in North Adams will see their tax bills increase for fiscal 2019, but not as much as had been anticipated. After lengthy debate, and a fair amount of confusion during a last-minute amendment, the City Council on Tuesday turned down a proposal by Mayor Thomas Bernard, which could have resulted in the highest commercial tax rate in Massachusetts. Eagle File Photo

“Commercial tax bills going up in North Adams”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, November 28, 2018

North Adams — Owners of commercial property in North Adams will see their tax bills increase for fiscal 2019, but not as much as had been anticipated.

After lengthy debate, and a fair amount of confusion during a last-minute amendment, the City Council on Tuesday turned down a proposal by Mayor Thomas Bernard, which could have resulted in the highest commercial tax rate in Massachusetts.

Instead, the council authorized a tax classification plan that will maintain a commercial tax shift of 1.71 — that's the same as it was in 2018 — after several councilors aired concerns about the potential impact on small businesses.

The plan adopted by the council will raise the commercial tax rate to $41.61 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of about 4.4 percent. Bernard's recommendation would have caused a 5.6 percent increase from the current rate of $39.85 per $1,000.

Several councilors expressed concern about potentially having the highest commercial tax rate in the state. Not every city and town in the state has set its tax rate for 2019, but North Adams' new commercial rate is greater than that of any municipality in 2018.

"To become No. 1 in the state for your commercial rate is setting a tone," Councilor Joshua Moran said.

The city's commercial tax rate in 2018 was second only to Pittsfield's, but the Pittsfield City Council recently approved a small decrease that kept its commercial tax rate below $40 per $1,000.

Through the tax-classification process, the City Council determines either a single tax rate or a split rate between residential taxpayers and commercial, industrial and personal property (CIP) taxpayers. There are 258 commercial taxpayers and four industrial taxpayers in the city.

Historically, the council has opted for a split rate with a shift toward commercial taxpayers at or near the maximum of 1.75 — the higher the shift, the higher the rate paid by businesses compared with homeowners.

Last year, the council stepped back, decreasing the shift to 1.71 in a gesture of goodwill to businesses.

On Tuesday, the council balked at Bernard's proposal of a 1.73 commercial shift, which he called "the most equitable approach."

Tax rates for city homeowners will rise about 4 percent under the new rates. The owner of an average home assessed at $138,780 will see an annual bill of $2,652, an increase of $110.51.

No business owners were present at Tuesday's meeting to oppose the proposal, but Councilor Benjamin Lamb said "it makes them a target when they do so."

Though he noted that not all city businesses are locally owned, they all employ local people.

"Even though it's not an insane amount over $40, it feels much higher," he said of Bernard's recommendation.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson echoed Lamb's concerns and noted positive stories of private investment in the city in recent years.

"A lot of that isn't on the residential side, though some is," Wilkinson said. "It's on the commercial side."

Councilor Jason LaForest said the city has relied too heavily on the CIP shift year after year to keep the residential rate "artificially low."

"The problem is, year after year we've pushed the tax burden onto small businesses," LaForest said.

The total tax levy is $17.65 million, a 4.4 percent increase from last year's levy of $16.9 million.

The increases to the tax levy were sharper than the increases in the city's fiscal 2019 budget, largely because expenditures have outpaced the relatively stagnant state aid the city receives and local receipts.

"At one point, North Adams was receiving more than 50 percent of its revenues from state aid. As state aid has shrunk as a proportion of our revenues, the biggest growth has been in the residential tax bill," said City Administrator Michael Canales.

Councilor Marie T. Harpin, who was the only councilor to oppose the 1.71 tax shift, lamented that the city's budget continues to increase even as its population and property valuation shrinks.

"The burden is falling both on the residents and the homeowners and it's falling on the business owners," she said. "It's tough to swallow on both sides of the fence."

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.

At a glance

North Adams tax rates*:


2018 2019 change

$39.85 $41.61 +4.4%


2018 2019 change

$18.38 $19.11 +4%

*per $1,000 of assessed property value


Mayor Thomas Bernard's first year on the job has been a mix of quickly tackling some major issues on his agenda; being surprised by some of the unanticipated problems that have arisen; and not yet finding the time or resources to address other policy goals. Eagle file photo

"In this particular budget year, there just wasn't room, and I don't know that there will be in the next budget year."
- Thomas Bernard, North Adams mayor, on being unable to hire an economic development specialist for the city

“North Adams' Bernard on first year as mayor: 'Every day ... I've learned something'”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, December 29, 2018

North Adams — It was a year of firsts for Mayor Thomas Bernard.

The first-term mayor was sworn in January 1, [2018], and has been learning on the job for the 12 months since.

Year one for Bernard has been a mix of quickly tackling some major issues on his agenda; being surprised by some of the unanticipated problems that have arisen; and not yet finding the time or resources to address other policy goals.

"Every day of this year I've learned something," Bernard said in an end-of-the-year interview with The Eagle on Christmas Eve. "I'm not blind or naive to the challenges we face as a community, but my approach is always going to be to lead with our potential."

"I knew this was a job I would enjoy and give me important work to dig into — but it's a job I love," he said.

Though the city jumped on many of the issues that Bernard highlighted, there were some items Bernard hoped to tackle early on that he still hasn't gotten to.

"Some of that is coming in and actually learning what you don't know in terms of limitations of resources," Bernard said.

Public safety quickly became a central issue of Bernard's first year in office, starting with the killing of city resident Christa Steele-Knudslien in early January.

"I don't think anyone could have anticipated that we would begin the first week of the year with a homicide," Bernard said. "That was tragic, that was shocking."

Bernard said the homicide brought attention to domestic violence in North Adams and highlighted the quality of the North Adams Police Department.

Public safety at forefront

Public safety also came into focus when an FBI report showed that North Adams had a higher violent crime rate than any other reporting city or town in Massachusetts in 2017. But those figures have since been called into question, as North Adams Police found that a coding error in the department's software might have led officers to incorrectly label misdemeanor domestic assault charges as felonies.

In December, North Adams Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio announced he would retire in February, immediately setting off a search for his replacement.

In preparing for that search, Bernard also has proposed reclassifying the chief position to raise the salary to make the position more attractive to potential candidates, a suggestion the City Council will review in committee.

"I see that as the most critical hire I'm likely to make," Bernard said.

Not only will the department see a shake-up in leadership, the future of its physical home is in question.

The public safety building required $351,000 for a roof repair, which was approved by City Council in November. Also, the city is on a list for $1.2 million in funding through a bond bill passed by the Legislature that would help pay for the engineering of a new public safety building, either where the current building stands or on a different property.

"We've got to get serious, and we can't delay much longer, in making a decision on what the next facility looks like. Then we have to figure out how to pay for it and what the timing is going to be," Bernard said.

Ongoing rift over cable

Another ongoing, but somewhat unexpected, issue the city has focused on is its ongoing rift with cable provider Charter Communications. The company irked city residents when it transitioned to all-digital encryption this year — but that was just one issue of many that Bernard has taken up with the cable company.

"There are issues of rates, of service, of business practices that, if not deceptive, are intentionally opaque," Bernard said. "Unfortunately, it's all driven by a contract that is very narrow in scope."

The city could be a matter of months from its first recreational marijuana retailer, thanks in no small part to the work that began shortly after Bernard took office.

As promised, Bernard quickly set up a retail marijuana zoning group consisting of city officials and members of the public. The committee, along with the Planning Board and City Council, had to address where cannabis businesses should be allowed to operate, including sections of the city's downtown.

By April, the city had enacted a comprehensive new set of zoning regulations for marijuana businesses.

"I couldn't be happier with the way that worked," Bernard said.

The city now has executed host agreements with two prospective retailers, Valley Green Grow and Evergreen Strategies, the latter of which also has received approval from the city's Planning Board to launch its businesses in the former Friendly's on State Road.

Another first-year highlight for Bernard was the negotiation of a tax agreement with TOG Manufacturing, a builder of small, machined parts for industrial uses, located on South State Street. The agreement gave TOG tax incentives in exchange for a doubling of its workforce and expansion of its existing facility, resulting in nearly 30 new manufacturing jobs in North Adams.

"I think this is just a model of how these agreements should work," Bernard said.

Keeping spending in check

In 2018, Bernard also navigated his first city budget and cites with pride that the increase in spending was kept below 2 percent; he credits the city's finance team with much of the work to get there.

Looking toward fiscal 2020, the city will see about $1 million in annual debt payments fall off the books.

"However we use that, it's going to spend fast, whether [we] roll it into new debt, which spurs investment, or looking at if we can use a little bit of it for tax relief," Bernard said, noting that those budget discussions will begin in the new year.

But among the goals Bernard was unable to fulfill was the hiring of an economic development specialist for the city, a position he believes could help spark private investment in North Adams. That concept, at least for now, has been nipped by financial realities.

"In this particular budget year, there just wasn't room, and I don't know that there will be in the next budget year," Bernard said.

The mayor also wants to hire a human resources specialist.

"In an organization of our size, with multiple collective bargaining units, it would be a good idea to have somebody who, at the end of the day, is responsible for human resources," Bernard said.

The mayor also had set out to improve budget transparency, including a visual guide to the city's spending plan. But nothing is as simple as it sounds, and city officials found technical barriers to that quest.

"It's probably a couple of steps down the road, because we need to upgrade our server infrastructure, which will allow us to address other areas in IT, which will get us to a point where we can upgrade our website and look at other tools," Bernard said.

Public arts flap

Although relatively limited in scope, Bernard's most controversial proposal might have been seeking adjustments to the governance of the Public Arts Commission, which was formed in 2015 to judge public art proposals.

Citing his role as the city's contracting authority, Bernard rewrote the ordinance to reflect the commission's role as a "recommending body." But the proposal met backlash from the Public Arts Commission and members of the public who saw it as undemocratic and potentially leaving the evaluation of public art proposals in the hands of a single person — the mayor.

"This wasn't about an aesthetic judgment, and I felt that no matter how many times I tried to say that, that piece got lost in this idea of `trying to seize administrative control,' " Bernard said. "This is something that I see as really purely transactional and is about consistency in what happens when a contract is generated."

The proposal remains in the hands of the City Council, which is expected to take it up again in the new year.

Looking ahead, 2019 isn't likely to be any less busy.

The city continues to search for insurance options to keep its shooting range covered and open for public use.

And in the coming months, the city hopes to close on the sale of its former Department of Public Works headquarters on Ashland Street to Cumberland Farms.

In addition to the hiring a new police chief, the city also will be tasked with finding a new director for the North Adams Public Library, as Director Mindy Hackner is set to retire.

And the North Adams Public Schools will continue to transition its administrative offices into City Hall.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “Awaiting resolution of MoCA's paint-over”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 5, 2019

To the editor:

Recently, this writer received an email from Joseph Thompson director of Mass MoCA, responding to my email concerning MoCA's illegal paint-over of the children's art work on the Marshall Street Pillars in North Adams. He indicated that he was opened to suggestions but, at this point in time, he has not responded to the letter or to the strong desire of the community for testing and possible restoration of the schoolchildren's art work.

Open letter to Joe Thompson:

Joe, thank you for responding to my latest email concerning the issue of the art projects on the Marshall Street Pillars. With that said, I have carefully reviewed the history and the intentions stated by both parties to the issue. Unfortunately, outside of what seems to be accurate reporting of dates and times, it appears that the content of conversations related to what was an acceptable plan and how it was to proceed is conflicting. It is also apparent that too much time has transpired since your initial meetings with the artists. No substantial follow-up has apparently occurred.

Without getting into conflicting details concerning opinions and interpretations, it is rather obvious and factual that the general public did and continues to support the children's art and, desires a mutual agreement between the two parties which will reflect that desire. It is believed that both parties will have to make mutual concessions and your leadership and support of such is crucial as a concerned citizen and director of MoCA.

The fact remains that no one had a legal right to the publicly owned bridge or pillars. In the court of law based on facts, considering the contents of questionable verbal agreement either between Mayor Barrett or Mayor Alcombright, use, longevity, construction or destruction of any art on the Pillars never followed the legal perimeters of law.

You indicated that you are all ears considering resolution of what has grown to be a much larger and longer issue than expected. Approaching nearly 500 signatures and emails of support, the collaboration of the North Adams Teachers Association and the media coverage on a local and regional basis, it is imperative that a resolution is in the best interest of MoCA and the city.

Considering the need for a positive response let me make some suggestions to you in addressing the Pillars.

— Immediately contact Bill, Christina, Sam and Bruce with the direct intent of ironing out solutions. I would also suggest that because the public has so strongly been involved, a representative of the public (hopefully this writer) be an observer at negotiations.

— Support the testing of the children's art work to verify if it can be restored. If it isn't, the whole issue is mute.

— Proceed rapidly on an action plan.

What is recommended are starting points and need to be accomplished not only for acceptable resolution but also in the interest of all parties.

Resolution and responsibility of making the issue right begins directly with the museum. No permanent installation status, verbal permission or control belonged to either party and for anyone to assume any said control or status is unlawful and unacceptable.

Although interest by one national new medium has emerged, I will hold off pursuing further contact until assured that the issue is addressed quickly and in an mutually acceptable way to all parties.

I appreciate hearing from you soon as to what course and time frame you intend to pursue regarding this matter.

Vin Melito, North Adams


“Pittsfield, North Adams face losing free school lunch funds If shutdown continues”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 9, 2019

North Adams — Federal funding that provides free lunches and breakfasts at Pittsfield and North Adams schools is secure — for now.

But public schools in North Adams and Pittsfield could be on the hook for the cost of the thousands of free meals they provide to students if the federal government shutdown continues past March.

The United States Department of Agriculture updated districts on the status of its child nutrition programs on Tuesday, saying in a statement that funding was already covered for January and this week "we will provide an additional two months' worth of funding, consistent with the standard practice of funding these programs on a quarterly basis."

The communication provides local officials with some additional breathing room but, with no end to the partial federal government shutdown in sight, they've already begun considering next steps.

"What we have to hope for is the recognition that these decisions have real impacts on real residents of all of our communities — our most vulnerable, in a lot of cases," North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard told the North Adams School Committee at a regular meeting Tuesday night.

An extended shutdown could force local officials to consider how the costs of the free meals can be absorbed until the shutdown ends.

"Hopefully this [shutdown] will be resolved," said Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance at Pittsfield Public Schools.

The funding situation has evolved since the shutdown began last month. In a release issued Dec. 28, the USDA stated that its child nutrition programs — through which Pittsfield and North Adams are reimbursed for providing free breakfasts and lunches to students — would be funded through February.

On Tuesday, USDA officials told reporters that the child nutrition programs are now guaranteed to be funded through March — giving Berkshire officials a little more time to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

"It's all the same, it's just where the decision point is depends on how long the funding is guaranteed for," Bernard said.

The program, operated under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture, provides reimbursem*nt to school districts based economic factors of their student population.

Through the Community Eligibility Provision, North Adams offers a free breakfast and lunch to all of its students at every school building. It also offers dinner to at-risk youth under the age of 18 years old through an additional program housed at Brayton Elementary School.

"I would imagine that we could sustain programs and services through April if reimbursem*nts and deliveries continue through March," said North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

Pittsfield offers free lunches to elementary and middle school students, but not at the high school level.

As of November, Pittsfield served an average of 3,681 free lunches and 1,752 free breakfasts every day.

Districts are required to keep an operating cost balance of at least six weeks on hand, and Behnke said Pittsfield usually is above that minimum. However, like North Adams, it does not have an unending reserve to draw on.

Even without the federal shutdown, North Adams Food Services Director Corbett Nicholas — in a communication relayed to the School Committee on Tuesday — noted that the district regularly is delayed in receiving reimbursem*nt.

The North Adams City Council has already gotten involved.

City Councilor Jason LaForest raised the issue at Tuesday's City Council meeting, expressing concern in a letter that funding for the free meals could dry up due to the shutdown.

"It is well documented that students who benefit from free and reduced lunch programs are happier, healthier and more productive students. In the absence of this program, many families simply would not be able to provide these meal," LaForest wrote.

Concerned that it could be asked to step in with emergency funding if the shutdown continues, the City Council agreed to discuss the issue further at a committee meeting.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Keith Bona has been selected as president of the North Adams City Council for a second consecutive year. He stands in City Council chambers Wednesday in the North Adams City Hall on Wednesday [1/16/2019]. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“Keith Bona readies for 2nd year as North Adams City Council president”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 20, 2019

North Adams — Through his first eight terms, Keith Bona was never seriously interested in being City Council president.

Now, he's poised for a second consecutive year at the helm.

Bona, who was first elected in 1993 and is 10 years into his second stint on the council, was unanimously voted as president, again, by his fellow councilor's during last week's annual organization of government.

"While I may mention the years I've served, the newest councilors are as equal to me, and our diversity of ages, backgrounds and experiences is key to a successful council that will benefit the city the most," he told The Eagle.

The presidency is a role Bona avoided for years, not wanting to give up the right to speak on issues that came up before the council. But he fit into it in 2018.

"When I started on council, for many years we were always told that the president is not really supposed to speak during meetings — it's really about running the meeting," Bona said. "That was the thing that turned me off."

But more recent council presidents have simultaneously managed meetings and participated in debate, Bona said.

"Last year, I looked up Robert's Rules [of Order], which is our guide, and it clearly states that if you are a voting member, that you have the right to discuss, debate and even bring forward issues," Bona said.

Still, it's an evolution from tradition.

"His style is not what mine was or most council presidents' was," said Alan Marden, a former City Council president whom Bona leaned on for guidance in his early years on the council.

Despite their respectful disagreement about the president's role, Marden said he's glad Bona, who co-owns Berkshire Emporium and Antiques on Main Street, is still involved 25 years after his first election.

"He's like the mayor of Main Street and a great communicator through social networks," Marden said.

To Bona, the council's traditional model of the president didn't make sense — community members are voting for a candidate they expect to participate in debate when he or she serves.

"The president has the authority to, yes, run the meeting, but at the same time has the ability of all of the others," Bona said.

As president, Bona said he usually holds off until all of the other councilors have had their chances to chime in — "instead of trying to totally dominate the topic like I may have in the past," Bona said with a laugh.

"I've toned it down, but I will still give my opinion," he added.

This year, Bona plans to exercise that opinion on a number of topics, including revisiting the processes for starting a business in North Adams and addressing city requirements that a simple change of ownership require a special permit.

"We've discussed it for years," Bona said.

With the urban renewal plan expiring, Bona said he would also like to rethink the city's Redevelopment Authority.

As Mayor Thomas Bernard prepares to appoint a new police chief, Bona said he also expects public safety could become a topic of discussion.

Despite his experience, Bona said he values newer members equally.

"Different councilors are going to have different priorities," he said. "As I've always said, I like a diverse councilor."

While the council, which currently has four members in their first term, has jelled, Bona expressed a desire to see its relationship with Bernard, another first-termer, improve.

"I do feel there needs to be a stronger line of communication with the administration," Bona said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“North Adams to get new City Clerk on Tuesday [1/22/2019]”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 20, 2019

North Adams — The City Council is expected to formally appoint a new City Clerk on Tuesday.

At its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday — it is the last for retiring City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau — the council will formally vote on her recommended replacement, Assistant City Clerk Deborah Pedercini.

Pedercini, a veteran of City Hall with 30 years of experience in the community development office, won the recommendation of an ad hoc committee formed to find Gomeau's replacement last December.

Upon her official confirmation Tuesday, Pedercini's three-year term will begin Jan. 28 and expire in 2022.

Catherine Verrier, who has worked in the office of community development for 16 years and served as the secretary to the planning board, has been tapped to become the next assistant city clerk.

"Her experience in that office along with the work she does for the Planning Board will be a definite asset to the office," Gomeau wrote in a letter to the City Council earlier this month.

Gomeau, who has held the post since 2004, announced last year her plans to retire.

The clerk position is appointed by the City Council, and it carried a $53,611 salary in 2018.

There also will be a few new names added to the city's payroll.

After their recent appointment as full-time firefighters, Tyler H. Bolte and Casey C. Cooke will be ceremonially sworn in Tuesday.

"Firefighters Bolte and Cooke have distinguished themselves through their training, service, and commitment to the department and the residents of the City of North Adams," Mayor Thomas Bernard wrote in a communication to the City Council. "I am confident that they will serve the City of North Adams with distinction."

The North Adams Police Department also has bolstered its ranks.

Matthew Meranti and Kevin Stant have been appointed as full-time patrol officers and will be sworn in Tuesday. Meanwhile, Officer Preston Kelly has been promoted to sergeant.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in City Council chambers.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “North Adams Council disrespects the public”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 25, 2019

To the editor:

Once again, the North Adams City Council moves to restrict community input and act more autocratic. Upon a motion by the chairman Keith Bona, the council voted 8 to 1 (with Rebecca Cohen being the one) to restrict voter input in discussions.

Community members will only be able to comment at the beginning of the meeting before the discussion of a issue and at the end of the meeting after decisions have been made. It is totally disingenuous to think this is the same as being part of a discussion where interactions often change the tone and direction of the discussion and the outcome. It is rare that the council appears to consider community input in its decisions but now even the discussion input will be missing.

Bona said he felt this council was the most gracious in responding to the public. He isn't hosting a co*cktail party where you get to choose the guest list. If members don't want to hear from the public then don't run for public office.

This isn't the first time Mr. Bona attempted to restrict public input. One of his very first moves as council president was to restrict those he personally felt disruptive (which often meant simply challenging ) from not only talking but even attending the meetings.The state attorney general ruled this illegal.

Community members are also prohibited from directly questioning a member during the questioning period. To be more accurate, technically you can ask the member a question but they are prohibited from answering you directly. A few may selectively choose to respond but the rule is in effect.

This is a rule Mr. Bono reinforced from his first day as chair. He claimed it is the law but this seems more of a ruse as his interpretation of the law has been shown to be inaccurate.

We, the public, are on notice on how the chairman and members of the council view us with such disrespect and contempt. The open comments period is referred to as "hearing of visitors." No, we are not visitors to the council's government, it is the public's government. We are to blame if we keep reelecting those who treat us with such contempt.

Alice Cande, North Adams


In his State of the City address scheduled for Tuesday, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard plans to credit the progress made in the private sector, and he'll also reflect on city-led victories. Eagle file photo

“North Adams mayor Bernard bullish heading into State of the City address”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2019

North Adams — Just 50 days into office, Mayor Thomas Bernard laid out a hopeful vision for the city of North Adams in his first State of the City address.

Almost a year later, his enthusiasm has not waned.

"If anything, I'm more optimistic," Bernard said. "It's measured, it's practical and pragmatic, but I really have a very positive feeling about where we're going."

In a State of the City address scheduled for next week, Bernard will reflect on his first year in the corner office and outline the ways in which he plans to address the challenges that lie ahead.

The speech will be given at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Council chambers at City Hall.

Bernard plans to credit the progress made in the private sector, pointing to the work done by the developers of the Tourists hotel, NORAD Mill, Greylock Works, as well as other signs of "momentum."

"Not every bet that people are making in North Adams is going to pay off, but that's actually OK," Bernard said. "North Adams is being seen as a place where people are taking risks, and the risk comes with the possibility that it won't pan out, but it's a place where more people are comfortable trying those things."

The mayor will also reflect on city-led victories, such as winning federal funding for the creation of a master plan at Harriman-and-West Airport and the negotiation of a tax agreement with TOG Manufacturing, which plans to expand its operation on Curran Highway and nearly double its workforce.

The city also has continued a streak of grants through the state's Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program, with this year's boost of funding set to be used for a slew of upgrades to Braytonville Park.

Other, smaller grants have enabled efforts like updates to the city's zoning ordinances.

Among Bernard's goals for the upcoming year, he said, will be closing the sale on a number of city-owned properties — including the sale of the former Department of Public Works headquarters on Ashland Street to Cumberland Farms.

Bernard also hopes to see the city's first marijuana dispensary come online, which will offer a fiscal benefit through taxes, and complete the move of school department headquarters from Main Street to City Hall.

Public safety will be a priority for the city, with the hiring of a new police chief and lingering questions about the future of the city's aging public safety building on American Legion Drive.

"We made an investment late in the year to repair the roof on the existing building, and it was necessary and a critical need, but I wasn't happy to spend that money in that way, and I don't think anyone was," Bernard said.

By the end of this year, the mayor said, he wants a clear path forward on a replacement or repair project on the building.

Bernard said he also wants to see continued improvements in the schools, by promoting the existing assets and addressing ongoing challenges.

"We're in a good place and we're moving forward, but the stats and the data don't always reveal the truth of the day-to-day at our schools," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“North Adams State of the City address postponed because of weather”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 28, 2019

North Adams — Mayor Thomas Bernard has postponed his State of the City address, which had been scheduled for Tuesday night [29-January-2019].

The city will, at least according to the forecasts for Tuesday evening, be that it is blanketed in several inches of snow.

Given the possibility of slick roads, the speech instead will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in City Council chambers in City Hall. It will be broadcast by Northern Berkshire Community Television.

"I know we're tough here in North Adams, and not afraid of a little snow," Bernard said in a statement. "But while I'm looking forward to delivering my update on the state of our city and sharing my vision for the coming year, I want to put safety first and not bring people out at the height of what promises to be a fast-moving storm."

Thursday's event is free and open to the public.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Bernard On State Of North Adams: “Strong And Getting Stronger”
By Josh Landes, WAMC public radio, January 31, 2019

The mayor of North Adams says his city is strong and getting stronger.

Mayor Tom Bernard gave his second state of the city speech Thursday, saying North Adams is facing change with resiliency and innovation. Praising the city’s staff, public safety officials, schools, and sense of community, Bernard said North Adams’ collaborative spirit is the engine for its progress.

“And that’s why I stand here tonight to report with full confidence that the state of the city of North Adams is strong and getting stronger,” said the mayor.

Bernard pointed to private investment as evidence of rising tides in North Adams. He namechecked local developer David Moresi, who last year fully rented out the Norad Mill on the city’s west side.

“And whether you call it an innovation center, a business mall, or an entrepreneurial incubator, one thing is clear: David has found a formula for success,” said Berard.

Working his way down Route 2, Bernard also praised Greylock Works, the Tourists hotel, and the Trail House restaurant as “bringing renewed vitality to the west end of the city.”

Bernard drew attention to the city’s manufacturing economy, citing Crane Paper – which was recently acquired by Mohawk Paper – as well as Deerfield Machine and B&B Micromanufacturing, a small house company.

“And I’m proud that I recently helped to nurture the growth and expansion in our manufacturing sector by supporting a five-year tax increment financing deal with TOG manufacturing which recently was purchased by Stanley Black and Decker," said the mayor. "This came forward to the council back in December, and it’s a great deal for North Adams.”

Bernard says the deal includes $2.7 million in planned capital investment and 28 manufacturing jobs over the next several years.

He touted his efforts to make it easier to do business in the city’s downtown.

“Working with the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Housing and Community Development, I fought to secure state and federal approval to designate two downtown census tracts as qualified opportunity zones," said Bernard. "This promising new program provides tax incentives to investors who direct capital gains into funds designed to support job creation and development projects like housing, the Extreme Model Railroad Museum, and the Hoosic River Revival.”

Bernard was careful to note the city’s relationships with county bodies like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield. He also celebrated the Massachusetts College Of Liberal Arts’ role in North Adams, and acknowledged the impact of MASS MoCA.

“While MASS MoCA’s 250,000 annual visitors and estimated $51 million in economic impact are powerful statistics, they mask a persistent challenge that visitation numbers alone – impressive as they are – do not translate into robust downtown development,” said the mayor.

Bernard said North Adams needs to attract more businesses, make more market rate apartments available, and continue holding public events to bring life back to the city’s core. One downtown move he announced was about the Mohawk Theater.

“I will be coming to the city council at the next meeting seeking your support to declare the Mohawk Theater no longer needed for municipal purpose, which will enable me to work with staff in the office of community development to issue a request for proposals to identify interests and opportunities to privately redevelop the Mohawk into an asset that will anchor the next phase of downtown development,” said Bernard.

Noting the city’s ability to bring in grant money, Bernard – also chair of the school committee – praised public schools superintendent Barbara Malkas specifically for securing a $286,000 grant earlier in the week.

“And it’s going to support a collaboration between the North Adams Public Schools and Childcare of the Berkshires to strengthen access to affordable, high quality child care and preschool for our young people,” said the mayor.

Turning to public safety, Bernard continued to push for a new public safety building. He said that the police department continues to face the issues of domestic violence and the opioid epidemic, and said Berkshire County DA Andrea Harrington and the state police unit attached to her office were partners in both battles.

“The DA and I recognize what so many in our community also recognize: addiction is a disease," said Bernard. "This understanding is especially important in a small, close knit community like North Adams, where nearly every one of us knows someone struggling with their own addiction or that of a family member.”

Bernard drew a bead on one of the epidemic’s sources.

“Deceptive marketing by pharmaceutical companies leading to overprescription of legal opioids by physicians that too often create a cycle of dependency that ends up in the misuse of illegal narcotics," said the mayor. "That’s why I joined over 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts in signing on to the class action lawsuit that aims to hold the drug manufacturers responsible for their role in this epidemic.”

The mayor said he would deliver on a pledge to hold public conversations with constituents made at his last state of the city in 2018.

“Tonight, I’m announcing that I will be holding these meetings on the first Saturday of every month throughout the spring," said Bernard. "And this coffee and conversation series begins this Saturday, February 2nd, at 9 a.m. at the Empire Café on Main Street, with future meetings to be held at Brewhaha, the Uno Community Center, and the Greylock Apartment Community Room.”

Bernard closed out his speech with a return to a theme he hit on at MCLA’s Spring Opening Breakfast the week before.

“Yes, we’re the smallest city in terms of population," said Bernard. "But consider our influence: we are home to the largest contemporary art museum in the United States, and the greatest small public university in the country, and while I’m at it, let’s claim the best vocational high school in the commonwealth of Massachusetts."


In his annual State of the City address Thursday, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard announced that he plans to issue a request for proposals to breathe new life into the city-owned Mohawk Theater, which opened in 1938 but has sat mostly unused for more than a quarter-century, despite substantial efforts to renovate it. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard is applauded by members of the audience after he delivers his State of the City address Thursday at City Hall. Along with the majority of the North Adams City Council and a host of city leaders, attendees included new Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and state Rep. John Barrett III. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“North Adams mayor envisions bringing Mohawk Theater back to life”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, January 31, 2019

North Adams — The new year could lead to a new future for the Mohawk Theater.

In his annual State of the City address Thursday, Mayor Thomas Bernard announced that he plans to issue a request for proposals to breathe new life into the city-owned theater, which opened in 1938 but has sat mostly unused for more than a quarter-century, despite substantial efforts to renovate it.

"As with past requests for proposals, this will be an attempt to understand what ideas are out there, to determine whether any are viable enough to recommend for sale, and above all else, to refresh a conversation about the theater that has grown stale and repetitive," Bernard said.

Bernard, entering his second year in office, used Thursday's speech to reflect on the city's progress under his administration and chart the course ahead. The address initially was scheduled to be held Tuesday, but several inches of snow fell on North Adams and forced Bernard to reschedule.

Instead, Bernard's speech drew a crowd of residents in the City Council chambers on a clear but chilly night. Along with the majority of the North Adams City Council and a host of city leaders, attendees at the speech included new Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and state Rep. John Barrett III.

In explaining his decision to move forward with soliciting proposals for the Mohawk — it first requires that the City Council declare that the theater serves no municipal purpose — Bernard credited the work of local residents who recently have reignited discussions regarding the theater's future.

Last June, a group of volunteers held a community forum to contemplate the site's future.

"That grassroots effort proved to me that the future of the Mohawk does not need to rest in the city's hands alone. Government can help to support development efforts, but we also have the opportunity to explore how the private sector will write the next chapter for the Mohawk," Bernard said.

The Mohawk Theater has been in various stages of development since its closure in 1991. It previously held a major event in 2012 — a Johnny Cash tribute concert. The volunteers behind TEDx North Adams had worked feverishly to ready the space for their 2018 event, but ultimately moved the lecture series to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art because of logistical concerns.

In reaction to Bernard's announcement, City Council President Keith Bona said it's "really at the early stages," and indicated that councilors likely would seek assurances that the building's historical significance be considered in any proposal.

"I think the council just has to make sure it's not an open RFP where someone comes in with the bid and they can turn it into whatever they want," Bona said.

Councilor Benjamin Lamb welcomed Bernard's proposal to "test the waters," and said the theater has the "opportunity to be a major anchor in our downtown."

"Putting it out there and seeing what the real, tangible interest is a huge step for this community," Lamb said. "It's one of those things that's been talked about for literally a generation."

Bernard also used Thursday's address to announce a new public listening series, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at Empire Cafe on Main Street.

"While I have heard your hopes and concerns, it's time to put into action a pledge I made last year to hold informal listening sessions throughout the city. Tonight, I am announcing that I will be holding these meetings on the first Saturday of every month through the spring," Bernard said.

Much of the mayor's second State of the City addressed the economic investment that had been made in North Adams, and the promise to work toward continuing that trend in 2019.

Bernard credited a number of developers with spurring economic growth in the city, including the Tourists hotel and Greylock Works. Bernard also praised David Moresi, whose Norad Mill has become a hub of small businesses on Roberts Drive since he purchased it in 2017.

"Whether you call it an innovation center, a business mall, or an entrepreneurial incubator, one thing is clear — David has found a formula for success," Bernard said.

The mayor said he would continue to promote a "culture of development" in 2019.

"People are investing in North Adams. It is a place where they see potential and where they want to do business," Bernard said.

Continuing on the economic theme, Bernard said he will work to make it easier to do business in North Adams. That includes continuing the work to update the city's decades-old zoning regulations and taking advantage of two new Qualified Opportunity Zones in North Adams, which provide tax incentives to companies and organizations that make substantial investments in areas in need of growth.

Public safety has become a central focus of Bernard's administration, largely out of circ*mstance.

Late last year, North Adams Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio announced that he would retire after 32 years in the department. His impending departure has forced the city to embark on a search for his replacement, a hire that Bernard has said will be crucial.

Among the city's most pressing infrastructure needs is its public safety building on American Legion Drive. Thanks to its state legislators, the city was awarded $1.1 million in a state bond bill for siting and engineering of a new or renovated public safety building — but that funding has yet to be appropriated.

"The money would help, [but] its greatest benefit is as a spur to action. We don't need study money to start considering where we might locate a public safety complex. There aren't too many options that align both the need for physical space with ease of access for our first responders," Bernard said.

After withdrawing from the Civil Service system, the city also is embarking on hiring new police officers under its own for the first time. The process, overseen by an outside consultant, is expected to offer the department more flexibility in hiring, without sacrificing quality.

In addressing public safety, Bernard also paused to note how the city has confronted the opioid epidemic. The mayor joined a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies "that aims to hold the drug manufacturers responsible for their role in this epidemic," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “Elitist Tedx fails to involve community”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 6, 2019

To the editor:

I have a real problem with the way the TedxNorthAdams conference intentionally self selects its audience from a very limited and elite pool. (The conference was held on Feb. 2.)

First off the tickets at $45 each are out of reach for a large portion of the population of North Adams. Roughly 60 percent of our population at or below poverty levels. Second, it has a very select limited attendance which leaves most of our community out. Third, I don't recall even hearing the 2019 conference was happening until glowing coverage showed up in our local "journalistic" outlets after the fact — but I'm sure that was just coincidence.

For a conference that was supposedly about community I find it odd that the community was intentionally left out, but that is usually the way with neoliberal busybodies.

From my window, TedxNorth Adams is nothing more than elitist backslapping.

Brian Hunt, North Adams


“North Adams picks familiar face for new business administrator - its current one”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 7, 2019

North Adams — After launching a search for a new business administrator, the city's school district found the perfect fit — its current business administrator.

Carrie Burnett, who has served as a part-time business administrator through a shared services agreement with the North Berkshire School Union since last year, was appointed Tuesday as the full-time business administrator of North Adams Public Schools.

Burnett and her new contract each was unanimously approved by the North Adams School Committee at its regular meeting Tuesday.

"I just want to thank you all for the opportunity," Burnett told the School Committee.

The appointment comes after North Adams opted not to extend its shared services agreement with the North Berkshire School Union, a deal it struck last year in an effort to consolidate resources.

The two districts shared the services of Burnett, who previously had served as the business administrator for the North Berkshire School Union, on a pilot basis.

But with the size and scope of grant management and other responsibilities that North Adams needed, the district announced that it would forge ahead with a full-time business administrator of its own.

A search yielded three candidates, one of whom was not certified. Mayor Thomas Bernard and Superintendent Barbara Malkas interviewed Burnett and decided to move forward in recommending her for the position.

North Adams is now on the hook for Burnett's full salary, which now includes an additional $1,000 that previously had been written in as a stipend by the North Berkshire School Union and a 1.5 percent raise — an amount based on the salary increase negotiated by the district's teachers union.

The three-year contract begins July 1 because the city remains under the terms of the shared services agreement through the end of the school year. Burnett's salary will begin at $92,365 and continue to increase at the same rate negotiated by the teachers union.

Bernard, chairman of the School Committee, said discussions have included how to expand the role as it becomes full time, particularly in regard to grant management.

"I make the recommendation here with a very high degree of confidence," Bernard said.

Committee member Tara Jacobs strongly endorsed Burnett's appointment.

"I have nothing but positive things to say from our numerous meetings where you've answered so many questions and make things so clear going through the budget process last year and this year again," Jacobs said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


Our Opinion: “Krens' ambitious vision for Northern Berkshire”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 13, 2019

If world-renowned art entrepreneur and Williamstown resident Thomas Krens is to be believed, North Adams may eventually rival Orlando's Disney World as a destination for the American family. Mr. Krens, a former Williams College art professor, has experience turning unlikely dreams into reality: As former head of New York's Guggenheim Museum, he inspired and shepherded that institution's expansion into a Frank Gehry-designed branch in Bilbao, Spain that many consider one of the world's architectural masterpieces. His display of motorcycles as art at the Guggenheim's New York base created a storm in the museum world while becoming one of the most successful exhibits in its history.

In other words, Mr. Krens, who was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Mass MoCA, is a person who should be listened to when his panoramic visionary juices begin flowing. His latest concept for pulling the Steeple City out of its economic doldrums combines several of his dreams into one vast undertaking, incorporating the much-heralded Extreme Model Railroad and Architecture Museum he envisions for the downtown area, the Global Contemporary Art Museum originally slated for Harriman-West Airport, a parking facility that can double as an art space, a luxury hotel and spa, restoration of the Mohawk Theater, some 3-D movie venues and possibly a motorcycle museum thrown in for good measure.

That's a pretty full plate, but much of Mr. Krens' success to date stems from his understanding of the nexus between private investment and art, and his North Adams vision takes full advantage of exotic tax-reduction formulas appreciated by those with plenty of spare funds to plow into such undertakings, such as providing relief from capital gains taxes when monies are invested in designated economic opportunity zones located in distressed areas.

Mr. Krens, who has not yet worked out the precise details of the plan's implementation, anticipates private investment of $28 million with another $10 million from "other sources" (presumably, public funds and tax incentives) to launch the for-profit undertaking. His anticipated $180 million boost to the local economy providing 2,000 jobs may or may not be realistic, but the key is that, should the project even be only partially realized, the preponderance of its funding would come from private investment. Should it fail completely, the harm done to North Adams would be minimal if the city's buy-in were in the form of tax incentives to would-be investors.

It's important that each component of the project not be so linked together that the fate of one impacts another. The railroad and architecture museum, for example, would probably enhance North Adams as a tourist destination when paired with Mass MoCA as part of a dual attraction. It's success should not be dependent upon the success of, for example, the art museum. While it is encouraging to see that the museum would move downtown where it would be of greater help to the city than it would out by the airport, the struggling Heritage Park doesn't appear to play a key role in the Krens vision beyond a proposed Massachusetts Museum of Time. It isn't clear yet how his plan for a renovated Mohawk Theater would be fleshed out but indications are that he doesn't see it as a movie theater.

Presumably we'll know a lot more as the project goes forward, and it's hard to see how its encouragement would disadvantage the city, as long as it didn't suck all the oxygen out of the air for less ambitious projects that might already be in the pipeline. It would behoove Mayor Thomas Bernard and the rest of North Adams' municipal government, as well as officials in Williamstown and Adams, to do their best to encourage the proposal while prudently safeguarding community interests in the process.

Mr. Krens sees this project as the culmination of an economic renaissance that Mass MoCA only started. His goal of making the region "the No. 1 cultural destination in the United States" is impressively ambitious, and if successful, even in part, this project could have a transforming impact on North Berkshire that will indelibly change the economic landscape for the better.


“City Council to decide on fate of Mohawk Theater”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, February 17, 2019

North Adams — The City Council on Tuesday will decide if the Mohawk Theater is no longer needed for municipal use, a decision delayed by last week's snowstorm.

If Mayor Thomas Bernard's measure is approved, the request would allow him to issue a request for proposals on the city-owned theater, which was opened as a movie house in 1938 but closed in 1991. Bernard announced in his State of the City address last month that he would solicit proposals for the theater's redevelopment.

The council could opt to vote on the issue Tuesday or refer it to a committee for further review.

"Consistent with our approach to other city-owned properties, such as the former City Yard on Ashland Street, and Notre Dame church and school, I propose declaring the Mohawk Theater to be no longer needed for municipal purposes, and available for disposition," Bernard wrote in a Feb. 12 letter to the council.

Should councilors accept Bernard's proposal, they would be entrusting the theater's future to the mayor's office. Bernard ultimately would choose the winning bid — or elect not to choose a winner at all — without the council's input.

The council would be involved only if the winning bid came in at less than the Main Street property's assessed value, which is $446,400.

Tuesday's meeting also will feature a proposed 0.5 percent raise for the city's police officers, which was negotiated by their union after the city's departure from the Civil Service system this year. The department also will be raising the wages of its employees to $12 per hour to meet the state's new minimum wage requirements.

The City Council meeting is set for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “Unresolved Community Conflict” - Letter to the Editor, March 12, 2019

To the Editor:

I am writing with the intent to clarify a large misconception that arose after the iBerkshires story related to the Public Arts Commission and the Marshall Street Arnold Printworks Project of 2012 and 2013.

On Feb. 11, I attended the PAC meeting at City Hall as the only resident in the gallery. After much review and deliberation, I was asked where "the artists stood." I informed the Commission that I was representing both William Oberst and myself along with the 500 local residents who have signed the petition for a test area. I then stated that our goal remains to have the commission hear and rule on the application filed in late November of 2018 to test a small area to determine whether the anti-graffiti paint is still viable for restoration.

It was then discussed that no conversation has been held (still) by the immediate players; Mayor Bernard, Joe Thompson, William Oberst and myself. At that point, Vice Chair Kerns suggested that he broker the meeting — to which I agreed. My attendance at the PAC meeting was to keep the application process for restoration moving forward. With multiple changes in the members of the PAC since November (when the application was submitted) I have not received a response nor has a vote come before the commission. The prospect of a meeting with the Mayor, the Director of MoCA and the two artists was the most concrete logical step.

Only one part of a 20-minute long conversation was shared in this article, to allow for the appearance of "new news." The element of an alternate space is not on the table as the article attempted to highlight. The only discussion that still sits in front of the Public Arts Commission, is will they represent the Public? Will they vote to support the residents who have clearly stated their desire for restoration? What happens after a vote, remains to be seen.

It is extremely unfortunate that we await resolution to a community project turned community conflict after almost two years. To the residents and students of North Adams and all those who participated in creating the Arnold Print Works mural, we continue to hold on to what is just and have not succumbed to the powers that be.

Christina King[, North Adams]
King is an art teacher at Greylock School in North Adams who was involved with the pillar art project.


Letter: “DeRosa a good man who is good for city”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 29, 2019

To the editor:

John DeRosa has for more than a half a century been doing good for the city and citizens of North Adams. He has been involved in nearly all, if not all, major developments. He is not only a good lawyer but a brilliant, innovative, and creative thinker. He knows how to work though complex issues and make things happen.

He is a city native who loves his hometown. He contributions are immense. He was instrumental in bringing life to a fledgling idea, Mass MoCA, when it was just a concept. He was there when people thought a collegiate summer baseball team, the North Adams Steeplecats, would be a good idea. I personally know he gave generously of his time, talent to make these entities a reality.

The State Ethics Commission looked at one small aspect of this storied career with a certain lens. John DeRosa heart's is in the right place. I hope John stays involved. Our city needs people like him.

John Lipa, North Adams


Letter: “Don't change meeting time for North Adams City Council”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 30, 2019

To the editor:

It was recently reported that the North Adams City Council will consider an earlier meeting time after recently voting to limit public input at their meetings.

North Adams is not a job-rich city. Many residents need to commute in order to work, to places such as Pittsfield, Bennington, Greenfield, Brattleboro, Troy, Albany, Northampton, etc. In the modern age many people don't get out of work until 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., unlike the 9-5 days when your lunch hour was built in.

This means that when the council has a hot-button topic before it fewer people will be able to make it to the meeting to be there for one of only two opportunities to speak. So the next time we have something like the gun range issue, for instance, you will have people who arrive late only to find out that they can only speak after a vote or council discussion occurs.

Perhaps even more important, this will limit the diversity of candidates for council in the future. Folks who would never be able to get there in time after a day of work simply could not even think of running for council.

For the individual who is at home and falls asleep watching it live (as one councilor brings up), they can always watch the part they missed on their cell phone on the Northern Berkshire Community Television's website.

For any councilor that thinks being up late on occasion is a hardship, you probably became a councilor for the wrong reasons in the first place.

Joseph Smith, Clarksburg
The writer is a North Adams property taxpayer.


“North Adams selects Lt. Jason Wood as city's new police chief”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 10, 2019

North Adams — The police department's second in command will take the reins as chief.

Lt. Jason R. Wood has been appointed to succeed outgoing Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio, Mayor Thomas Bernard announced on Wednesday.

"I am honored and humbled at the opportunity to lead the North Adams Police Department into the future," Wood said in a statement. "I look forward to building new connections throughout the community, as well as to strengthening already established relationships."

Wood is a North Adams native who joined the force as a full-time patrol officer in 2003, making his way up the ranks to sergeant in 2014 and then as acting lieutenant in 2017. He was permanently appointed to the lieutenant position earlier this year and will be sworn in as chief on May 1, with a public swearing in ceremony slated for May 3.

Wood graduated from Drury High School and has an associate degree in criminal justice from Berkshire Community College.

He beat out two other finalists for the job — Bryan Terzian, a captain with the Ridgefield (Conn.) Police Department, and Jamie Berger, a detective sergeant with the Wayland Police Department.

Wood faces a series of challenges as he takes over the department, including an ongoing opioid epidemic and high rates of domestic violence. There are currently a number of unfilled positions within the department, while the city's crumbling public safety building is not handicap-accessible with no immediate solution in reach.

The new chief will also continue to guide the department as it transitions out of the Civil Service system in an effort to improve its flexibility when hiring new officers.

"In Lieutenant Wood, the City of North Adams has a veteran officer who understands these challenges, and who is prepared to lead the department in addressing them," Bernard said in a statement. "In speaking with him, the search committee and I found someone who is ready to lead and to innovate."

Wednesday's announcement did not indicate if Wood has agreed to a contract. Bernard has signaled that he would negotiate a salary with the new chief outside of the city's classification and compensation plan, under which Cozzaglio earned about $81,000. Under state law, the mayor is allowed to negotiate a salary directly with the chiefs of the fire and police departments, the city's labor attorney advised the mayor and City Council last year.

The search for a new began following the retirement announcement by Cozzaglio, who became the police department's leader in 2012 after the retirement of Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco.

Cozzaglio signaled his plans to retire after a 32-year career with the police department at a press conference last November. He officially retired in February, but agreed to remain on the job on an interim basis while the search for his replacement continued.

The appointment is the culmination of a months-long search process for a new police chief.

It began with the formation of a search committee made up of various representatives from the community, including the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and the city's police officers union.

Though the search committee had input throughout the process, the appointment was ultimately Bernard's to make.

Members of the search committee were Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw; North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas; City Councilor Jason LaForest; Northern Berkshire EMS general manager John Meaney Jr.; North Adams Police Sgt. Preston Kelly; and Michael Obasohan, coordinator of the Multicultural Education Resource College of Liberal Arts.

"I'm incredibly grateful to the search committee," Bernard said. "Their insight and dedication to the process was exemplary, and their counsel was absolutely critical to informing my decision. I'm equally appreciative of the residents of North Adams who attended the public forums held with each finalist, and who offered their perspectives on all the talented public safety professionals who applied."

The committee reviewed 40 applications for the job, which drew a broad range of candidates, Bernard said.

Eight candidates were then chosen for phone interviews with the search committee, which selected three finalists for the position.

The finalists underwent separate interviews in which they fielded a variety of questions from the public in a series of meetings last month.


“North Adams Public Library hires new director”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 2019

North Adams — The city will find a silver lining in the closure of nearby Southern Vermont College.

Sarah Sanfilippo, the Bennington, Vt., college's director of library services for more than 15 years, has been hired as director of the North Adams Public Library.

"It was kind of good fortune on both sides, borne out of a really unfortunate circ*mstance — the announcement of the closing of Southern Vermont College, which happened in the midst of our search," said Mayor Thomas Bernard.

He announced the new hire at a City Council meeting this week.

"I'm excited for the opportunity," Sanfilippo, who will start on April 29, told The Eagle on Friday.

Sanfilippo will replace retiring director Mindy Hackner, who will leave the post in May after about five years as the library's leader. Hackner had announced her plans to retire late last year, setting off a search for her successor.

Though he formed a search committee that included members of the library's Board of Trustees and City Administrative Officer Michael Canales, the library's director is an appointment made solely by the mayor.

Being connected to the greater library community and aware that the city was searching for a new library director, Sanfilippo wasted little time in sending a resume and cover letter to City Hall following the announcement in March that Southern Vermont College would close its doors.

Colleagues had gotten together the weekend following the announcement for a small resume workshop, she said.

Apparently, it paid off.

"[I] was able to see right away based on the materials that she was definitely a credible candidate," Bernard said.

The search committee reached out to Sanfilippo, who they ultimately recommended for the job. Bernard met with her and agreed with the recommendation.

"There will be a learning curve going from the academic library setting to a public library, but it's clear that she's got the experience and the ability to learn and build from that," Bernard said.

Sanfilippo also looks forward to taking on the challenges of a public library.

"The fact that it's a public library — it will be something exciting to do after being in academia for 20 years," she said. "I'm sort of coming in with an open mind and looking to talk to the staff and meet the library users and find out what challenges are that they see."

Under the city's compensation plan, the library director position begins at $46,759.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


David Moresi stands in Norad Mill's nearly complete event space. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

“The new downtown of North Adams? Norad Mill owner thinks so”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, April 21, 2019

North Adams — Now that two years have passed, David Moresi is running low on leasable space at the Norad Mill.

When he bought it for $47,500 in 2017, it was completely vacant. Since then, he has invested about $1.5 million clearing it out and subdividing the space into leasable units. Over that time, as the work continued and more spaces made ready, a number of businesses started to move in, even during the first year. Today, the mill is nearly totally compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with an elevator installed and operational and restrooms and ramps appropriately redesigned and installed.

What started as a five-year plan has accelerated into a two-year accomplishment.

The North Adams Planning Board granted special use permits recently for four new businesses that want to move into the mill. That will bring the number of business there to a total of 41 tenants.

According to Moresi, once they come in, he is going to have to juggle a few tenants and storage units to free up more space for several other interested parties.

"We get calls every day," he said. "They all want to be in North Adams. It's the strangest thing, and it's very encouraging."

In less than a year, Moresi and Associates had signed 22 leases with businesses wanting to locate in the 100,000-square-foot historic 19th-century facility, formerly known as the Excelsior Mill, which he has rebranded as the Norad Mill.

For example, Freia Yarns relocated to North Adams from California, bringing about 12 jobs. The company, which specializes in producing hand-dyed yarns, has international distribution and first connected with Moresi in 2017. It now lives in a 4,000-square-foot space in the mill.

Moresi Commercial Investments bought the mill from Crane Currency in Dalton for $47,500 about two years ago. When he first embarked on his purchase of the mill, Moresi said, "we didn't know what it was going to be."

As for the rapid response of interested businesses, Moresi is as surprised as anyone.

"We can't explain it," he said. "But it shows there is truly a palpable resurgence in North Adams — there is a lot of stuff happening."

The types of tenants are varied. They include artist studios, manufacturing spaces, financial services, retail spaces, an event space, and supplemental storage for such entities as Berkshire Medical Center and Williams College.

As a result, some of the businesses work with each other — getting their computer help from the Computer Bug, or buying supplies and services from each other. And some of the retail businesses are complementary, such as the candy shop, the record store, the yarn shop and an incoming retail clothing and gift store.

There are more than 150 people working there now, and as a result, they all have certain needs during the day. So Moresi is installing a small cafe to cater to tenants, their employees and their visitors.

"Some people aren't going to be happy with me when I say this, but I think this is the new downtown of North Adams," Moresi said.

The new businesses granted permits to operate are:

- Woodstock South is a retail store that features tie-dye shirts, dresses and jeans, along with other clothing items, handmade yard art, pottery, incense, and memorabilia from the 1960s and '70s. The store is trying to relocate to North Adams from Ormond Beach, Fla.

- Artworks would serve as a community art studio and host classes, workshops and art therapy sessions.

- Buckleberry Foods is a small dessert manufacturer specializing in products that are vegan and gluten-free.

- North Point Brands would be doing business as "Cheeky Fishing," and it produces specialized fishing reels and outdoor gear that it sells wholesale to retail operations nationwide.

Moresi said that foot traffic in the building is growing, especially on weekends.

"We're very proud of what we've done here," Moresi said. "These types of [mill] developments will be the future of this region."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.

Workers this month put the finishing touches on the sign outside the Norad Mill in North Adams. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

Robert Rosenblatt owns the Rocko Minerals store at Norad Mill in North Adams. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

An employee works this month at Freia Yarns at Norad Mill. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

Participants get down to a knitting session this month in the Spin Off Yarn Shop at Norad Mill in North Adams. After two years, the mill is nearly at capacity with offices and retail shops. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

Wesley Nelson unpacks merchandise in Belltower Records at Norad Mill in North Adams. Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle


“North Adams mayor lays out $40M budget plan”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, April 25, 2019

North Adams — Another year, another "maintenance budget."

Mayor Thomas Bernard has introduced a $40.84 million draft city budget proposal that would increase city spending by less than 1 percent, as officials remain wary of the city's approach toward the tax levy ceiling — the maximum the city can raise by taxation under state law.

The fiscal 2020 spending proposal unveiled Wednesday relies on an increase of 1.71 percent in taxation to balance spending. Despite modest increases in spending, the levy ceiling continues to loom ahead and influence budget priorities. In fiscal 2016, the city's tax levy was $15.7 million, $2 million below the levy ceiling. In the proposed 2020 budget, the tax levy is just $564,487 below the levy ceiling.

"We're looking at the long-term tax levy challenges, which are no different than most communities around here," Bernard said. "It's something we all have to be mindful of, and we're really going to be focused on that over the next year."

In terms of percent, the increase of 0.37 percent in spending is smaller than the jump in spending of 1.9 percent that occurred during Bernard's budget cycle in office last year.

"We have a strong reserve position, and we're managing everything carefully," Bernard said.

The spending plan was discussed at a meeting of the City Council's Finance Committee on Wednesday, when Bernard provided councilors with a broad overview of the proposal.

Wednesday's public meeting was the first in a series to be held by the Finance Committee over the coming weeks. They are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall every Wednesday through May 22, with each meeting covering a different portion of the city budget.

The Finance Committee is tasked with making a recommendation on the spending plan to the full City Council, which will take it up after the committee has finished its series of meetings.

The council is expected to pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

As the state continues to work through its own budget process and other variables, much of the city budget remains a work in progress based on a number of assumptions, Bernard noted.

The city's public school system accounts for $17.77 million, nearly half of the overall budget. The city held the school district to a 2 percent increase in its "level services" budget.

The city's pension obligations are increasing from $2.8 million to $2.95 million, while its expected medical insurance costs will rise from $4.65 million to $4.88 million.

The proposal projects a substantial decrease in costs associated with debt, from $1.67 million last year to $687,665 in fiscal 2020. As debt comes off the books, the 2020 fiscal year has long been eyed as an opportunity for substantial reinvestment in city infrastructure, but Bernard's budget is decidedly more conservative in its approach.

"The concern is that we're not making big capital investment moves, but some of the reasons for that is if you look at the growth of our state assessment, for example, I think it went up by about 10 percent, and a lot of that is related to things like charter school assessments," Bernard said. Had the increase been limited to 2 percent, he added, "we'd have another $200,000 of room to play with in the budget."

As the city's airport continues to grow — a new administration building is expected to come online later this year — the spending plan calls for the addition of a full-time employee to cover the airport's maintenance.

The city expects to pay for this position, in part, through revenue gained by leasing a space to a restaurant in the new administration building, the continued sale of aviation gasoline and ongoing lease agreements with tenants in a city-owned hangar.

"Between all of it, we think eventually, we want to make it cover the cost [of the employee]," said city Administrative Officer Michael Canales.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard applauds Friday as new Police Chief Jason R. Wood looks out at the audience after being sworn in at Brayton Elementary School. "He is the right person for the department and the city of North Adams," Bernard said. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“New North Adams police chief calls show of support 'pretty amazing'”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, May 3, 2019

North Adams — When Jason R. Wood started with the North Adams Police Department nearly two decades ago, he never envisioned that he would one day become chief.

But on Friday, Wood was sworn in as the head of the department, in a ceremony at Brayton Elementary School. Surrounded by fellow officers, city officials, first responders, elementary school children and teachers, as well as family and friends, Wood called the showing of support "pretty amazing."

"This process has been emotional and sentimental for me," he said during a few remarks to the crowd after being sworn in.

North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard expressed confidence that Wood is the right pick.

"He is the right person for the department and the city of North Adams," Bernard said.

The ceremony was held in the school's cafeteria, and dozens of schoolchildren were seated around the stage.

"Like you and I, Chief Wood went to school in North Adams," Bernard told the children. "And like you, we had wonderful teachers, and we hope that someday maybe some of you might aspire to be an officer with the North Adams Police Department."

Bernard appointed Wood after a national search that attracted 40 candidates. A search committee joined the mayor in reviewing and interviewing candidates. The committee and other community members met with three finalists in late March. Wood started his new job Wednesday.

Wood is a native of North Adams and a graduate of Drury High School. He earned an associate's degree in criminal justice from Berkshire Community College. Wood joined the department in 2002, after completion of the Municipal Police Training Council academy. He served as a school resource officer, and created and managed the city's first Police K-9 division. He was appointed acting lieutenant in 2017 and was formally appointed to the role this year.

In addition to his academy training, Wood is a certified field training officer and a Department of Homeland Security-trained active shooter instructor. He has received crisis intervention training, earned multiple certifications, participated in leadership training programs through Endicott College and the Municipal Police Institute, and attended sessions of the Advancing 21st Century Policing task force in Washington.

Locally, Wood co-founded the Running With the Law youth fitness program in North Adams and served as a facilitator with the Northern Berkshire R.O.P.E.S. program.

He succeeds Chief Michael Cozzaglio, who retired from service with the North Adams Police Department in February, after more than 32 years of police service.

Wood told The Eagle that during the next couple of weeks, he and the department will "figure out what we're going to need to tackle first, make a plan of attack on the opioid crisis, and maybe clean up the place [the police station] a bit. Maybe do some painting."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.

Children cover their hearts with their hands Friday as the national anthem is played during the swearing-in ceremony of North Adams Police Chief Jason R. Wood at Brayton Elementary School. The ceremony was held in the cafeteria, and dozens of children were seated around the stage. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

North Adams Police Chief Jason R. Wood is sworn in Friday by City Clerk Deborah Pedercini at Brayton Elementary School. Wood started his new job Wednesday. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

North Adams Police Chief Jason R. Wood sits with his family Friday, after being sworn in at Brayton Elementary School. He succeeds Chief Michael Cozzaglio, who retired from service with the department in February, after more than 32 years of police service. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle


Letter: “North Adams planners must protect neighborhood”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 3, 2019

To the editor:

If the North Adams Planning Board approves the special permit for the proposed glamping/event development at 976 Notch Road, it will greatly inconvenience North Adams and Williamstown residents and change the character of their neighborhoods. It could even put their lives at risk. Here's why.

Imagine that you live on Luce, Pattison, Notch, Woodlawn, Reservoir, or Richview. And imagine, heaven forbid, that there's a medical emergency or fire at your house when 60 or more cars are clogging these roads prior to or after an event. (The venue has parking for 220 cars.) These narrow roads have no shoulders, but plenty of pinch points and blind curves, and most of Pattison is designated by the state Department of Transportation as single lane. Emergency vehicles will take significantly longer to reach you, when minutes count.

Luce and Pattison are the main roads the "GPS lady" will send guests on coming from the west; she'll send them up the very steep Reservoir or Notch if they're coming from the east. North Adams zoning bylaws stipulate that a special permit be granted only if the proposed use. Isn't this detrimental to the established or future character of the neighborhood? Doesn't it harm the neighborhood due to significant adverse effects of vehicular traffic? Isn't it dangerous for the immediate neighborhood?

The developer anticipates there could be one event per weekend. Emergencies aside, every event will be a hassle for residents trying to leave or return to their homes when these roads are so congested. However, if the Planning Board requires a shuttle service for events, with guests parking downtown, guests and residents will be safer in two significant ways: Emergency vehicles can reach anyone in need as quickly as they do today. Guests can enjoy a few drinks without subsequently navigating unfamiliar, winding, steep mountain roads. And residents won't get stuck in traffic in their own neighborhood — something that never happens now.

With all due respect, unless a shuttle service is required for all events it's not possible for the Planning Board to protect surrounding neighborhoods from the nuisance and risk caused by this significant increase in traffic. We trust that board members will act responsibly to protect residents and uphold the zoning bylaws.

Kim Seward, North Adams
The writer is a Notch Road resident.


“North Adams returns to crystal ball to update Vision 2030 city plan”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, May 26, 2019

North Adams — In 2014, the city laid out a plan for the future.

Five years later, how well has North Adams followed its Vision 2030 master plan?

The city's Community and Economic Development Advisory Board has embarked on a five-year review of that document, which in 2014 outlined approaches to issues like economic renewal and infrastructure investment.

The review process — requested by Mayor Thomas Bernard — began at a board meeting Wednesday. The panel expects to craft a supplemental document.

To guide the review, the city has tapped a Berkshire Regional Planning Commission planner, Zachary Feury, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who outlined the board's next steps.

"Being a student of MCLA and working in the county, he knows the socioeconomic fabric and challenges we face," said Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie.

The Vision 2030 project was launched in 2011, more than four decades since the city's most recent master plan. The plan was adopted by the City Council in 2014 after rounds of planning and community input.

Vision 2030 covered five central themes: economic renewal; physical reinvestment in aging infrastructure; creation of a thriving, connected community; intergenerational thinking; and fiscal efficiency.

The goal of the review, Feury noted, is not to rewrite Vision 2030.

"That was an extensive process that created a very large and comprehensive document," Feury said.

He said the city should engage "a broad swath of the North Adams community" to look back on changes in the last five years and to identify goals and priorities.

The process is expected to take about six months.

The first month will be spent developing materials to solicit input. In June and July, the board expects to hold four to six public meetings.

In August and September, the board will begin shaping a document with its findings. A draft will be circulated for final community comment, hopefully by October.

On Wednesday, board members stressed the need to hear from a range of community members. They explored ways to involve the public that ranged from having a presence at downtown community events to utilizing social media.

"That's always the biggest impediment when you're doing community planning, is actually reaching the community [to] receive enough input from a large enough cross section of the entire community," Feury said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


“Bernard will run again for mayor of North Adams”
By The Berkshire Eagle, May 31, 2019

North Adams — Mayor Thomas Bernard announced Friday that he is seeking re-election to the corner office in City Hall.

"Today, I took out papers to run for re-election as mayor of our great city," Bernard said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the residents of North Adams as we continue to build our shared future on a foundation of economic development, community revitalization, and sustainability."

Bernard will kick off his re-election campaign at 5:30 p.m. June 13 on the porch of the Holiday Inn Berkshires, located at 40 Main St.

"When I took the oath of office as mayor of North Adams, I said that I did so `with gratitude and humility, mindful of our rich heritage of creativity and innovation, and inspired by the new energy and new ideas that will build on that proud legacy,'" the mayor said in the statement. "This commitment to service has guided my work to date and will mark my course as I continue to serve the smallest city in our incredible commonwealth."

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“Seeking a bit more of a dive, North Adams council delays vote on fiscal 2020 budget”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, June 11, 2019

North Adams — Facing a few outstanding questions and wary of making on-the-fly revisions, the City Council on Tuesday postponed a vote on Mayor Thomas Bernard's fiscal 2020 budget.

Bernard spotted an error in his proposal before Tuesday's council meeting began, a mistake that would have required several adjustments to be made live from the council floor.

Meanwhile, Councilor Marie T. Harpin, who chairs the Finance Committee, requested a delay so the council could have more time to review information provided by the mayor's office in recent weeks, including a three-year capital spending plan. She also expressed a desire to request additional changes to the budget.

The budget is due by the end of June.

Harpin critiqued the mayor's budget for failing to reinvest back into infrastructure nearly $1 million of debt that had fallen from the city's budget this year.

"If we take out the amount of debt that actually came off the books, the increase in our operating budget is actually over $1 million; it's a 2.65 percent increase," Harpin said.

Harpin recommended postponing the budget vote until the June 25 meeting so that the Finance Committee could review a three-year capital spending plan authored by the administration at the committee's request.

"I think the city really needs it, and we need to establish a plan to get it done," Harpin said of infrastructure investment in areas such as roads, water and sidewalks.

The fiscal spending plan increases city spending to $40.8 million, a 0.22 percent increase from the previous year.

As was the case with his first budget last year, Bernard has described his fiscal 2020 spending plan as a "maintenance" budget, eschewing major capital investments.

The Finance Committee had recommended increasing Bernard's salary by $4,000, from $84,470 to $88,470. But adjusting the mayor's salary would require a change in city ordinance, and Bernard told the council there would not be sufficient time to complete an ordinance change before the budget is due at the end of June.

"This has not been increased in over 12 years, so this increase would actually keep that salary competitive and it would maintain the integrity of the office," said Harpin, who argued that there was sufficient time to make the change.

Harpin suggested that the raise could take effect in January — after the mayoral election.

The council is expected to take the revised budget, which will account for the error highlighted by Bernard.

Under his proposal, Bernard's administrative assistant's salary was set to increase from $47,835 to $51,936. The Finance Committee balked, suggesting that her increase be limited to 3 percent, or $1,810.

On Tuesday, Bernard rescinded the request.

Due to an error, the city's finance team had believed that Administrative Assistant Michelle Ells was entering year five under the city's classification and compensation. Bernard told the council Tuesday that Ells, who was hired as a year-two employee in 2018 and started 2019 as a year three, should have been listed under this year's budget as a year four.

Instead of the proposed $51,936 salary, Ells is set to earn $49,522 next year.

The council unanimously voted to delay a vote on the budget until June 25. A Finance Committee meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


"If you're taking the family to Windsor Lake in North Adams, be aware that lifeguards are no longer duty. The city-paid positions were eliminated due to budget cuts."

Source: Jimmy Nesbitt, Berkshire Eagle deputy managing editor, June 24, 2019.

Swim at your own risk is the message to those going in the water at Windsor Lake in North Adams. There are no lifeguards. credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“Safety concerns in North Adams after budget cuts eliminate city-paid lifeguards at Windsor Lake”
By Adam Shanks and Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, June 23, 2019

North Adams — A popular area for swimming in the summer no longer has lifeguards because of budget cuts.

The decision to eliminate city-paid lifeguards at Windsor Lake was criticized by members of the city's Finance Committee last week.

"Nobody knew about this," said Rebecca Cohen, member of the City Council and the Finance Committee. "I think it makes people less safe."

Administrative officer Michael Canales told the committee at its meeting Wednesday that the cuts were needed to improve the operation, noting that state regulations would have required duties that would have been duplicated by other lifeguards who are employed by the various camps that use the lake. He also added that other such municipal swimming areas have taken similar actions.

City councilor and Finance Committee Chairwoman Marie Harpin said people who live around the lake have let their kids walk to the swimming area for years, knowing that there are lifeguards to offer a bit of supervision.

She said she wanted the funding restored "for the safety of the children."

The money saved by eliminating the cost of lifeguards is $14,000. The park fees collected do not fully pay for operation of the park, even with the $14,000 savings, Canales noted.

He said it is too late in the budget process to make changes to line items.

"We have a disagreement here," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "But no one is saying we are less safe."

As part of its justification for eliminating the lifeguards, city officials point to the state's Christian's Law, which lays out a number of safety requirements that camps must meet order to allow swimming.

The law, which tasked the Department of Public Health with creating regulations that ultimately took effect in 2017, includes a lengthy checklist of requirements that every camp must meet — and that a city lifeguard could not possibly handle, according to Canales.

The law requires the camp to have certified swim instructors determine the swimming ability of all minors, create an identification system to clearly label nonswimmers, and maintain an inventory of personal flotation devices and make them available to designated nonswimmers — among other standards.

The checklist of safety measures, which must be met by every camp that uses the lake, stretches far beyond what a city lifeguard can handle, Canales said.

Outside of camps, the lake will be "swim at your own risk," which is already the case at several other public beaches in the area, Canales said. Even in past summers, Canales said that people already swam at the lake during hours when the lifeguards were not on duty.

The loss of lifeguards at Windsor Lake would not impact the city's insurance rates, according to Canales.

The Windsor Lake beaches are open from morning to sundown, but lifeguards were only on duty until 5 p.m.

Canales said signage has been ordered that will notify beachgoers that this is a "swim at your own risk" area, and the lifeguard chair back also sports a "No lifeguard on duty" sign.


Letter: “Provide lifeguards on Windsor Lake”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 26, 2019

To the editor:

As a longtime citizen of North Adams who cares a great deal about our kids, I was chagrined to learn in The Eagle (June 24) that the North Adams city government has cut funding for lifeguards at Windsor Lake, where so many North Adams children swim.

City administrator Michael Canales justifies this decision by explaining that the day camps using the swimming beach must have well-trained lifeguards. A new law, "which tasked the Department of Public Health with creating regulations that ultimately took effect in 2017, includes a lengthy checklist of requirements that every camp must meet — and that a city lifeguard could not possibly handle," according to Canales.

I don't accept this reasoning. Who is going to watch the majority of children who are not in the day camps, some of whom might be unaccompanied by adults? City-funded lifeguards don't need the extra training, but they do need these summer jobs. Safety of all the children, not just the fortunate ones in day camps, must come first.

I surely hope that our city leaders will get their priorities straight to prevent a potential tragedy.

Stewart Burns, North Adams


“Bernard faces 2 challengers for mayor's seat so far as North Adams election season ramps up”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, July 8, 2019

North Adams — A busy election season is ramping up in the city of North Adams, and candidates are facing a mid-July deadline to return application forms.

Mayor Thomas Bernard will face challenges from at least two other candidates in his bid for a second two-year term. Voters also will choose candidates for all nine City Council seats, as well as three seats each on the North Adams and Northern Berkshire Vocational school committees.

Of the 17 people who have so far taken out application forms to run for City Council, eight have returned them.

None have been certified yet, said City Clerk Deborah Pedercini.

All three mayoral candidates have returned their applications: Bernard, Rachel Branch and Richard Green.

Candidates for council who have returned their packets are current council President Keith Bona, incumbents Jason LaForest and Wayne Wilkinson, as well as Robert Cardimino, Peter Oleskiewicz, Bryan Sapienza, Ronald Sheldon and Jessica Sweeney.

Packets have been pulled and not yet returned by incumbents Marie Harpin and Benjamin Lamb, as well as Roger Eurbin, Cameron Lapine, Ashley Shade, Michael Obasohan, Trupthi Mehta, Lisa Hall Blackmer and Jonathan Schnauber.

Candidates who have returned their packets for Northern Berkshire Vocation Regional School Committee are incumbents George Canales and William Diamond. There are three openings on this committee.

For North Adams School Committee, incumbent Tara Jacobs is the only candidate to have returned her packet. Packets are still out for David Sookey III and Emily Daunis. There are also three openings on this committee.

The deadline for filing nomination papers is 5 p.m. July 19.

If a preliminary election is needed, it would come on Sept. 17. The city election is on Nov. 5 [2019].

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “Mayor puts well-off ahead of locals”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 10, 2019

To the editor:

I'd like to give another take on the July 6 story "North Adams to begin crackdown on junkers." It should have been titled "North Adams criminalizes being poor to benefit Mass MoCA visitors."

The only people this ordinance affects are the working poor and those near or below the poverty level that already have tenuous transportation and employment. Personal transportation of any sort is a must in Northern Berkshire County for continued employment due to inadequate public transportation.

I believe this is only among the first rounds of the "Mayor of MoCA" Tom Bernard and his allies bullying the less well-off residents in their efforts to entice the art crowd. He wants poor locals out and rich art people in and he's already shown himself to be willing to put the locals at risk to further this. For example, the cancellation of lifeguards at Windsor lake which was only rescinded due to backlash.

Who wants to be reminded of the locals and their grinding poverty on vacation, right?

Brian Hunt, North Adams


“Puzzled by criticism of North Adams junk car ordinance”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 12, 2019

To the editor:

According to a letter published July 10, enforcing a junk vehicle ordinance in North Adams keeps the working poor from driving to work. This is a strange accusation since the ordinance mainly targets non-driveable cars that litter certain properties.

Nobody is driving the rusting, engineless heap up on cinder blocks to work. For the record, I also support the lawn mowing ordinance, the snow shoveling ordinance, the littering ordinance, etc.

These are not issues of rich and poor or local vs. tourist. They are issues of responsible property ownership and quality of life for residents.

Also, I like the idea of people coming to North Adams to spend their money. The money that these folks spend in local businesses keeps hundreds of people who the author claims to champion employed. The constant bashing of anybody who wasn't born in North Adams as an outsider gets really, really old. I've been hearing "you're not a local" for 16 years.

Greg Roach, North Adams


Letter: “Addressing junkers benefits North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 17, 2019

To the editor:

Kudos to the city of North Adams for joining other local communities in addressing the blight of unregistered, inoperable junk cars littering our neighborhoods. It's been a long time coming, but finally a procedure has been put in place to inspect, ticket, and perhaps remove these unsightly vehicles.

These vehicles detract from our city landscape and plague neighborhoods with unseemly piles of metal that can be dangerous to children, harbor disease-carrying mosquitoes, leach oils and gasoline into the soil or even become homes for unwanted animals.

Most families try hard to keep up their properties and if we can come together on this issue it will go a long way in creating an attractive environment in which we live and work.

It appears that the city has a plan to work with folks to address the problem. I hope it is successful.

Jerry Desmarais, North Adams


“North Adams junker policy aimed at poor”
The Berkshire Eagle, August 13, 2019

To the editor:

I'm willing to buy the mayor of North Adams' assertions that the recently enforced "junker ordinance" is a quality-of-life issue ("North Adams to begin crackdown on visible junkers, unregistered vehicles," Eagle, July 6), but the way the city is enforcing it is regressive and criminalizes poverty.

Let's look at the ordinance. First there's a ticket of some amount, then, after a three-day grace period, the wrecker comes for your vehicle and it is towed to the town yard, where you are then charged towing and storage fees.

If the ticket and other fees aren't paid, what happens, other than North Adams keeping your junker? Will the city bring you to court over the unpaid ticket? Suspend your license? I suspect that, after a few people decline to pay for and retrieve their vehicles and as the lot begins to fill up, the ordinance will become more punitive. Instead of automatically resorting to another fine against the poor, why not ask the owner to sign over the title so the city can donate or sell the car at auction to recoup towing costs?

Unfortunately, in America, it's always easier to fine people for being poor. This is just another way in which many American cities are criminalizing poverty.

The city can pretty it up by calling it a quality-of-life issue all it wants, but as implemented, this ordinance is just another assault on the poor.

Brian Hunt, North Adams


Amber Besaw, left, moderates a meeting Friday at The Green in North Adams as members of the community share observations about needs and assets in Northern Berkshire to help set the agenda for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in the coming year. Besaw, executive director of the NBCC, said staff will be asking some of the same questions to people on the street that arose at the meeting Friday, in an effort to get feedback from all sectors of the community. credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“At forum, narrowing the focus of issues of concern in Northern Berkshire”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, September 13, 2019

North Adams — More than 80 members of the Northern Berkshire community turned out for a forum Friday to discuss issues facing the region that, they say, need more focus during the coming year.

Those issues include alcohol abuse among adults, tobacco addiction, reducing waste and providing more support to communities of color.

The forum, organized by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, drew people from a variety of agencies and community-based groups, as well as residents of local towns, and representatives of schools and local government.

The goal is to hear what's on the minds of a range of community members and come up with a list of the five issues most commonly perceived as acute challenges. Once compiled, NBCC officials will convene further forums to find pathways for improvement on those issues in the north county area.

"We want to encourage civic engagement and give voice to the people who live in the Northern Berkshires," said Amber Besaw, executive director of the NBCC. "And some of these conversations will go on for quite some time — we're not trying to solve the problems today, but we do want to be a catalyst to move things in that direction."

With participants seated in a circular format at The Green on Main Street, the hourlong brainstorming session touched on a number of topics that need attention and might have few resources to fund changes, requiring creative solutions.

Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness at the NBCC, pointed out that while opioid addiction and youth drug abuse prevention are big issues, more attention should also be paid to the problem of adult alcohol abuse.

Joyce Brewer, a program manager with Berkshire Area Health Education Center, said that addiction to tobacco is still a critical health risk. She noted that North Adams, with a 32 percent rate of smokers among its residents, has the highest rate in the state.

Jim Bush, vice chairman of the Adams Select Board, said there should be some focus on reducing the waste stream and making communities greener.

A north county representative of the NAACP said that people of color in the area are experiencing "horrible" racism in their communities.

"We need to figure out how we can support our communities of color," she said.

Further concerns included better access for seniors and people with disabilities; more education and access for the LGBTQA+ community; more access to transportation for youths; lack of affordable housing; support for the local immigrant population; lack of access to legal services for seniors; and getting younger people more involved in the process of improving the community.

One issue that seemed to be facing many sectors of the community is access to mental health services, amid a lack of mental health professionals in the area. Officials from the Department of Children and Families said it's an especially acute problem for families facing issues of domestic violence, both for the adults and the children who have experienced that trauma.

After the discussion, Besaw noted that NBCC staff will be asking some of these same questions to people on the street, in an effort to get feedback from all sectors of the community.

Then the staff will compile the results and set up volunteer working groups to assail each of the top five issues.

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


Letter: “A new voice for North Adams City Council”
The Berkshire Eagle, September 21, 2019

To the editor:

I feel a sense of obligation and duty to bring a unique voice to the City Council chambers. I represent a younger demographic, which my work throughout North Adams and the surrounding towns has led me to connect and work with closely. I aim to connect those voices to our local government, as well as serve and advocate for all residents who share my passion for North Adams.

Upon relocating here to attend MCLA in 2007, I immediately felt a calling to dive deeply into the community and embrace the incredible sense of growth that has been emerging here. I've been proud to contribute to this growth in the 12 years I've lived here. My path started with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (nbCC) where I organized UNITY Youth Programs and the Northern Berkshire Neighbors program. This work inspired me to found ROOTS Teen Center, where I served as executive director for close to three years. Recently my focus has been on furthering the growth of Common Folk Artist Collective, a project I've been working on since 2011. The collective provides a platform for local and emerging artists to grow and thrive in their creative work. I have also found myself a seat on the board of nbCC.

As a City Council member, I will focus my energy on supporting grassroots initiatives, community impact models, youth, and creative community development. I will also support downtown development and exploring opportunities for grassroots economic development.

I'm passionate about this community, and what it looks like to be an equitable, flourishing place for us all to belong. I believe that North Adams is this kind of community. I look forward to embracing and advancing the incredible work that is happening in North Adams while advocating for those whose challenges go unnoticed and unaddressed.

I look forward to the opportunity to serve North Adams. We all have the opportunity to directly influence our community, our nation and our globe and we can begin with the community in which we live.

Jess Sweeney, North Adams
The writer is a candidate for City Council.


Letter: “Bernard tireless in advancing North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 13, 2019

To the editor:

Tom Bernard, the mayor of North Adams, shows up. Everywhere. And he would do more if only there were more hours in a day.

In a recent Facebook post listing a dizzying number of activities which he led or joined in, Mayor Bernard wrote, "There are so many positive and exciting things happening in North Adams and throughout the Berkshires right now, and it's such a privilege to be part of them. Now if I could finally master the trick of being in three places at once."

With Tom Bernard, it's genuine. He deeply cares about all the people in North Adams — their well-being, their quality of life, their opportunities. And he doesn't stop at the city's borders. He "gets it" that in Berkshire County, connections and mutual support create more opportunities for the people of North Adams, so you will see him attending events in Pittsfield, too.

I live in Williamstown but work and attend civic events in North Adams. I've seen up close the significant difference that Bernard has made in the city — and throughout North County. Election Day, Nov. 5, is coming. Please take a moment to put the date in your calendar to vote. Votes matter because opportunities matter, moving the city forward in a way that lifts up every resident. Mayor Tom Bernard worked hard to earn your vote. And there is a slate of candidates for City Council and School Committee who are counting on your vote.

Arlene Kirsch, Williamstown


Letter: “Bernard has earned a second term”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 21, 2019

To the editor:

The national political picture in these challenging times is characterized by embattled partisans filled with vitriol and empty rhetoric losing their voices in the echo chamber of social media and 24 hour news cycles. This gives me pause to reflect on the statement by the late Speaker of the House, Massachusetts' own Tip O'Neil that "all politics is local." I appreciate the fact that North Adams has a mayor who epitomizes civility, level-headedness, and competency.

Mayor Tom Bernard is a leader who demonstrates his competence through hard work, intelligence, open-mindedness and commitment to guiding our city through this period of growth and investment. Mayor Bernard has built a strong foundation during his first term in which to navigate the course that North Adams is taking toward a more inclusive and prosperous future.

Mayor Bernard has utilized his problem-solving, organizational and leadership skills to address issues affecting the quality of life for all residents of our city. These issues include enhancing public safety operations through community-building initiatives, as well as improving the efficiency of the city's boards and commissions to meet the diverse needs of individuals, businesses and families in our city. He has prioritized resources to invest in technology through enhancements to city hall's phone and data systems as well as updating and increasing the traffic of the city's website.

The mayor has demonstrated the ability to embrace the opportunities being presented by significant investments in our city while honoring the history and the heritage of North Adams. It is this ability to balance initiative and vision with the perspective of the past that has made North Adams such an attractive opportunity for investment.

I can understand that the national political picture can contribute to a sense of apathy and possibly even cynicism. However, in this local election I encourage you to get your family, your friends and maybe even an "un-likeminded" political foe to get out and vote.

Mayor Tom Bernard has worked diligently these past two years and certainly has earned my vote on Tuesday Nov. 5. I hope that he can count on your vote as well.

Mike Boland, North Adams


“North Adams moving forward with Bernard”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 26, 2019

To the editor:

The momentum and excitement in the Northern Berkshires, specifically North Adams, is presently at an all-time high. Not only are people discovering the hidden gem that North Adams is, but they are moving and investing here. Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed some exciting new developments that have brought businesses, jobs and new life to the city. The best part is there is, so much more to come.

With that being said, I ask the residents of North Adams to support Mayor Thomas Bernard as he runs for his second term in office. Mayor Bernard has been a champion for all of the new growth and forward moving developments that are underway in North Adams. I have had the pleasure to engage with him on some recent projects for North Adams and the support and excitement he brings to the table is impressive.

Let's keep North Adams moving in the right direction. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, vote Thomas Bernard for mayor of North Adams.

David Moresi, Williamstown
The writer heads Moresi & Associates, which owns the Norad Mill in North Adams.


Incumbent North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard said his first term was a great learning experience and allowed him to get started, but he has a number of things he wants to continue working on. credit: Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

“North Adams mayoral race: Incumbent Bernard has unfinished business to tend to”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 26, 2019

This is the first of two profiles of candidates for North Adams mayor.

North Adams — Incumbent Mayor Thomas Bernard has a simple answer for why he's seeking another two-year term: "I'm not done yet."

He has one opponent in the Nov. 5 election: Rachel Branch.

Bernard, 48, said his first term was a great learning experience and allowed him to get started, but he has a number of things he wants to continue working on.

"I feel good and confident about the first two years," he said. "The first year was a pure learning experience — intensive on-the-job training."

And now that he's coming to the end of the second year, he feels much better about his abilities and his understanding of the tools and the teams available to help administer the city in a way that will move it forward, he said.

"I worked hard at building the teams around me through strategic hires," he said. The new director of the information technology department, Kathy Lloyd, and the new police chief, Jason Wood, are examples of his team-building efforts.

Other work he would like to see through includes the sale of unneeded city properties and reworking the city zoning codes, which haven't undergone significant revision since the 1950s. Both projects would clear the way for future opportunities, Bernard said.

Financially, the city doesn't have a lot of wiggle room, but "we do have a solid financial plan and decent reserves, although we are approaching our tax levy ceiling, so we do have to manage that carefully."

Staffing is an issue as well.

"We are bare-bones in a lot of places," he said. "We have adequate staffing right now, but I worry about backups and redundancy."

Bernard noted that there are a number of people in key positions approaching retirement, and there is a limited pool of professional municipal employees seeking work in this region.

And after two years on the job, Bernard said he has learned that engagement with the community is essential to the process.

Through appointments, he has been trying to diversify boards and committees, and bring new voices into the process.

"The more engagement you have, the better," he said.

Bernard serves as chairman of the school committee of North Adams Public Schools; is a member of the Berkshire Compact for Education; the Berkshire County Education Task Force's governance subcommittee; the Berkshire Blueprint steering committee; and the Impact Council of Berkshire County Leaders.

"We're in a really good place right now," Bernard said.

He pointed out the new investment coming to town from business investments at Tourists, Greylock Works, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the plans of Thomas Krens.

"We've got new capital investment coming into the community. You can feel the energy and sense of excitement. We've got a world-class educational institution, a world-class cultural institution, but we still need to work on reinventing the downtown."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


Mayoral candidate Rachel Branch describes herself as a low-income "seasoned citizen," and believes that "all local politics are global, and global politics are local." credit: Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

“North Adams mayoral race: Challenger Branch takes chance to `stand up'”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 27, 2019

North Adams — Rachel Branch has a wealth of experience in a wide variety of professions, and she wants to bring those experiences and skills to City Hall if she wins the Nov. 5 mayoral election.

She is the only challenger to incumbent candidate Mayor Thomas Bernard.

Branch, 77, said she is running for mayor because "it's one more way for me to stand up and speak out." Also, "I don't believe any candidate should be running unopposed. It's not healthy."

She describes herself as a low-income "seasoned citizen," eschewing the traditional "senior citizen" phraseology.

Branch believes that "all local politics are global, and global politics are local." She wants to reform the "patriarchal systems," address the climate catastrophe, end domestic abuse and sexual assault, and enact campaign finance reform.

"There is just so much hate and division — I'm afraid for our country," she said.

She stresses that she is not running against her opponent, but running for the office.

A descendant of several city founding families, Branch was born and raised in North Adams. Later, Branch's life took her to places like Tripoli, Libya, Denver and Bridgeport, Conn., before returning to North Adams in 2000.

Locally, Branch said she still wants North Adams Regional Hospital to return, and is still angry about the "Mill Children" paintings on the pillars of the overpass outside the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art being painted over.

She also expressed concern about the condition of the city's infrastructure, and is opposed to any fossil fuel pipelines crossing through the county.

Branch's professional experience includes work as an executive assistant, legal secretary, volunteer coordinator for nonprofits, law school administrator, and secretary in the media office of a U.S. Air Force base in Tripoli in the mid-1960s.

She has a long list of volunteer experiences in local community groups both here and in Bridgeport. She has also testified to governmental boards a number of times advocating for the environment. For 10 days, she coordinated the disaster volunteer effort after the collapse of a building in 1987 in Bridgeport that killed 28 workers.

"One never forgets the enormity of such a disaster and the loss to so many families," Branch said.

Today, she hosts a local show on Northern Berkshire Community Television Corporation in North Adams and WilliNet in Williamstown called "Solutions Rising." She was also a foster parent for a number of years.

Branch has a number of concerns, including possible leaks in aging natural gas lines, the possibility of gentrification in the city, the opioid crisis and the crime rate.

"We have to build a sense of community — North Adams should be a healthy, warm and welcoming city," she said. "I really love North Adams and I want to see it as a premier city."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


“Thomas Bernard: Building a community for all”
By Thomas Bernard, op-ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 29, 2019

North Adams — The theme of the 64th annual Fall Foliage Parade, held earlier this month in North Adams, was "There's no place like home (in the Berkshires." This reference to "The Wizard of Oz" sparked people's imagination and creativity — as seen in the incredible floats and marching units that offered their visions of life over the rainbow — and it also reminded us all that North Adams is a place people are incredibly proud to call home. I feel this sense of pride as strongly as anyone; that's why I have been so honored to serve as mayor of North Adams, and why I am asking the voters of North Adams to vote for me for a second term.

The animating vision for my campaign is that we are building a city for everyone. This means we all play a role in celebrating and building on our many assets and strengths, and harnessing the incredible economic and social momentum that is fueling our growth. Being a city for everyone also means being clearly focused on tackling head-on the challenges we face.

It involves planning for the long term by investing in our infrastructure. We've added new vehicles to our fleet, and work is underway to replace the city website to make it easier for residents and visitors to access city information and services. We're replacing the roof and improving accessibility at our public safety building. These are important fixes to an old building but we have critical deferred maintenance needs throughout the city; my team and I will be working to update our capital plan in collaboration with staff from the state Division of Local Services.

In order to revitalize and realize the potential of our downtown, I'll continue working with developers and others to focus on housing development. That's why we need to develop a strong marketing plan to promote the city as a place for investment while emphasizing our commitment to inclusive development.

We also need to ensure that the economic development progress we are seeing in the business sector is matched by progress in our neighborhoods. That is why I've hired more police officers, stepped up code enforcement, and am refocusing our Community Development Block Grant strategy to make targeted improvements in areas that need them the most.


Most importantly, the commitment to building a city for everyone means supporting our neighbors, friends, and family members who are struggling. Too many people in our city are dealing with substance misuse and addiction, the effects of domestic violence, and mental health challenges that strain the capacity of our public safety and human services providers to address. These challenges aren't unique to North Adams, but our response draws on the strength of our community. It's been a privilege to work with the recovery community and to sign on to the class action lawsuit to hold drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis, and to work with the lieutenant governor, the district attorney, and others to focus attention on addressing domestic and sexual violence in our region. It's also why I am proud of the process we followed to hire our new police chief who has brought renewed energy to the work of community policing, partnering with our schools, and connecting more deeply with advocates and service providers like the Elizabeth Freeman Center to support and affirm the rights and needs of victims and survivors.

We will continue to address these challenges by drawing on our strengths, and by doing one of the things our city and our region does so well: marrying incredible grass roots energy with city support. We'll use this collaborative spirit to address challenges, just as we have done to build on our momentum which is fueling our growth.

This momentum, which has harnessed the energy of Mass MoCA — a world class destination in its 20th year — has been a catalyst for other developments like Tourists, GreylockWorks, and the 50-plus businesses at the Norad Mill. We've also seen continued strength in our manufacturing sector led by the expansion and new jobs at Stanley Black & Decker as well as Crane & Co.'s dedication to excellence by combining the latest technology with a respect for high quality, handmade craftsmanship. However, economic growth cannot sustain itself without highly qualified employees. To that end, I will keep working with our local business community and the education partners in our public schools and at MCLA to ensure our students have the preparation, skills and training they need to compete for jobs and to build careers and lives in North Adams and Berkshire County.

One of the great joys of public service is getting to work with the caring, dedicated people in North Adams and throughout the county and the Commonwealth. It is a privilege to meet with people and to hear their ideas and concerns. I'm constantly amazed and inspired by people's willingness to step forward, step up, and get involved in our shared work to make our city stronger.

Together, we will build a strong, sustainable community for everyone. I ask for your vote on Tuesday, Nov. 5 so that I can continue working with the residents of North Adams, and to continue earning their trust and support every day as we work together to serve the city that we love.

Thomas Bernard is the mayor of North Adams.


Rachel I. Branch: “One to one together”
By Rachel I. Branch, op-ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 29, 2019

North Adams — It is an honor and a privilege to be a candidate for mayor of the city of North Adams. We need 2020 vision — one to one together. A vision that creates ongoing programs and answers to our changing economy, the changing demographics, and the handling of what appears to be gentrification in our city, as well as acknowledging the declining population and our aging community.

Since 1895 I am only the second woman in North Adams history to become a candidate for mayor. I believe my public service background and my extensive experience in city, state, national and international places offer the residents of the city of North Adams solutions that are required of their chief executive.

After returning to North Adams, I continued my ongoing public service in many areas of our civic life: foster care, education, housing, and developmental disabilities. I continue fighting for our environment which began in 1997, including numerous Comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and to Commonwealth agencies, testifying and expecting them to adhere to the 2008 Global Warming Solution. I successfully helped stop Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas from installing a noxious pipeline and produced 30 shows on my Solutions Rising Community TV program. I am still fighting climate catastrophe.

The most meaningful part of my life was becoming a respite care foster parent for children traumatized by violence and/or sexually assaulted, loving, caring for, protecting and supporting each of the 23 children who came to my home. We need to keep a strong, spotlight on our children in foster care, a very serious, major problem.

We need to stop the violence against women and girls and others who have suffered from rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, work that I have been doing for years and continually highlight on Solutions Rising.

The hardest job I ever did was as coordinator of disaster volunteers in April of 1987 after the L'Ambiance Building collapse in Bridgeport, Conn. that killed 28 workers. Those 10 days working with thousands of volunteers, police, firefighters and trade union members indelibly transformed my life. One never forgets!

I believe that all local politics are global and all global politics are local. What we do here in North Adams affects places thousands of miles away.


Many of you are probably not aware that I was a military wife for nearly five years and lived in Tripoli, Libya, North Africa, for two years until I was caught in the Six-Day Arab/Israeli War in 1967, evacuated to Spain and then flown back to the United States. It is a terrifying experience to be in a war zone. I loved living in Tripoli, became friends with my neighbors who protected our home, and felt great sadness leaving Tripoli.

We need 2020 vision — one to one together — when it comes to being a healthy, warm, colorful and welcoming community, a community that sees the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as a place of hope and home, a community that embraces the changing demographics in the Berkshires and is inspired by those who bring cultural backgrounds that add to the spice of our evolving city.

It more than disturbs me that the present mayor thinks the loss of our community hospital is past history. With over 37,000+ Northern Berkshire residents without hospital beds it just cannot be considered past history, especially with the ongoing opioid/alcohol crisis. We need hospital beds and a mental health wing.

It more than disturbs me that the two-year elementary educational program to paint the columns on Marshall Street were painted over by Mass MoCA, and the present mayor disregards the restoration of those historic paintings about Arnold Prints Works, part of our international North Adams history. Just what does his entrenchment say to all of us, but most of all to the elementary students and their caring teacher who created the program and was empowering them with art and local history?

It more than disturbs me when there are water main breaks, and seasoned citizens in a low-income village and others are without water. Infrastructure needs cannot survive continually being kicked down the road. It is an ongoing mayoral responsibility to ensure that public service systems are up-to-date and needs responsively handled in an ongoing manner. It is essential that our budget be transparent and understandable.

Several years ago there were 26,000 gas leaks in our Commonwealth. After forwarding the list of gas leaks in North Adams to our last mayor, I believe that is why we saw gas leaks being sealed. There is never any excuse for one gas leak in our city, as evidenced by what happened in the Merrimack Valley. Public health and public safety demand no less.

We must answer the questions: "What are we doing for a child today?" and "What are we doing for the most vulnerable in our city?" Each question is pertinent to why I am seeking to become the next North Adams mayor. I am honored to do so, and I hope you will join me in my continuing role as a public servant. We need 2020 vision — one to one together!

Rachel I. Branch is a candidate for mayor of North Adams.


In North Adams, Mayor Thomas Bernard followed up a solid first-term by handily winning reelection Tuesday night.

Source: Our Opinion: “A second term for Linda Tyer”, The Berkshire Eagle, November 5, 2019


“War on hunger in North County grows”
By Jenn Smith , The Berkshire Eagle, November 24, 2019

North Adams — With the help of new funding, research and some new initiatives, Northern Berkshire food security and access advocates are expanding their combat against hunger.

"People are hungry all year," said Berkshire Food Project Executive Director Kim McMann. It's a constant refrain that she and other food access advocates use in their line of work.

Berkshire Food Project serves afternoon meals every weekday at the First Congregational Church on Main Street.

In the organizations' end-of-the-year appeal letters, both Berkshire Food Project and the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry describe to donors an increasing demand for food, as well as other essentials and services.

McMann and her board members write: "The surge in diners has surprised and, frankly, challenged us. We always serve more people late in the month, but we have never seen anything like this. In July and August, on each of the last ten days we served over 100 meals (182 on July 30) as compared to a typical count of 80. This was apparently not due to the school year: in September, only on one day did we serve fewer than 100. We are on track to serve 20 percent more meals in 2019 than in 2018."

The Friendship Center Board of Directors states in its appeal: "With the economy slowing a bit and the possibility of more restrictive rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (Food Stamps) soon going into effect — we fear the number of people in need in our community may increase significantly."

The center, located on Eagle Street, already gathers and distributes some 5,000 pounds of food to area residents each week, with support from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and various donations from individuals, businesses and networks in the Berkshires. Asked why she thinks the number of people seeking food is increasing, McMann said, "There are as many barriers as there are people," meaning that every person who walks in for lunch has unique reasons. And not everyone who comes through the door looks down and out.

"Most people experiencing hunger in the community are people you know, people around you, people who have jobs. They're keeping appearances up, but they may still struggle to make ends meet," McMann said.

"A lot of working people are not getting paid what they need to get paid, and even if they get a raise, it's like 25 cents," she said.

New research and funding

Research indicates that hunger-related matters have a wide, complex range of causes and adverse outcomes. Hunger is not just about not having enough food to eat, but also relates to having access to a means of getting and storing food, and also having access to food that has nutritional and other health benefits.

Two years ago, leaders of Be Well Berkshires, an initiative of the statewide Mass in Motion movement to promote active and healthy living, conducted a countywide community food assessment to identify barriers many Berkshire residents face in accessing healthy and affordable food. That project spurred several geographically specific focus groups, including the Northern Berkshire Food Access Collaborative, which meets quarterly.

On Nov. 12, during the state's inaugural Hunger to Health Summit at the Boston Museum of Science, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition was named as one of six recipients of a "Mobilizing Health Care for a Hunger Free Massachusetts" grant, to help support the work of the Northern Berkshire Food Access Collaborative. The $5,000 award is designed to help the group explore ways to reduce the health consequences of hunger, which range from malnutrition to mental illness.

A study published by The Greater Boston Food Bank and Children's HealthWatch estimated that health care, special education and lost work time costs attributable to adverse health conditions caused by food insecurity — like Type 2 diabetes in adults and iron-deficiency anemia in children — to be $2.4 billion in Massachusetts based on data from 2016.

Amanda Chilson, Mass in Motion project coordinator for Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said new research also shed a light on the link between nutrition and mental health.

"Food is a conduit to mental health. What you eat can make or break your mental health, which is why it's important for us to help connect people to healthy food," she said.

Back in June, Massachusetts legislators helped roll out a "Food is Medicine State Plan," providing a blueprint to building health care and food access systems needed to better prevent, manage, and treat diet-related illnesses among residents. Ultimately, taking these steps could reduce chronic health issues that drive high health care costs, experts say.

Chilson said Northern Berkshire Food Access Collaborative, which has some 200 stakeholders on its email list, is looking to prioritize how to address needs driving hunger in the region. That means bringing a range of folks to the table to get on the same page, from farmers to dieticians, landlords to bus drivers.

"The housing, transportation and clinical worlds are all part of the food system, even though we might not be thinking they are," she said.

From table to action

At its Dec. 10, meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at The Green, 85 Main St. in North Adams, participants will hear about how people and agencies can receive loans, grants and business assistance from the Massachusetts Food Trust Program for increasing access to healthy, affordable food in low-income, underserved areas. Other topics for discussion include a food partnership between Williams College and North Adams Public Schools, and a "food innovation" project in Adams that will establish a hub of resources for food and wellness.

Ongoing projects include increasing access to locally grown food by making sure local food doesn't go to waste.

Addressing these issues takes time, education and most importantly, trust.

In doing this work, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw said she was surprised to see how some efforts to curb hunger make sense on paper, but people on the street aren't buying into it. So she and other community workers are trying to figure out why.

"For example, we had a free mobile food pantry that came to the Brien Center parking lot, a stone's through from the North Adams Housing Authority high rise. So this was free, healthy food within walking distance. Yet we had people who said, 'I'm not interested' or 'I'm not going to eat that.' So we're scratching our heads try to answer those questions of why, and where are we coming from with this," she said.

McMann, of the Berkshire Food Project, said the best way to understand these issues is to meet people where they are at and listen.

"Honestly, I think that if every single person in North Adams would come and have lunch with us once at Berkshire Food Project we would have a better community because people would have a better understanding of what's going on in people's lives," she said. "We have a history in this country of shaming people who don't have enough, so out of pride or embarrassment they don't access [help]."

While some people don't always want to talk, McMann and Chilson both said they've gained incredible insights when they do make personal connections: Like the person who finally got a job, only to come back to the meal site a few days later saying "it didn't work out" because the employee couldn't afford the non-slip shoes required for the role.

Or the man who had been receiving canned groceries, but was using a rock and an old hammer to open them because he couldn't access a can opener; it took a dietitian making a home visit to help intervene.

Or the couple, who clearly were living outside, that came in for months for meals until they finally felt ready to meet with a housing representative, a meeting which eventually led to employment and reduced visits for meals.

"The important thing about the quality of life and health is having a good social connection. One common way everyone can connect is food; we all need food to thrive," Chilson said.

"We are really, really lucky here. We have a very supportive community," McMann said.

What keeps her up at night, in addition to trying to run a meal program in an old building, is knowing that there is still a disconnect between resources and people.

"I know that there's enough food," she said, "but how do we get food to the people who need it?"

Jenn Smith can be reached at, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


“What's ahead for North Adams in 2020? An anniversary, for starters.”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, December 28, 2019

North Adams — Among the projects on the drawing board for the city in the coming year is the planning for the 125th anniversary of its incorporation in 1895.

According to Mayor Thomas Bernard, more details will be coming on activities that will start in April [of 2020].

Another project coming around the bend in 2020, he said, includes implementation of a plan for upgrades in the Brayton Park area, paid for by a $600,000 Safe Routes to School grant for improvements to crosswalks, signage, and other bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.

There also will be some new vegetation sprouting up around the city as Northern Berkshire Community Coalition volunteers labor to plant 800 trees over the next three years. The trees were paid for by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, and North Adams was one of only three Massachusetts communities to receive the federal grant.

Some of the trees have been planted, including a number of them across the street from the North Adams Fire Department on American Legion Drive, Bernard noted.

He said the trees will be planted on public land and, if a landowner requests a planting, on private land.

Bernard said the project is a result of the "good volunteer energy" that seems prolific among city residents.

More impactful projects include devising the next phase of the Community Development Department's updated vision plan, an ongoing parking study and an update of the zoning bylaw.

Early next year, a new website will launch, offering more online services to city residents and businesses.

And, during 2020, Cumberland Farms will be building a new store on Ashland Street, where the old city garage once stood. The old structures have been torn down in preparation for a site cleanup before construction can begin.

Bernard said the city also would be working hard on making sure that all city residents are accounted for in the 2020 U.S. Census. He said an accurate count is essential for legislative representation, and for the distribution of federal and state money to the community.

Grants often are based on population figures, and if the population in town is undercounted, the city might not receive what it deserves for infrastructure and education needs.

"We put that funding to critical use, and without it, the work we do comes at a greater cost to the taxpayers," Bernard said. "The census is critically important to all of us."

Then there is the budget process — the long, tedious and essential undertaking by which the city figures out how to keep moving forward financially.

One bright spot for the coming year is that with the opening of Tourists, there will be more hotel and motel tax revenue, and with more investment in bigger projects, such as the Norad Mill and Greylock Works, there also will be more property tax revenue.

Work on planning for the bike path route from Williamstown into downtown will continue in 2020. Bernard said the route that went through airport property might change, although it is too early in the process to say for sure.

"We're trying hard to get more bike circulation through the city," Bernard said.

Early in the coming year, the city will issue a request for proposal to see how much commercial interest there might be in purchasing and repurposing the Mohawk Theater. And, although Persnickety Toys has closed, other new commercial activity is expected on Eagle Street in 2020.

The downtown area already has begun a bit of a rebirth, Bernard said, and he expects to see that continue.

"Everything that we've seen says that we have opportunities here," he said. "So, North Adams is in a very good trajectory, and I am, as always, relentlessly optimistic."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


Closing of North Adams' full-service hospital

North Adams Regional Hospital was 70 years old when residents showed what it meant to them. They dug deep in 1955 and gave a sum worth $17 million in today’s dollars.

All they have now is lore like that — and memories of the March day in 2014 that delivered what a local pol called a “gut punch.”

After losing money for most of the previous decade, the hospital’s chief executive gathered employees. Though the hospital weathered a bankruptcy filing in 2011, the financial wheels wouldn’t stay on. The cafeteria was jammed when Tim Jones said the place would close. “My stomach dropped. I was beyond devastated,” one employee recalled.

Hospital leaders failed to provide a required 90-day notice of the closing; three years later, the attorney general declined to sanction officials, citing a “sincere effort to keep the hospital open” in the face of fewer patients, smaller reimbursem*nts and rising debt.

People salvaged what they could. Berkshire Medical Center, which ultimately hired many of the 530 full- and part-time employees left jobless, opened an emergency room in May. In August, the Pittsfield hospital’s parent company was the only bidder in a second bankruptcy, paying $4 million for buildings.

Today, BMC provides myriad health care services at the North Adams campus, but not the inpatient beds sought by activists with the North County Cares Coalition.

Its members gathered on the fifth anniversary of the closing to call for the return of inpatient beds. “We’re going to keep bringing it up,” said city resident Rachel Branch.

caption: Julie Blanchard, a former employee of 35 years at North Adams Regional Hospital, attends a candle light vigil at City Hall in North Adams on the third anniversary of the hospital's closing. Tasha Richardson gathers with community members for a candle light vigil at City Hall in North Adams on the third anniversary of the closing of the North Adams Regional Hospital. Over a dozen vendors and other organizations participated in a job fair for displaced health care workers of North Adams Regional Hospital on April, 2, 2014. Berkshire Medical Center reopened an emergency department at the former North Adams Regional Hospital in May 2014. The former North Adams Regional Hospital which is now the Berkshire Medical Center Satellite Emergency Care Facility and Ambulatory Care Center. Walt Feltmate and Jamie Callahan, sign installers for Callahan Signs, cover the 'North Adams Regional Hospital' sign in time for the reopening of the emergency room now being operated by Berkshire Medical Center. (May 19, 2014)

— Larry Parnass

source: HINDSIGHT 2020: BERKSHIRE COUNTY'S TOP STORIES, 2010-2019, The Decade in News: North Adams loses hospital, Berkshire Mall flatlines, millions spent in Berkshire arts — and more, The Berkshire Eagle recounts decade's biggest news stories, December 28, 2019


Jonathan Butler, CEO of 1Berkshire, back left, and state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, back right, talk with members of a breakout group during the Community Conversation on Poverty event Friday at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center. credit: Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, addresses an event Friday at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center dealing with poverty in the Berkshires. Among his topics, Neal expressed his support for the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate, and decried the federal minimum wage level of $7.25 per hour. credit: Scott Stafford - The Berkshire Eagle

“Poverty in Berkshires front, center at MCLA forum”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, January 18, 2020

North Adams — More than 140 people converged on the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center on Friday to study all aspects of poverty in the Berkshires.

The all-morning Community Conversation on Poverty event was capped off by some remarks from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who noted that the Trump administration is doing its best to hamstring efforts to alleviate the worst impacts of poverty, such as hunger and homelessness.

On hand were panelists to coordinate breakout group sessions to talk about specific aspects of poverty, define the problem, and discuss barriers, gaps in services and possible solutions.

After each panelist addressed the group as a whole to bring some basic definition and status of each problem, the audience split into eight groups to discuss each poverty-driven issue. Those issues were jobs, adult education, hunger and food insecurity, transportation, housing, child care, financial literacy and opioid addiction.

After the group sessions, each of the panelists gave their report to the reconvened crowd.

Robert Malnati, administrator at the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, said the group focusing on transportation sees a need for free fares for certain riders and an express route from North Adams to Pittsfield along Route 7 for those who live in one and work in the other.

The group also expressed a need to address inequitable state funding for the state's farthest western transportation authority.

Anne Nenetz-Carlson, executive director of Child Care of the Berkshires, said that challenges to affordable child care in the county include factors like transportation and affordable spaces to locate a child care center. A lack of child care also is an issue, as indicated by waiting lists that are so long, some children never get placed.

Low pay levels for caregivers, and a need for classes on parenting skills for new parents, also were identified as local challenges.

Jonathan Butler, CEO of 1Berkshire, reported for the jobs group. He explained that even though there are up to 2,000 job openings at any given time, and have been for the past few years, there still is a significant portion of the populace that has barriers to employment that keep it there, such as a lack of transportation and the need for a living wage. Entry-level job wages frequently are insufficient to provide shelter, food and transportation.

"If an employer wants to get someone out of poverty and into a meaningful role as a team member, then they'll need to see the importance of pay levels," Butler said.

He said the group also sees a need for more widespread career counseling opportunities.

Brad Gordon, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, said housing is a compelling issue in the Berkshires, where 40 percent of the housing stock was built before 1940 and much of it is in dire need of reinvestment and code improvements. His group noted a lack of affordable housing commensurate with local incomes and a lack of pet-friendly housing.

Some in his group called for a some sort of database for screening potential landlords.

Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, noted that food insecurity is widespread, and there are ways to alleviate food insecurity by increasing wages and access to transportation. But on April 1, 13,000 people in the Berkshires will have less access to food due to changes President Donald Trump has imposed on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"There's no way to make up for the loss of that," he said.

Deborah Leonczyk, executive director of the Berkshire Community Action Council, said the findings of the conversations will be compiled and used by BCAC senior management to determine what its role should be in each area, and how to mobilize resources to that end.

To wrap up the effort, Neal offered his remarks to the gathering.

He noted the dichotomy of the American economy, where the stock market is hitting record highs and yet 2 million people have deserted the job market due to opioid addiction. He called for better programs for treating addiction, and for more effective job training. And people with substance abuse disorder who have been arrested should be given treatment options.

"It can't just be about punishment, although I have less sympathy for the dealers," Neal said. "But we need to get them back into the workforce — they have job skills."

Neal also expressed his support for the Affordable Care Act, and the individual mandate. In Massachusetts, he noted, 97 percent of adults have health insurance, and 100 percent of children living in the Bay State are covered.

He decried the federal minimum wage level of $7.25 per hour. On Jan. 1, the Massachusetts minimum wage rose to $12.75 — minimum wage workers will make $10,000 a year more than a worker making the federal minimum wage. But even with a 3.8 percent national unemployment rate, Neal wondered how there could be 70 million people depending on food stamps to buy groceries.

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.


“North Adams is at a crossroads”
By Maynard Seider, op-ed, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2020

Philadelphia, PA.. — Fifty years ago, a federally-financed urban renewal project brought down half of Main Street in North Adams. Years later, Joe Manning ("Disappearing Into North Adams") captured the emotions of many residents who wished it hadn't happened. For Anthony Abuisi Jr., "They took down the blood and guts of our community. We made a terrible mistake by tearing down our heritage." Josephine Lamberti recalls, "Nobody wanted that urban renewal but there was no outright opposition."

Today, North Adams stands at a crossroads similar to the one the city faced half a century ago: what will the future of its downtown look like and who gets to decide? First, some background.In 1986, Thomas Krens, the director of the Williams College Museum of Art, met with North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. They hammered out an agreement to convert the abandoned Sprague Electric buildings into the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Krens and his junior partner, Joseph Thompson, came up with a business plan promising that the museum would create over 600 full-time equivalent jobs. Two years later, a $35 million grant from the Legislature pushed the project along, though it took more than another decade before Mass MoCA opened on Memorial Day weekend, 1999.

Almost as soon as he had that initial meeting with Barrett, Krens left the area to consult for the Guggenheim Museum in New York and in 1988, he began a 20-year stint first as head of the museum and later as director of the Guggenheim Foundation. In his absence, Joe Thompson guided the project along and today continues to serve as MoCA's director.

Meanwhile, Krens began building an international reputation with flashy presentations at the Guggenheim in New York like "The Art of the Motorcycle" and extending the Guggenheim brand world-wide with new buildings, notably the Frank Gehry-designed museum in Bilbao, Spain. While Krens had numerous successes, he amassed more failures, most significantly, the grandiose Abu Dhabi museum which never got off the desert ground. In Krens' own words, only a quarter of his big projects "have come to fruition."


After a public absence of nearly 30 years, and without a Guggenheim connection, in 2015 the 68-year-old Krens visited North Adams several times, promising to build a contemporary art museum and an extreme model railway museum. Never publicity-shy, Krens made one of his trips on motorcycle, accompanied by four actors including Laurence Fishburne and Jeremy Irons.

At that visit, Krens made no promises, but stated that a renovated Mohawk Theater needed to happen. At another press conference, Krens traded in his Hollywood entourage for a couple of Massachusetts political heavyweights, former Governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld, who showed up to support his proposed Extreme Model Railway and Contemporary Architecture Museum (EMRCA). Weld's presence may have been voluntary in 2015, but by 2017, Weld, a principal of Boston's Mintz Levin Strategies, had been retained by the Krens team (X-RR Blog, August 21, 2017).

In early 2019, Krens made his most extensive presentation on his future plans for North Adams, not in the city itself, but in Williamstown, at the Clark Art Museum. Perhaps Krens assumed that he would reach more prospective investors in that audience than in North Adams, Berkshire County's poorest community. While North Adams lacks great wealth, it does possess two "opportunity zones," economically distressed locations where investors can receive significant tax breaks on their capital gains. The legislation authorizing such zones is silent on what can be built there, but Krens has already stated that he wants his extreme model railway to be located there, with the hope of a 25 percent return on investment.

At the Williamstown event, Krens listed all the buildings— besides the EMRCA — he expected to erect, located near each other in the downtown area: the Massachusetts Museum of Time, the Mt. Greylock Distillery, the Global Contemporary Art Museum, a museum of motorcycles, 3-D movie venues, a restored M ohawk Theater, a parking garage that could also serve as an event space, and a 110-room luxury hotel, spa, and wellness center.

To his credit, Krens admits that "Mass MoCA's not had the economic impact that we projected," this despite an additional infusion of $25.4 million of taxpayer money from the state in 2014. Now, though, Krens' new goal of making the region "the No. 1 cultural destination in the United States" would presumably finally revitalize the North Berkshires. At the Clark, Krens singled out a member of the museum's planning and finance committee, Berkshire Medical Center's Dr. A. Gray Ellrodt, who stated that the finished projects will attack the "diseases of despair" (e.g. depression, drug abuse, suicide) that affect the area. Krens apparently said no more about that, nor did he mention that Dr. Ellrodt is an investor in his enterprise (John Seven, Berkshire Magazine, August, 2016).

According to the Krens economic impact analysis, the completed projects will add $180 million each year to the Berkshire economy and create as many as 2,000 new jobs. For the most part, though, these tourist-service economy jobs will not provide "living wages" to North County workers. Estimates of the total of yearly tourists to the region approach 750,000, but the Krens team provides no environmental impact analysis. Without passenger train service to the area, virtually all of these tourists will arrive by car, damaging an already devastated environment.


While the urban renewal program of half a century ago led to the demolition of the historic buildings on the south side of Main Street, Krens proposes to erect new tourist-centered buildings on that street and the surrounding area. In both cases, what has emerged and what may transpire have long-lasting consequences.

Now, with the Krens plans still on the drawing board, questions need to be asked: Should a tourist town be the future of North Adams? Who gets to approve the Krens building plans? How are decisions made and by whom? The mayor? City Council? Tom Krens and his investors?

Let's close with a thought experiment: If the following binding referendum were to be offered to the voters of North Adams, what might their answer be: Do you prefer a luxury hotel or affordable housing to be built in a downtown "opportunity zone"?

Maynard Seider is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and author of "The Gritty Berkshires: A People's History from the Hoosac Tunnel to MASS MoCA."


Letter: “What North Adams needs and doesn't need”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 3, 2020

To the editor:

Maynard Seider's Jan. 28 op-ed "North Adams is at a crossroads" presented a thoughtful, well-researched picture of the many possibilities of a more "renewed" North Adams proposed by Thomas Krens. I've lived here less than four years, and yet in that time, the Extreme Model Railroad Museum — a high point of the news in 2016 — has languished, with many complications based on the property needed for it. The Mohawk Theater remains an unusable shell; only its marquee remains.

North Adams business people, Mayor Tom Bernard, all the city councilors, and the entire downtown community have worked hard to bring businesses downtown, to increase foot traffic and to reinvigorate the area. There are more downtown events and the city pulls together all the time. Even the bad Halloween weather didn't stop trick or treaters — businesses opened their doors. More art businesses, the burgeoning Common Folk artists' space, a renewed Mountain Bank headquarters, The Green, and active participation by the entire community, has Main Street growing. The Eagle Street initiative and now the Ashland Street renovation, have built promise for luring more people downtown.

We need more local businesses on Main Street, not an outsider-owned luxury hotel. A small clothing and shoe store, perhaps; a book store; a real bakery. I would love to be able to buy a fresh French baguette, a box of macarons, a dozen buttery croissants (the nearest real bakery is Bakeri Krijnen in Bennington). Now that the beloved Persnickety Toys shop is gone, we need a store that sells toys and games. Or how about an art supplies store, selling paints, brushes, papers, canvas, metalworking tools?

Mr. Seider's negative feelings about Mr. Krens are his own. Mr. Krens is a successful developer and art supporter and deserves respect for a lifetime of professional work. But a luxury hotel for North Adams is still a bad idea.

Dianne Olsen, North Adams


Letter: “Books return readers to North Adams past”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 8, 2020

To the editor:

A message to the people of North Adams. If you haven't read Joe Manning's books recently — "Steeples" and "Disappearing Into North Adams," You might want do that.

Joe very graciously traveled to New Hampshire to interview my parents and I am so glad he did. I just re-read that chapter and for a little while my parents came alive! I could hear their voices and see the expressions on their faces, and I found myself laughing out loud. It brought back such wonderful memories.

Take your copy off the bookshelf and re-read about your parents, and what North Adams was like back then.

Thank you to Joe from Tony, Rain, Birdy, and most of all, from me.

Kay Stanton, Daytona Beach, Florida


Letter: “Pandemic makes case for North Adams hospital”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 13, 2020

To the editor:

I call upon all elected representatives of the citizens of the North Berkshires, from selectmen, city councilors, Mayor Bernard, state Rep. Barrett, state Sen. Hinds, Congressman Neal, U.S. Sens. Warren and Markey, Attorney General Healey, and Gov. Baker during this pandemic to provide us with equal access to care by reopening the hospital in North Adams with inpatient beds.

Six years ago this month, North Adams Regional Hospital was closed illegally with three days notice and no public hearings. We need inpatient beds to serve the citizens of North Berkshire during this pandemic.

The time has come to correct the shortsighted leadership which allowed this injustice to occur. Our public health is our most important priority. Provide all our citizens with equal access to care. Please act now while there is still time. The community members need universal health coverage and equal access to care. Make BMC North a real hospital.

Richard Dassatti, North Adams


May 1, 2020

A Berkshire Eagle editorial says the closing of Crane Stationery in North Adams is another cruel blow for a community struggling to make a comeback.


The Crane Stationary Co. plant is located in two buildings at the Hardman Industrial Park. credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle

“Crane Stationery got marching orders on reopening; CEO claims 'retaliation'”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, May 3, 2020

North Adams — Scores of Crane Stationery Co. employees got head-turning emails from their company Sunday.

Time to get back to work, said the first. "We have a hard road ahead in the coming weeks and months, but we have over 800 orders and boxed product that needs to be replenished for our customers," executives told workers.

Three hours later, another email: Don't come in.

After being closed for more than five weeks, the fabled brand spent the last few days gearing up to reopen its North Adams plant, after its owner, Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y., secured a roughly $2 million federal loan to cover payroll of its 229 workers.

But that changed midday Sunday, when the company took issue with conditions Mayor Thomas Bernard set on the reopening to ensure safety amid the pandemic and to verify the work qualifies as "essential" under rules set out by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., Mohawk's CEO and chairman, said Crane could not meet Bernard's requests in time to begin work Monday. In an interview Sunday, O'Connor called Bernard's conditions "retaliatory" and questioned the future of Crane operations in North Adams.

"He wants to come in and monitor what we print," O'Connor said of the mayor. "He doesn't have the right to look at private invoices."

"This is meant to hang us up to keep us closed. We feel like we're being run out of town. It's clearly retaliation," O'Connor said.

Not so, Bernard said Sunday.

"I don't play retaliatory leadership. I am trying, in a difficult situation, to enable this business to meet their essential operations and do it in a way that is safe," Bernard said. "I want them to be in a position where they can succeed."

Employees were told in a Sunday afternoon email that Crane needed more time to put together the reopening plan and that only those able to clock in remotely would be working. The message, from the same three executives, made no mention of the company's dispute with the city. Copies of the emails were obtained by The Eagle.

Bernard's conditions, outlined Sunday, required Crane to allow health and building inspectors inside its Curran Highway buildings to check on safety precautions. Further, Bernard asked Crane to explain in writing to the city's Board of Health the precautions it will take to protect employees from possible contagion, as well as document that all of the work it will do qualifies as "essential."

The company cannot reopen, the mayor said, until its plans receive written approval from the city.

O'Connor, the Mohawk Fine Papers chief, likened those steps to harassment. "They have been threatening us all weekend," he said. "I don't know what the future is with the plant. I don't know if we will reopen — or when we will."

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, said that as mayor, Bernard has the authority to determine how state orders play out at the local level. "He absolutely made the right decision that's in the best interest of the city and the employees who work there," Barrett said of the mayor's conditions.

"The proof of the pudding is the reaction he got from Crane, which just wants to stomp away and make another threat," he said.

What's `essential'?

Bernard spent the last few days responding, first, to the announcement that the company plans to lay off 85 percent of its workers June 19. Though a Wednesday email to workers spoke of plans to "wind down" operations, the company said Thursday it plans to continue to make Crane products, though with a far smaller workforce of about three dozen employees, as it copes with a massive drop in business.

The same day it announced future layoffs, Crane said it would restart operations Monday and run with full staffing until June 19, provided that employees were willing to return. In an email, the company said it would respect the wishes of workers who did not want to go back for health reasons.

Bernard said the company told him late last week that it qualified as an essential business, but did not have that documented. The question lingered into the weekend, when Len Evers, a safety inspector with the state Department of Labor Standards, issued a determination. The department is the state agency that rules on whether a business can operate amid the restrictions.

Evers conducted a review Saturday, based on a request to the DLS from Bart Robinson, Crane's chief revenue officer.

Robinson told Evers in an email that the company went through "a small percentage" of its existing orders from customers and found that it would be making stationery for "medical professionals and medical support companies, energy and environment companies, law offices performing essential work and advisory companies that support small business."

Robinson said that while Crane can't confirm whether the stationery will be used for "essential" work, the orders would be shipped to home addresses "for work from home communication."

He added, "We also do work for Vice President Pence's wife."

About four hours later, Evers said he'd visited Crane's website and determined that since the company's business stationery is used by medical professionals and other essential services, it also qualified as an essential business.

"Even in this digital age, it is hard to imagine a law or medical office without paper to memorialize their activities," Evers wrote.

But he said not all Crane business may qualify and he encouraged the company to stop any nonessential work, or have it done remotely. Evers acknowledged, though, that the state has not halted operations at companies, like big-box stores, that straddle the line on what's "essential."

That opinion from the DLS led Bernard to ask that Crane document which of its orders qualified as essential.

Bernard said he has been hearing from Crane workers concerned about whether it is safe to return to a work environment. "I felt it prudent to put some conditions in place, to find an appropriate middle ground."

In the company's first Sunday email, the executives — Robinson, Chief Operations Officer Dean Daigle and Chief Product Officer Paul Thorogood — addressed worker fears.

"We understand there is concern among some employees about returning to work at this time, and whether Crane is deemed an essential business," they wrote. "Our first and foremost priority is now, and always will be, for the safety and well-being of our employees. Creating a work environment in which everyone feels safe is crucial."

The message lists 14 steps the company planned to take to provide a safe work environment, including "deep sanitation," new workplace layouts that ensure six feet of distance between people and staggered shifts to avoid bunching up.

Bernard said he asked Robinson to consider voluntarily delaying the Monday opening. "I take great exception to the term `threat,'" he said, referring to a statement by O'Connor. "I'm trying to navigate something very carefully. The implicit threat is on the side of Mohawk and is directed at the hard-working people who have given their heart and soul to building this brand."

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


“North Adams, Crane talking, but plant reopening unresolved”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, May 5, 2020

North Adams — The mayor of North Adams still was waiting late Tuesday for one of the city's largest employers to say whether it sees a future here.

But, Mayor Thomas Bernard said he remained hopeful that Crane Stationery Co. will meet conditions he set Sunday on the company's planned reopening, after the company received confirmation that it is an essential business and can operate amid pandemic restrictions.

"I'm hopeful that we can move this fairly quickly to be where they want to be," Bernard said of the company.

On Monday, Bernard took the unusual step of asking Crane and its owner, Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y., to disclose plans for employment at its Curran Highway facility, citing "a turbulent and confusing" week that included a notice of a reopening and the intention to lay off 85 percent of its staff come June.

The company employs 229 people and traces its lineage in Berkshire County back more than two centuries.

"I call upon the ownership and management of Crane Stationery and Mohawk paper to immediately and publicly issue a statement that clarifies the future of Crane Stationery in North Adams," Bernard said. "My door is open to the Crane team, but we all deserve and expect transparency and truth from the company and its management."

Bernard said that he had exchanged emails with company officials Tuesday. As of late afternoon, the company had not yet fulfilled conditions the mayor set Sunday on its reopening.

Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., Mohawk's CEO and chairman, said Sunday he viewed Bernard's actions as "retaliatory."

On Monday, Crane officials asked Bernard to offer proof that he holds the statutory authority to impose the conditions, which included evidence that the planned work qualified as essential.

Bernard said he planned to provide that proof. The city also plans to send health and building inspectors into Crane's two buildings in the Hardman Industrial Park off Route 8.

O'Connor could not be reached Tuesday for comment on whether the company plans to "take action to resolve the inconsistencies in communication that have contributed to the recent confusion," as Bernard phrased it in a statement Monday.

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


Letter: “Crane is gaming the PPP system”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 2020

To the editor:

Two seemingly unrelated stories in the Eagle this past week fail to grasp the intent of the massive 12 figure Paycheck Protection Program. That money is meant for employees, not business owners.

I am sympathetic to the local gym owner who wants to use the money to reopen, rather than provide missing paychecks. But he is clearly unaware of how the program is meant to work.

As Rep. Richie Neal pointed out, that money was meant to keep people off of the unemployment rolls. He should have been using it to give full paychecks to his employees. The owner has the right to use the money other ways, but then the very low interest loan will not be forgiven. Pretty simple.

More troubling is Crane Stationery's ownership trying to game the system to have the taxpayers pick up the tab for their plant's labor via the PPP while still producing and selling products. Crane's designation as an essential business because a tiny fraction of their work is printing for medical professionals is good news, but their parent company's refusal to stick to that essential work during the shutdown makes it almost certainly clear that they are double dipping while their "free" labor is available. The fact is that in most plant situations, you have many people jammed together in a confined space, which is exactly what the shutdown is meant to avoid.

You only need to look at the thousands of COVID-19 cases in the meat packing plants to see why almost all production lines over every non-essential type are currently shut down nationwide. Crane is obviously putting taxpayer enhanced revenue before the safety of employees, their families and the community, and that is shameful.

Greg Roach, North Adams


Letter: “Grateful for compassion of North Adams mayor”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 2020

To the editor:

I would like to thank Mayor Tom Bernard for his leadership in keeping the residents of North Adams safe from the ravages of the pandemic. I check the daily updates and find myself breathing a sigh of relief when I see the numbers. As of today, it appears there have been no new cases in North Adams for over a week.

I wear a mask and observe social distancing, but knowing these numbers makes a huge difference in my comfort level when shopping for groceries, keeping up with medical appointments, or walking around the neighborhood. I am worried for my friends in other locales who are afraid to go out of their homes. They are amazed when I tell them about our low numbers.

These statistics are not an accident: they are the result of our city coming together and respecting the science and the guidance of medical experts. They are also the result of a compassionate mayor who is willing to go out on a limb to fight for the health of the citizenry. At a time when other cities are overwhelmed with unspeakable sickness and death, North Adams is responding to the pandemic in such a way as to minimize the shock as much as possible.

Deborah Lee Schneer, North Adams


Letter: “Crane singled out unfairly”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 19, 2020

To the editor:

In regard to your article from May 14 titled "Mayor Bernard can enforce conditions on Crane reopening, state confirms" the central outstanding question the media should be asking is not addressed. That question is, why is the requirement to not produce or sell non-essential items as a state-determined essential business being limited to this one company?

The mayor cites health as the reason. Produce and/or sell less product, and as a result less staff and less staff interaction is generally needed. However, he not only praised Crane's submitted health and safety plan to the media, but he won't tell anyone why the requirement is simply not applied to all essential businesses in the city. If health is the reason then, and if the order was city-wide rather than targeting one business, that would optimize results.

Government power should be used through the lens of equal treatment and honest reasoning. That does not appear to be happening here.

Joseph Smith, Clarksburg


“Crane Stationery to end long Berkshires run, move to NY”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, May 29, 2020

North Adams — A letter Crane Stationery Co. sent in April to the mayor of North Adams contained the truth after all.

It said that by Sept. 30, all remaining employees of the venerable Berkshires business would lose their jobs, following planned June layoffs affecting 85 percent of the 229-member workforce.

The parent company's CEO, Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., told the mayor — and The Eagle — that the April 29 letter was sent by mistake.

On Friday, exactly one month later, the company announced it will indeed close its North Adams plant, saying the space is too large for business that has contracted.

Crane plans to move the entire operation to the home of its parent, Mohawk Fine Papers, in Cohoes, N.Y., north of Albany. The name Crane has been associated with Berkshires manufacturing for more than two centuries.Mayor Thomas Bernard said he received a copy of a press release shortly before it was sent Friday. Bernard said he found the announcement disappointing, but not surprising."I'm absolutely heartbroken for the Crane employees," he said. "Their well-being has been the most important thing to me in all of this."The company said the move was triggered by losses during a shutdown due to the pandemic. In an earlier message to employees, it also faulted the declining use of paper products in the digital age. The brand is known for fine stationery and sells through hundreds of small retailers around the U.S., as well as online. Retail challenges, notably for Papyrus, the company's largest customer, now in bankruptcy proceedings, trimmed revenues.

Bernard, however, said he believes the timing enabled the company to "cynically leverage" a loan it received this spring through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, "and to put some free cash in the company's pocket." The PPP loans are forgivable if 75 percent of the sums are applied to wages and companies meet additional requirements. O'Connor said in an earlier interview that the loan was for about $2 million. That means the company could be in a position to retain $500,000 of the loan amount as a grant.The Eagle offered Crane an opportunity to respond to the mayor's assessment of its motives in taking out the loan, but did not receive a reply. In a statement, O'Connor acknowledged that the closing will hurt locally. "We recognize that our departure will be felt by the North Adams community, but at the heart of this decision is our commitment to ensuring that the extraordinary heritage of the Crane brand lives on," he said.

The news comes weeks after O'Connor accused Bernard of "retaliation" in connection with conditions the mayor placed on Crane's plan to reopen, after weeks of a pandemic shutdown.

Bernard said he was acting to ensure the safety of returning workers in light of the coronavirus. The plant ignored the mayor's orders. It has continued to operate; state restrictions on nonessential manufacturing operations have since been lifted.

"We have spent the last several weeks determining how to reposition our company while keeping the greatest number of employees working," an unsigned statement from Crane said.

On May 4, after clashing with Crane executives over its plan to reopen, Bernard asked that the company make clear what its plans are for operations in the city." They still haven't accounted for that discrepancy," he said, referring to the letter he received May 1 saying a full shutdown lay ahead.

Site's future unknown

Bart Robinson, Crane's chief revenue officer, said the company is considering what to do with its properties at 1466 and 1526 Curran Highway, in the city's industrial park. The company bought the land and buildings in December 2015. The headquarters building and 9.6 acres of land at 1466 Curran Highway is assessed at $3,334,000. The building, constructed in 1978, contains 73,056 square feet of space. A smaller neighboring building, erected in 1985, is assessed by the city at $1,122,500 and measures 17,920 square feet in size.

Robinson said in an email, in response to questions, that Crane Stationery will relocate to available space at Mohawk Fine Papers. Through that move, Crane will keep roughly 15 percent of its current workforce, he said. "We have offered employees positions," Robinson said.

No date has been set for the end of operations in North Adams, but it is expected to be within months.

Though the planned June 19 layoffs were to affect 85 percent of the staff, Robinson said Crane has offered work to "several" employees past that date "as we catch up on production and build inventory."

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


Letter: “MoCA art work controversy must be resolved”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 26, 2020

To the editor:

Mass MoCA's illegal pillar art paint over of the children of North Adams historic art work and the following controversy, just "ain't over"!

For the past two years, this writer and others have worked tirelessly to see if the kids art can be restored. Despite hundreds of signatures from locals and neighboring communities, the city of North Adams continues to keep hands off in doing something constructive to resolve the issue.

You may recall that MoCA claimed that the artists who created a sound box under the bridge had exclusive right to the publicly owned pillars but, had no legal contract with the city to exercise the claim. Like the children, MoCA shared bi-mutual permission from the city to use the site for artistic displays.

Now here is the conundrum! You will now see graffiti words that have been painted on two of the pillars. They have been there for months.

Seeing that MoCA illegally painted over the kids' art claiming exclusive but illegal right to the site, why haven't they addressed the problem of conflicting actions relative to the issue? Why hasn't the mayor, despite strong community support, provided attention and leadership in bringing both parties to the table in resolution? It bewilders us that on this issue, MoCA comes before the will of the people of North Adams.

I believe that MoCA should addressed the problem by not only removing the new graffiti based on their past error but at the same time use paint remover to also see if the children's art is retrievable, as it has a special anti-graffiti coating over the school children's work. At least do a sample testing on the site!

Knowing that some individuals see this as a dead issue that has been going on over a relatively long period of time, this writer believes that our continued voices and persistence is essential in successfully addressing a problem which reflects poorly on MoCA and the city of North Adams.

Let the parties play ball, and let us not allow them take their ball and go home, because, " It ain't over til it's over!"

Vincent Melito, North Adams


"North Adams mayor taps new administrative officer with adminstrator, manager experience"

By Francesca Paris, The Berkshire Eagle, November 11, 2020

NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Tom Bernard has appointed a new chief administrative officer.

Angie Lopes Ellison, former town manager in Uxbridge and town administrator in Blandford, began work Monday.

Ellison succeeds Michael Canales, who left North Adams in September to become town administrator in Stockbridge. Canales had been the administrator in North Adams for eight years.

In the role, she will serve as chief of staff to Bernard and help him with city operations, including coordinating across the public and private sectors, following up on public requests and liaising with City Council, the state and the federal government.

“Angie Ellison is a great addition to the city’s leadership team,” Bernard said in a press release Tuesday. “She has the administrative, department, and fiscal management experience to be a strong and effective partner.”

Ellison has a bachelor's degree from Southeastern Massachusetts University and a master's from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Bernard told city councilors on Tuesday that Ellison’s responsibilities might not directly correlate to the work that Canales did. He said her specific portfolio would be ironed out in the coming weeks and months.


Letter: "Why I’m voting Lynette Bond for North Adams mayor"

The Berkshire Eagle, September 23, 2021

To the editor: When we moved to North Adams 32 years ago, there was an “old boy” network in City Hall.

Truthfully, it was also bigoted and anti-Semitic. New ideas weren’t tried. The city needed to change.

Election after election, John Barrett III won. You either bowed to his wishes, or he made your life miserable.

After seven years, I ran for mayor. I had enough of Barrett’s actions against me and others (plus I considered it political art); in reality, I was a second voice for challenger Paul Babeu, who had assembled a strong campaign committee. With a huge turnout, Babeu narrowly lost.

Finally, I and others encouraged Dick Alcombright to challenge Barrett. We discussed not creating another monopoly like Barrett’s 26 years; three terms should be maximum. Remarkably, Dick won.

When Dick ran for a fourth term, I challenged him. I really wanted to use the campaign to discuss the hospital situation. Unfortunately, at the last moment, Barrett decided to also run, so once again, the city divided into two camps.

After his fourth term, Dick stepped aside. Tom Bernard ran against Bob Moulton Jr. (whose view on art was decidedly weird; as a city councilor, he made headlines and embarrassed the city when he saw my 6-minute sketch hanging in a store window and proclaimed it p*rnography).

Bernard went to Williams College and was an assistant to Massachusetts College of Liberal Art’s president, so we all assumed he would be good. Well, let’s just say I’ve not been a fan; gladly, he’s not running again.

Finally, we will have a female mayor. The problem I have with Jennifer Macksey is it seems that Barrett’s campaign “committee” is back in action running her campaign. Is Barrett trying to become the behind-the-scenes power?

I’ve met with Lynette and expressed my views; she’s open, smart and supportive of new ideas. We all know that North Adams has many problems as well as many opportunities.

No one has sufficiently changed the culture that exists in City Hall. Oh, the bad old days have subsided, and no one screams or threatens residents anymore, but there’s still a resistance about trying new, bold systems to get with the 21st century. We need an independent mayor who will tap into all the smart people here and get our problems solved.

Lynette will be a fresh and welcoming face in City Hall.

Eric Rudd, North Adams


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