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North Adams Mayor Plots 2021’s Course After Challenges Of 2020

The seal of the the city of North Adams, Massachusetts
North Adams

After months of disease and economic downturn, smaller municipal governments are hoping for an easier 2021 even as they await federal relief and the COVID-19 vaccine. WAMC caught up with North Adams, Massachusetts Mayor Tom Bernard to find out what Berkshire County’s second-largest community learned from 2020 – and what 2021 may hold.

BERNARD: The big takeaway is the power of collaboration. We worked very intentionally from the start with our Regional Emergency Planning Committee, which morphed into our COVID-19 operation center. So you had the the Northern Berkshire communities working in in lockstep and coordination in our public health response. And we couldn't have done that as quickly or as effectively as we have, and continue to do if we hadn't had a good strong basis for that, and a team in place and the regional group that's been doing this for almost 20 years now.

WAMC: As far as the impact of the pandemic on North Adams, what is the status of the city at the very beginning of the year?

You know, we're still in it. And so, businesses continue to struggle. Right now, all of our students are learning in remote learning. The school committee made that decision in December looking at the data that we would remain in remote learning till the 19th of January. And that's something a lot of districts have have done. But there's, you know, there's hope on the horizon. We're looking at the vaccine distribution protocol for first responders. We know that the DPH and then again, this operations team will help put a really good plan in place for the distribution of the other groups and the other phases of vaccine distribution. So we've got that. You know, I'm hopeful and optimistic that we'll be able to focus on on long term planning. I mean, you know, it's not too far off from the 2022 budget season. In fact, I've got that work starting with my team. And then you know, I'm hoping that we we see a summer season in North Adams an the Berkshires the way we've all gotten used to seeing and enjoying when we're able to do that.
As far as municipal policies or your goals for 2021, what's on your administration's docket in this new year?
You know, again, I think like it or not, the COVID response is going to be the big thing. But if we if we look back, you know, we didn't take our foot off the gas over the the past year. You know, we didn't celebrate with a ribbon cutting but we opened a new city park over in the Brayton neighborhood. We got a MassTrails grant to do some some trail mapping and and promotion of outdoor recreation, we'll continue to do that work. We got a MassWorks grant last year to work over in the Blackinton neighborhood and help with the redevelopment of the Blackinton Mill. I think will really continue to see work focused on our our microbusiness lending program to help small businesses recover, in addition to programs like the one that the state announced last week, and then really continuing to focus on downtown development, economic development. Climate resiliency will be a big thing. One of the first things I'll be bringing forward to the City Council for the meeting next week is our hazard mitigation plan to get that approved locally so that that's blessed and something that we can work with FEMA and MEMA on to to set priorities and really focus on climate resiliency, which is going to be a big challenge here in North Adams as it is everywhere and the timing couldn't be better given the environmental bill that's making its way through the Massachusetts legislature.

Is there anything unfinished from 2020 you hope to address this year?

Really, the big one, and this goes in hand in hand with our with our budget development for this year, is just kind of long term fiscal planning and fiscal stability for the city. I mean, you know, this is something that you always you always worry about. You know, we've talked about this before, budgets being being tight and really just making sure that we are- we, me- being responsible with the public purse and the investments that we make and the responsibility that we have to the taxpayers of the city.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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