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North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard To Deliver State Of The City

 North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard speaks with WAMC inside his city hall office.
Josh Landes
North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard, speaking with WAMC in December 2019.

North Adams, Massachusetts Mayor Tom Bernard will deliver his annual State Of The City address tonight.

Bernard is in the final year of his second two-year term as mayor in the city of around 13,000.

In early January, he told WAMC that the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic would likely dominate much of 2021.

“I think we’ll really continue to see work focused on 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,” said Bernard.

The mayor also identified climate resilience and long term fiscal planning among his 2021 goals.

“We've talked about this before, budgets 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,” Bernard said.

WAMC polled members of the North Adams city council to see what they’ll be looking for in the address.

A common refrain: infrastructure.

“Some of the issues that have been on the minds of my constituents are fire hydrants and the public safety building,” said Councilor Marie Harpin.

The city’s struggles with disabled fire hydrants has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with at least two examples of firefighters being forced to search for working hydrants during emergency responses.

“We used to have 300 that weren’t working, now we have 100, but as we have learned in the last couple weeks, even those hundred have posed really life threatening situations for folks,” said Councilor Jessica Sweeney.

The crumbling North Adams public safety building faces issues from compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act to problems with heating, mold, space and more.

“Our local police department and fire department are working in pretty terrible conditions and to me it’s kind of an embarrassment," said Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz. “We can’t really put the blame anywhere – it’s a funding issue, something we have overlooked for years and years, and a few of us are really on board now to really keep pushing it, and if something does get promised, to not sit there and be complacent and wait for something to happen. I believe this is something we need to keep pushing and keep the conversation going.”

A total replacement of the facility is favored by city leaders.

“Somewhere we’ve got to come up with $25 million in order to finance that," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. “Interest rates are really pretty cheap right now, I’m sure we can borrow the money. We certainly did it that way when we renovated Drury High School and that worked out well.”

Sweeney also wants to see Bernard address the city’s ongoing efforts around inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

“North Adams is a predominantly white community, although that is changing based on the World Population Review," she told WAMC. "We now are only 88% white, and so I hope he addresses that work and the need for that work, and the need to really continue that work and strengthen it.”

She also wants to see that discussion of inclusivity applied to how the city plans its redevelopment.

“When we’re talking about redevelopment in North Adams, especially as we are sort of hopefully nearing some sort of stable period from the pandemic, really looking at how the city can advocate for and strengthen an inclusive approach to redevelopment, to insure that we’re not losing people and to make sure that we have apartments that are available, that are affordable, and that we are really looking at and thinking about all levels of economic, all economic levels of folks here,” Sweeney said.

Mayor Bernard’s State of the City address is tonight at 7 p.m. It will be carried on the city’s official Facebook page and Northern Berkshire Community Television.

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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