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Tyer appoints Ruffer, Armstrong to manage ARPA funds for Pittsfield

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Josh Landes

Pittsfield, Massachusetts has named the special project managers who will oversee the over $40 million the city is receiving in federal COVID-19 relief funding. The city laid out its initial plans for the money, apportioned to Pittsfield from the American Rescue Plan Act Funding, in October.

45% of the first allotment of $20 million will go to social programs aimed at housing, healthy childhoods, and neighborhoods disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. Mayor Linda Tyer has appointed Office of Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer and former Public Health Director Gina Armstrong to carry out the distribution of the fund, which must be disbursed by the end of 2026. Tyer spoke with WAMC about the appointments.

TYER: The responsibilities for the management of the American Rescue Plan is vast, and I recruited both Deanna Ruffer and Gina Armstrong to share the role of Special Projects Manager because they each brought extensive experience in different ways that will best serve not only the management of the American Rescue Plan, but all the other things associated with it, like planning for the initiatives, community engagement- And I can't think of two better people to join up as a team to serve in this role.

WAMC: Now, Deanna Ruffer is stepping down from her position as head of Community Development for the city, and Gina used to head the board of health for the city as its public health director. Can you walk me through what exactly from those two experiences are going to come together to best serve this new role?

Deanna has extensive experience in community development, neighborhood planning, economic recovery. And she has extensive experience in managing the federal Community Development Block Grant. Gina is a seasoned public health professional, and I believe that her, not only her role in getting us through COVID-19 is essential in helping us to recover, but she also has a very interesting experience in mental health and substance use disorders. And a big part of what we want to do with the American Rescue Plan is some transformative initiatives around community life and providing for those who are most vulnerable. So together, the two of them are bringing extensive but different experience in a way that's really going to maximize what we can do with the American Rescue Plan.

Is their role strictly administrative, or do they also have the autonomy to decide where some of the funds go?

They will not have the autonomy to decide where the funds go. That will be a shared process, which, we're in the midst of working through that now. How do we identify what projects, what initiatives are eligible for funding? So we're working through that process now, but they will not have the autonomy to determine what gets funded. That will be certainly- Certainly their perspective and their point of view will carry weight, but they will certainly not have the unilateral decision making around that.

Is that strictly in your hands, or will the city council also be involved in that process?

Well, the way that the Congress wrote the American Rescue Plan Act, they provided for the chief elected official – so the mayors of communities across the United States – to have the final authority in determining what gets funded. And we're thinking about how to do that in a more collaborative way. But ultimately, I would have the authority to make those decisions.

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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