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One month into term, North Adams Mayor Macksey says she’s hard at work

 Jennifer Macksey stands with voters in North Adams, Massachusetts on Nov. 2, 2021.
Josh Landes
Jennifer Macksey stands with voters in North Adams, Massachusetts on Nov. 2, 2021.

In November, North Adams, Massachusetts voters made history by electing Jennifer Macksey at the city’s first female mayor. On the campaign trail, she promised to address the city’s flagging infrastructure and bring a tough on crime attitude to city hall. One month into a two-year term, Mayor Macksey spoke with WAMC.

MACKSEY: I've been spending a lot of time meeting with my staff and getting up to speed on where we are in the budget and also examining all the revenue streams. So we've been doing a financial deep dive basically, Josh. [We’re] also very focused, as you know, about the Mohawk Theater, we've been brainstorming around Heritage Park, and I've been working very closely with the school department to get up to speed with what's going on in their department as well as the feasibility study for Greylock and Brayton school. So it's been a great experience. I've been meeting with tons and tons of people, both residents and business developers and teammates and other mayors, and participating in some municipal webinars. But it's been a great, great couple of weeks. But there's so much work to do, Josh, there's tons of work to do. And I'm really excited, invigorated to get into the big strategic stuff.

WAMC: Let's talk about the finances. Something I've heard from mayors of North Adams past as well as other civic leaders is about the financial state of the city. What are you learning as you dig into the books ahead of budget season?

Yeah, so I mean, we're examining our grants and we're making sure that we're spending our grants appropriately. We're taking a deep dive into how much money we have coming into ARPA and strategically planning on how to use that to stretch that dollar the furthest. But as I look at our current budget, you know, we're meeting with departments to see in areas that they're overspent or areas that, you know, we've had emergency water main breaks over the last couple of weeks, so that dips into the water budget. But most importantly, I'm looking for checks and balances and making sure the current budget is reconciled and all of our revenues and all of our accounts are reconciled so as we prepare for fiscal year ‘23, we have a solid base.

A big topic of discussion in the community has been the public safety building. I know, of course, you're only a few weeks in, but looking at that subject, where are you with your administration's response to that need?

Yes, yes. So I am reviewing a document that was done by the Berkshire Regional Planning Board as far as the assessment of some sites, which I'm not ready to fully disclose yet. I've been working with the police and fire chief to talk about what the building needs are today and how we can bridge getting into a new building and waiting or not waiting. But mostly, it's been a, kind of getting up to speed on what work has been done, and also looking for some work that's been done in the past. You know, in my prior life here at the City of North Adams, we did multiple, multiple feasibility studies on that building. So I don't want to reinvent the wheel completely. But at the same time, we are internally examining what our needs are, and really what's going to be financially feasible for our community. That's always my biggest concern. But I'm also very concerned about the public safety of our employees and those people who we need to serve in that building. You know, even though they're getting arrested, it doesn't mean they shouldn't have adequate places to stay and to be processed. So it's been like a fact finding mission, Josh, and we're looking forward in the next 30 days, I would say, 45 days, to really digging in and developing a plan.

At you're inauguration, you reiterated your tough on crime stance about cracking down on drug dealing in the community. At this point, what have your communications been like with Police Chief Jason Wood about this subject?

Yeah. So I mean, the police department overall does an excellent job. And you know, it's a lot about enforcement, but it's also about having resources to help rehab people, help people get through their struggles. But the police department is doing a fine job. And we're just vigilant and aware, and, you know, our first course of action is always to help people. But we're running a lot of stats, and we're looking at to see where our, you know, where our drugs are coming from, and what neighborhoods it's impacting. And we're putting resources as well as we can in those neighborhoods to make a presence. But, you know, I think it's about enforcement, but it's also about working with people to make sure we have the proper services here in North Adams to help people with addiction. So, you know, drugs need to be addressed head on. But as we're addressing it, we need to make sure that we have the proper resources available. So it's been, you know, what do we have, what gaps are we missing? And, you know, the status with the staffing in the public safety department, specifically the police. You know, we need more boots on the ground. And we're working on doing that. In fact, this Saturday we're having a police exam at the Mary Spitzer [Senior] Center. So we're hoping we soon can be building staffing levels back in the police department to help address some of these issues.

Staffing is another issue you’ve talked about addressing within the city. How are efforts going inside city hall to get folks back in the seats in some key positions that you've talked about trying to fill?

Yeah, so I'm very excited. I recently hired an executive assistant for my office, she's going to start February 7th. So I'm very excited about that. And that's an important position as it is a really good resource to connecting with the community and making sure people are getting an actual person rather than a voicemail. So I'm very excited about that, and that's going to help build out my team and support me administratively. We are working on filling the code enforcement position, we're doing some interviews this week. And we're also starting to get a couple resumes for the assessor. So that's exciting. So we've been reposting jobs and we've been marketing our positions a little bit more, but there's not a lot of us here at city hall, Josh. And we really need to strategically focus on how we can attract people to working in municipal government. It's a great place to work. And you know, we're working on developing a compensation plan study. But you know, salary is always a deterrent when we're hiring people. But we're going to hit that face on and we're going to work with the city council on that. But in the meantime, my administration, we're actively trying to fill those seats and fill those seats with the right kind of people. Because all of the positions, no matter where you sit in city hall, you are dealing with the public and you are representing myself, as well as the city council. And it's very important that we understand and we're compassionate to the people who need help.

As the year starts to really get going, what do you see as the biggest things you're going to have to deal with in the first few months of 2022? You've talked about working in the budget, you've talked about some hiring, but what else do you perceive as the sort of big things in this first quarter of the year?

Well, infrastructure. We needed to really have a plan as to how we're going to spend our funding and we need to strategically plan so we can get some projects out to bid, first quarter, early second quarter, so we can start seeing things happen in North Adams during the summer. We also need to be focusing every single minute of the day on economic development and working with businesses and marketing North Adams. But that, again, is about devising a strategic plan. And, you know, we really need to work through that. So the team has been great, but I also, you know, lost a key member of my administration in community development. So we need to fill that position as a planner, and, you know, really address the building of community development and maximizing our grants and things like that. So it's a combination of how do we spend the money we have and how do we continue to get new funds for us to continue out some of these strategic things we need to do.

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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