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North Adams City Council hears city clerk search update, code of conduct presentation

A brutalist brick building sits under a blue sky.
Josh Landes
North Adams City Hall.

The North Adams, Massachusetts City Council heard an update on its search for a new city clerk as well as a proposed code of conduct for city officials at its meeting this week.

With council president Lisa Hall Blackmer absent, vice president Peter Oleskiewicz chaired the meeting.

He gave an update on the hiring process for city clerk after first Cathleen King and in quick succession Marcus Lyon resigned from the role within six months this year.

“So as of last night, the screening committee did meet an executive session, there were 23 applicants that we had gone through," said Oleskiewicz. "And between four people on the committee, we did narrow the search down to a handful of eligible applicants that had a varying degree of experience and knowledge and some of the processes and other things within the office. That's pretty much as far as we had made it. So over the next few weeks, we will probably schedule some interviews. So I would assume by the next meeting that there will probably be a more informed update.”

Councilor Marie Harpin expressed concern about the timeline to replace the vital city position.

“I know you guys are working fast and you have to interview people and it takes time," she said. "It's just- I think the early mail-in ballots start in August. So I'm just, you know, it's just concerning. I don't know if we can possibly get some help from maybe the Secretary of State's office to come and train even someone, whoever gets hired, because it is going to really give that person a short timeframe before the election process actually begins because it actually begins in August.”

“I just wanted to say we're also looking at bringing in maybe a former city clerk to give guidance, which probably be easier than trying to get somebody from the state to do it,” said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson.

“We do know that election season is upon us," said Oleskiewicz. "And you're absolutely right, with early voting things, the previous clerks learned very quickly that it was a very time consuming thing, not knowing what to do. I mean, I guess once you've done it for a few days, you'll get faster at it. But I guess it was a pretty tough process when it first had started.”

Councilor Ashley Shade presented on her efforts to instate a code of conduct for the North Adams City government, which has a reputation for controversy and infighting both in private and public. Three councilors resigned last term over various scandals, including Harpin, who promptly ran for re-election successfully after stepping down.

“I was asked back in February, when I brought up the idea of introducing a code of conduct, to create something that we could go off of, that we would be able to read, that's tangible, and that could be used to help with that," said Shade. "And so, in doing research, I found that there are numerous municipalities throughout the commonwealth that have introduced their own codes of conduct.”

Shade said she found a template crafted by the Massachusetts Municipal Association that served as a bedrock for the language for a North Adams city code of conduct. It calls for respectful discourse from all elected and appointed city servants in the interest of maintaining the public trust.

“I'm hoping that this code of conduct can be something that will be implemented along with the required trainings that we do, and would be, the end goal, I believe, is that this should become an ordinance and be required for all elected officials and all people appointed to any kind of commission or board to follow this code of conduct as an ordinance for the people of North Adams and so that they can be held accountable for any type of situation that this covers," said Shade. "It's important that we have accountability and that we have rules and that people are able to understand and follow them. And hopefully, this can be a guide and a resource and an enforceable document that will help alleviate some of the issues we seem to be having in our city in regards to behavior and conduct and professionalism.”

Shade recommended sending the ordinance to a number of city offices for review, including the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access – or IDEA – commission.

“I include the IDEA commission specifically to view this from the lens of equality for everybody, to make sure that this isn't something that can be singled out on an individual and that it represents the values of our community in that way," said the councilor. "I chose General Government because it would be a new ordinance, and then I choose the mayor's office and city solicitor because the enforcement piece of this would be conducted by the city administrator to actually, when things get reported, that would be the person who would be in charge of investigating and or enforcing the piece of it, and the city solicitor to see the legalities of having such an ordinance or document on file.”

The motion was seconded and passed unanimously by the 7 councilors present. Michael Obasohan was also absent.

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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