Great Barrington Election Brings Turnover On Key Boards

May 16, 2019

Great Barrington, Massachusetts voters have elected new leaders.

Just over a quarter of Great Barrington’s 4,746 registered voters cast ballots to determine the next incarnation of the Southern Berkshire County town’s government. Incumbent selectboard chair Stephen Bannon secured a fourth three-year term, receiving the most votes in the three-way race with 815.

“It’s not about my career or what I’ve done, it’s what the board has done," Bannon told WAMC. "We’re starting to see more affordable housing in Great Barrington, we’re just starting to see taxes not rise at such an enormous rate. I think we’re just getting to the point where we’re starting to have some control on things. I think our infrastructure needs are starting to be met. We have a ways to go. But I think we’re starting to hear what people what, we’re starting to know what we need, and we’re starting to act.”

The election came a week after a contentious, two-night town meeting that grappled with issues ranging from zoning to a third referendum on the town’s plastic water bottle ban.

Bannon identified voter frustration at rising tax rates and the perception of an inactive selectboard as prevailing attitudes entering the election.

“We have a very diverse population," said the selectboard chair. "Second home owners, newcomers, fulltime longtime residents, and they don’t always agree on everything. So the selectboard has to figure out what’s best.”

Going forward, Bannon says he wants the selectboard to focus on affordable housing, saying that it is “not a reality” for working people to live in Great Barrington.

“Not high enough pay, not enough jobs that pay a living wage, that’s probably number one," he said. "Number two is our lack of concentration previously on affordable housing, and also worker housing, which is an outdated term, but our teachers and police should also be able to afford to live in town.”

Leigh Davis – formerly of the town’s finance board – unseated Dan Bailly from the selectboard with 767 votes to his 556. The director of development for a pair of mill projects in the county – the Eagle Mill in Lee and the former Berkshire Hathaway Mill in Adams – she attributed her victory to her economic experience, despite feeling like an underdog in the race as she vied with a pair of incumbents. Like Bannon, she says affordability is the name of the game for the selectboard.

“It’s just maintaining the balance of supporting our libraries and supporting our open spaces but also trying to expand our tax base," Davis told WAMC. "And I think part of that is the town leadership having to work really hard and finding creative ways to manage that, whether it’s through the town properties that we own, find ways to work that can bring more revenue in town, or find ways to cut in our budget. So that might be through shared services, talking to towns and really coming to the table and saying how can we work together to cut the expenses in our town budget.”

As for the rest of the selectboard, Ed Abrahams faces re-election in 2020. Kate Burke and Bill Cooke are up in 2021.

The town’s finance committee election saw newcomer Meredith O’Connor win the day with 806 votes. Incumbent chair Thomas Blauvelt held on to his seat with 731, while fellow incumbent Walter Atwood III lost the three-way race with 506.

In the race for a seat on the housing authority, Eileen Mooney – publisher of the NEWSletter, a monthly review of the town’s political happenings – ousted incumbent chair Karen Smith. In December 2018, Smith was the subject of a rare special meeting to address a pair of complaints against her in her capacity as a member of the housing authority. While allegations of bullying and abuse were aired, the selectboard ultimately voted against removing her.

Mooney told WAMC her platform was based on “the need for boards to have transparency and accountability.”