In his virtual state of the city address Monday night, North Adams, Massachusetts Mayor Tom Bernard covered the COVID-19 pandemic, infrastructure concerns and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bernard’s address comes in the final year of his second two-year term at the helm of Berkshire County’s second city.
“As I reflect on the year just past, and on the years ahead for North Adams, I am filled with immense gratitude for the countless people in our city, who have demonstrated the powerful truth of Dr. King's statement that everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” said the mayor.
He highlighted the work of the city’s first responders and public works department during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By doing so, in the face of a pandemic, each of them has redefined our understanding of what it means to be a hero," said Bernard. "This is equally true of health care workers, service employees, early childhood professionals and our human service providers and of the parents and caregivers who have been partners in education. And I especially want to thank those in the school district and on the home front who have supported and guided our youngest learners, and those who have nurtured students who struggle with social and emotional learning challenges.”
Bernard acknowledged a brutal year of joblessness, recession, death, fear and isolation.
“I know that for too long, too many of our colleagues, family, friends and neighbors have endured violence in their homes, lived with substance use or misuse, struggled with mental health issues, and experienced hunger and housing insecurity," he said. "I know that these challenges persist in North Adams as they do everywhere. And that this past year has highlighted and amplified the needs of the most vulnerable among us.”
Turning to policy efforts, the mayor said he was working to address the city’s ongoing struggles with its fire hydrants. Around 100 are inoperable.
“Last weekend I brought together key staff including public safety and public services leadership," said Bernard. "To start this work, we'll identify and bag inoperative fire hydrants and update our records to ensure we all understand the scope of the problem we face. We are actively exploring the USDA Rural Communities Program for funding a hydrant replacement program. And additionally, through this year's budget process, we will present options for staffing and funding our water department at the level necessary to meet this critical need.”
Bernard also said the city of around 13,000 was making moves on replacing its moribund public safety building.
“We have applied for local technical assistance funding to help us conduct preliminary assessments of potential sites for a new building, including the potential of the juvenile court building on Center Street as the site for a police station," said Beranrd. "We will use this information to advocate for the release of the $1.2 million in state funding authorized in the 2018 capital bond bill for engineering, design and sighting of a new public safety facility in the city of North Adams.”
The mayor praised the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“North Adams also has been part of an overdue national reckoning with the legacy of racism and white supremacy," he said. "This is work that started before the pandemic arrived in North Adams, but which took on new urgency with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I thank everyone who protested, marched and organized for justice, and who continue to confront disproportionality, the legacy of inequity, economic oppression and the divisions that exist among us. I especially want to acknowledge the work of the City Council and the inclusion, diversity, equity and access working group for their leadership and partnership and this important and ongoing work, as we think, talk and act to make progress and to build a strong community. Equity must be at the foundation of everything we do.”
Bernard also discussed the city’s microloan program aimed at helping businesses recover from the pandemic recession, efforts to combat blight through public property sales that landed the city over $125,000, and efforts to address its ongoing housing woes.
“In December, we closed the sale of Johnson School, and to expect to close on the sale of Notre Dame church and school later this spring," he said. "Both properties will take on new life providing high quality housing close to downtown. A comprehensive housing study conducted last year found that and I quote, North Adams lacks a supply of adequate and affordable housing across a broad range of income levels.”
You can watch Bernard’s complete address below: