Eight weeks into his tenure as Mayor of North Adams, Tom Bernard delivered his first State Of The City address Tuesday night.
Speaking in city council chambers, Bernard drew on a quote from author Scott Turow to talk about North Adams as a living narrative:
“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and believe?” said Bernard.
Bernard’s story of North Adams was one of progress and confidence:
“It’s a view that encapsulates the best of who we are, and the energy, optimism and pride that will propel us forward," said Bernard.
The mayor took office after winning November’s election for the open seat in Massachusetts’ smallest city. Richard Alcombright stepped down after eight years.
Bernard, a political newcomer, celebrated the city’s current wave of development, including the Norad Mill project, hotel development, the Hoosac River Revival, two new museums, a second brewery, and Greylock Works.
“Our job is to support these efforts, and to create the conditions that translate the success of these projects into a vital, vibrant community,” said Bernard.
He announced plans to work with State Senator Adams Hinds, State Representative and former North Adams Mayor John Barrett, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to get North Adams a qualified opportunity zone designation. It’s a new federal program that encourages investment in low-income communities.
The mayor said the city has landed grants, allowing it to expand parkland, increase arts education in the schools, and begin a study on a new public safety facility. He introduced plans to explore collaborative school administration with nearby districts, and promised to overhaul the city’s website in an effort to improve access to public services.
Bernard also mentioned North Adams’ struggles:
"At the same time, I remain realistic about the challenges we face. Of a declining and aging population in our city and across our region of a budget that continues to approach our tax levy limit, of significant infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs, of the continued need for durable downtown revitalization, and of economic and social challenges such as poverty, addiction, abuse, and mental illness, challenges that far too often land far too close to home,” said Bernard.
Bernard announced a listening tour to meet with city residents and hear their ideas about North Adams.
The speech ended with optimism:
“When there is an issue to tackle, the people of North Adams and the Berkshires know how to mobilize," said Bernard. "We know how to roll up our sleeves, and get things done.”
“I was very happy," said City Councilwoman Marie Harpin. "I was happy because I noticed three things about the mayor’s speech: one, he has a lot of enthusiasm, two, he is very realistic about our community, and three, has a lot of compassion, and he seems like he’s really going to engage the community, so I’m excited about those things.”
She encouraged the mayor to think of North Adams’ most vulnerable:
“I want him to be aware of people that are struggling, and raising our taxes, and making sure that he’s aware that people out there — we have an elderly community that has fixed incomes, and we have a poor community, and I want him to be aware that it’s tough when he raises taxes, and I think that should be at the forefront of all our minds,” said Harpin.