Thanks for checking out our elections coverage. We try to cover at least one race a year in an in-depth, meaningful way, and 2019 finds us at it again. The only difference is that James Kennedy, artist and founder of the much-loved “Unsung Eats” column here at the Glass, has wrested control of the interview-ometer away from the editors this time around. In an act of tremendous ambition (or lunacy) he committed
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been abridged for space and clarity. No information provided by the candidate has been checked for accuracy.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in this city and I graduated from the local high school. From there I went into the military. I am a Korean War veteran; a disabled Korean War veteran. After I came out I worked for several industries in the city and finally wound up working at General Electric for 25 years before retiring and starting my own landscaping business. And now I have finally decided to retire. I have been attending council meetings since 1957 when Joe Bianco was mayor. I kind of know the ins and outs of what’s happening in this city and I’m very proactive at it.
Many times at the council meetings, because of my presentation, I was removed by the police and they tried to bar me from City Hall so I got a lawyer from the ACLU and they wrote a letter and they reinstated me. I’m very outspoken. I speak for the people. Many times this council, and other councils over the years, haven’t been looking out for the taxpayers in this city. Even now, when you go to a council meeting it’s not friendly to the people that are on the other side of the aisle. If I get elected I will certainly try to change that.
They just changed the rules recently. Last year we used to be able to speak on every agenda item, and the council president changed that rule so that we can only speak on an agenda item before the agenda comes up and I said to him, “how are we supposed to know how the conversation is going?” They don’t care. They just don’t want to deal with the public. I still get my points across though. They have open forum at the end and I get another chance, everyone does, to speak and again and I get after them.
You know, there’s a lot of things going on in this city that should be changed and hopefully I will be the guy to change it. I will be only one vote but I will fight for the taxpayers of this city and the businesses of this city. I have an idea on how to bring some industry to this city if they will listen to me. Also, we have to make this government transparent, and with that this council rejected what they call Open Checkbook, which was accepted by Greenfield and Northampton. Open checkbook will be put online. It will tell everyone how much money is being taken in and where it is being spent by each category; city hall, the fire department, etc. So people can go online and find out where their money is being spent. This was rejected by the present council. One councilor said to me that this was too expensive, but they just spent $20,000 on a program so that you can get in and find out things about the individual departments but it doesn’t tell you numbers unless you want to know things like how much is a parking ticket.
I think we should have a neighborhood crime watch to help curb the crime in this city, and it should help the police. I would also like to see the re-establishment of the satellite police station over in the West End. They used to have one over by the housing project in Braytonville and they closed it. Why? I don’t know. They had a little office over there and they had a police car over there.
2019 Elections — North Adams City Council,
Why did you decide to run for North Adams City Council and what is it that you think separates you from the other candidates?
First of all, it’s like what I just said about being disenfranchised from talking at council meetings. When they let you talk, they say, “Hearing of the Visitors” and I find that disturbing. I have been a resident and a taxpayer since 1967. I was born here and I’m not a visitor. I said that publicly at the meeting that I find that disturbing. Anybody that comes to the meeting should be welcomed and in a friendly kind of way.
Also, this sixth grade artwork that was on the pillars along Marshall Street was painted over by MASS MoCA. They had no business doing that. The students were sixth graders, and there was a teacher that helped them put that up there. I just said at the most recent council meeting that I thought that was an act of vandalism. Since when are they going to censor artwork in this city when they want to spread artwork? So we should be accepting of all kinds of artwork whether you like it or whether you don’t like it. I want a voice for the taxpayers in this city and I want a voice for the elderly in this city along with everybody else. And if they have a problem they will be able to call me and it will be anonymous. I will not mention their name. I will speak for them and bring their issues before this council.
What do you regard as the most important issue facing North Adams today and do you have a particular issue that you will be running on?
I think one of the biggest issues in this city are taxes and jobs —that’s two issues, of course, because with taxes and no jobs, we’re losing population. Youngsters that are growing up and coming out of school have no place to go. There are no jobs. And the elderly; North Adams is an elderly community and they’re having a hard time making ends meet. You can’t keep raising taxes and forcing them out of their houses. I think that’s some of the issue why we have dilapidated neighborhoods. Just on the street I live on there are 8 empty houses.
What is your opinion about the pros and cons of gentrification and what role do you see it playing today and in the future of North Adams?
That’s a tough question and you’re going to get a tough answer. We have a program in North Adams. It’s called TIFs. You take these mills, the Redwood Motel, and other places like the Brien Center that the city has given them tax breaks. Perhaps we should extend this program to people rehabilitating houses. If you notice, a lot of these houses that are being rehabilitated they don’t tear them down anymore and there’s a reason for that and the reason is if they tear it down they have to go and get an architect. They have to get inspection and everything has got to be up to code. Rehabilitating houses is a big factor. It brings neighborhoods back. I have to give credit to The Porches. They’ve rehabilitated a lot of properties down there but there’s a downside to that too.
The people that lived on Bracewell Ave.; that was a poor section and their rents weren’t very high. As they rehabilitated that neighborhood prices went up. Taxes went up and rents went up with it. So that cleaned the neighborhood out. It’s displacing the less fortunate. We have to have a place for everybody whether it’s the rich, the poor, working poor or welfare people. We have to have a place for everyone and we have places for them but not everyone wants to live in a housing project. Not everyone wants to live in a high rise. That building has changed and there are a lot of drugs in that building. I know people that have moved in there that were elderly and still working. They just couldn’t take it and they moved out, so we have to have a place for everybody.
Whether real or imagined, there is a perception that there is a water quality issue in North Adams. Do you believe there is a water quality problem, and if so, what solutions do you offer?
If you go back just to the former mayor it wasn’t a perception. It was a fact. Our water did not meet state standard and the former mayor just kept making excuses. Especially in our schools because there was lead and copper. He presented a paper that was given to him by the superintendent of schools and said now our water is alright because we flushed our lines. Come to find out, the paper presented to the mayor was the same paper I obtained from the state that said our water was not up to standard and below acceptable levels
We do have a water treatment plant but you have to take that there are old pipes in this city and some of those old pipes probably have lead joints. I understand there are some wooden sewer lines too in our city. That’s how antiquated our distribution systems are. I believe our filtration plant works well when it comes to turbidity. I believe that by them keeping adding chemicals to bring it up to standard is not the right thing we should be doing because for years and years, before we had a filtration plant, we had good water in our city. I think we should be dredging our reservoirs to get that silt out of there before it gets into the system. If elected to city council this is something that I would present to the mayor.
In order for many municipalities to balance their budgets, oftentimes larger infrastructure projects and investments get kicked down the road rather than raise property taxes. What is your plan for a balanced budget?
That’s looking at every line item and finding out where it’s padded. We’ve had many places where the budget could be cut and I’ll give you an example. Before, we had a little car that used to go around and read the water meters. Now they use a pickup truck, and pickup trucks for the foremen of the city yard. Why does he need a pickup truck to drive around the city to check on his people? Do it in a little car. Same way with city hall, we have vehicles over there and they’re not for private use. They should be used just for city business. I’ve suggested to this mayor and former mayors that we take over the school buses like they did in Pittsfield. They leased the buses and then I guess they’ve bought their own now. We have made several millionaires with school bus contracts. Why can’t we run it in house like other governments in other cities and towns and save thousands of dollars?
Just like in your own house, you have to watch your pennies. We should be, and this is a fault of this city, buying locally. They were looking for some crushed stone. One contractor put in a bid below spec. He beat the bid and it was given to a higher bidder. Why bid if that’s what they’re going to do? It shows favoritism to certain contractors. We had some landscaping done in this city. I didn’t see any bids come out for it. It was just hire this guy and do it. This should be public information so we know what the bids are and this Open Checkbook would probably address that. An open checkbook would make all the department heads more accountable for where they were spending their money if people could see what they were spending their money for.
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