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 to interviewing ALL the candidates for North Adams City Council (assuming they all got back to him). We hope you enjoy this campaign season series, brought to you as a service to the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power.
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.
My name is Marie Harpin. I grew up in North Adams and I am a native here. I went out of town for a couple of years in Worcester for college and then came back to North Adams and got married and lived in Adams for about fifteen years before buying a house back in North Adams in 2009. I brought up my children. They left and they came back—they’re in their twenties. Both of my boys still live with me, so I am a single mom.
I work for the renewable energy industry, and I have done that for the past six years, working with the windmills. That is who I am. I am very proud to say that I am fully educated in North Adams from elementary school all the way through high school. I graduated from McCann, and then I transferred to North Adams State, and I graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree, and in 2014 I got my MBA from MCLA, so I feel like I certainly got my education here in North Adams and again, I am very proud to say that.
I am on District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force and I have been there with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition when they worked on domestic violence. They meet on a monthly basis, and I think they did two of them last year on domestic violence. I think the city is becoming more aware of domestic violence through the things that we’ve done with the coalition meetings, standing out and doing rallies, and just talking about the topic. So yes, we are becoming more aware, but there is still a lot of work to do. I think there is a lot more people to reach but I also think some people are really hard to reach. As a city councilor I would continue to work with the task force.
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?
I decided to run two years ago because I had been asked to run a couple years prior. I knew it was a big commitment and it was something that I thought I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. So a couple of years ago I had gotten my MBA, and with my children being older, and being comfortable in my job, I thought it was a good time. There were some people that were leaving the council, and I thought it was a good opportunity to give back to the community that really gave so much to me.
I enjoy living here, I love living here, it’s a great community, and it’s growing. I see a lot of development that’s happening, which is encouraging, but there are other issues, social issues, that need to be addressed, like jobs. I think there is a lot of work to be done, and I am ready to be a part of that work. I want to be part of the culture of development that is already growing, and I think there are other areas we could be growing as well, and I also want to be conscious of the people that have lived here a long time and still having it feel like home to them.
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 the most important issue right now is North Adams right now is bringing jobs here. We are lucky that we have a lot of people that are investing into North Adams right now. I just went to the Greylock Mills this week, they had an open house, and it’s phenomenal, the work that they’ve done down there. It’s a beautiful place and they’re putting more work in, so it’s fabulous that this is happening, and I think there is a lot going on in the tourism industry that has grown a lot, but I would like to see other areas of jobs developed as well, like advanced manufacturing and green technology.
I do think when people think of manufacturing they think of Sprague, but there is a new manufacturing that is a growing industry, which is the advanced manufacturing. This is something that I hope North Adams can step into. I think we need to look at attracting some green energy jobs too. I work in the renewable energy field and there is a lot of opportunity in renewables. There’s just so much opportunity in solar and wind but I’m not so sure that the national political climate right now is ready for it to happen but it’s happening already, so we’ll see how fast it grows.
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?
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition have had a couple of meetings on gentrification, and asking if North Adams is going through this process right now, and I think we’re close. I think we’re getting there. There is a lot of change in the community and, like I said in the beginning, we should not be forgetting the people that came here and have lived here for a very long time. As someone that grew up here in North Adamsm with my mother being a former city councilor, and her grandfather was a city councilor as well; and just knowing the progress that they’ve made and the stories they’ve told me, I know the stories of North Adams, so I want that to continue. And I want the people that know these stories, and know how North Adams was built, to be able to stay here and tell their story.
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?
No, I do not believe there is a water quality problem. I think that there is a water infrastructure problem, so I think that’s what needs to be addressed. I think there are other infrastructure issues, as well, and as a city councilor I would push for funding to be put into some infrastructure for North Adams.
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?
Well, North Adams just dropped almost a million dollars off of our budget from debt, and I would hope in the next year that we could come up with an infrastructure plan where we could take out another loan to improve our infrastructure. It needs to happen. North Adams really needs to address some infrastructure. I would be for that. I am talking about our city’s roads and sidewalks and I would think that looking at our water infrastructure under the roads would be something that is really needed. It would be high on my list. I am open to other ideas, and these are just my ideas, but I think North Adams needs to address some infrastructure for sure.
Some of the things that I think are important that I have advocated for in the last two years are things like transparency. As the chair of the finance committee this year, I tried to be very transparent as to that process, because I think that’s where a lot of the questions come up from our citizens. So, I actually went and got the filming equipment from the television station for each finance and budget meetings, and we filmed the meetings, and did this for the entire year. We filmed it and put it out on local access network for the people to view it. It’s actually online too; it’s on a webcast and you can just go and watch it anytime you want. I thought this was important. That was my way of having the city be more transparent to the citizens.
I also brought up the issue of the stipends with the Retirement Board because I felt as though I am the liaison to the retirement, and I think it was important that they got the stipend because this is a $75 million portfolio in the City of North Adams for the people of North Adams that work in North Adams. The board that oversees this portfolio for the North Adams Retirement Board voted for a $3,000 stipend. So these board members will get a $3,000 stipend. Some of the members of the city council were against it at first, but I think we convinced them. We sent out a survey to the membership, and they agreed. I think it took me six months and several meetings to get them to understand how the process works. A few of the things with the people that are on this board is each year they have to hand in their financial statements, and that’s not something that even city council members have to do; and for not only themselves, but for everyone that lives in their home as well. They also have to do pretty rigorous training to be a part of this board because it is so complex and there is so much to learn, so they have to get three days where they’re out of work and go somewhere to get trained to get so many credits a year. So to me it was more of a position as far as the training and the financial statements than just going to a board meeting every month. It’s a big responsibility. So I was able to get the city council to approve that stipend for them.
If you appreciate this series on the candidates for North Adams City Council, please consider throwing $1 or more in the tip jar…