|Guest Column: Mayor Richard Alcombright Responds|
|By Mayor Richard Alcombright, Guest Column|
01:33PM / Monday, July 23, 2012
Editor's Note: North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright submitted this column on Sunday evening as a rebuttal to an editorial column by former City Councilor William E. "Bill" Donovan Jr. published last week in the North Adams Transcript and The Advocate Weekly. Donovan, who moved to Adams in 2005, is a regular contributor to those papers. His column "Look To Your Predecessors" is here
|Mayor Richard Alcombright|but, because of the newspapers' paywall and archival system, may not be available to everyone. Mr. Donovan's column has been republished here.
As mayor of the city of North Adams for 2 1/2 years, I have been presented challenges and opportunities of all shapes and sizes. I understand that criticism is part of the job and to be a leader one must be a big person.
Since I announced my initial candidacy in 2009, former North Adams City Councilor and Adams resident Bill Donovan has been an outspoken critic of mine and the decisions I have made. His latest column published last week in the [North Adams] Transcript and Advocate once again points out his inability to understand the ways I have helped move this community forward. He also criticizes and takes an unjustified poke at newly elected Mayor Dan Bianchi of Pittsfield. As Mr. Donovan is an uncritical admirer of the past administration, I typically take his diatribes with a grain of salt. However, I feel this last column deserves a response.
Mr. Donovan basically states that when I took over, "despite a larger economy that was in tatters, North Adams was moving strongly forward" under the former administration. He added that "several years into the new leadership, there hasn't been one single new major economic or public development that wasn't already happening when I took office." The most ludicrous part of the statement above was that "North Adams was moving strongly forward."
I would strongly urge Mr. Donovan to have a look at Maynard Seider's superb documentary "Farewell to Factory Towns." The film documents a more reality-based view of our North Adams economy. Among other things, it documents that in 1980, the city's poverty rate was approximately 14 percent compared to the state average of 10 percent and in 2010, the city rate was close to 20 percent compared to the state rate of 10 percent and a national rate of 14 percent. Additionally, the documentary points out that since the opening of [Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art], jobs have not been created, validating that our economy was far from "moving strongly forward." It would also be interesting to note that since the year 2000, local property taxes increased each year (26 percent in the five years preceding my election), and that our downtown and business community continued to decline. Since the closing of the mills, the city of North Adams has continued, year after year, to lose population at a rate exceeding any other community in Western Massachusetts.
Mr. Donovan also fails to point out that when I came into office, North Adams, in my opinion, was on the verge of being taken into receivership by the Commonwealth due to the dire nature of our fiscal insecurity. Inheriting a $2.3 million dollar budget deficit in 2010 with nearly zero dollars in our stabilization fund was daunting at best - and let's not forget the mismanagement of the city's Medical Insurance Trust, which went on for years. In our FY2013 budget, we will begin the year with a $600,000 deficit with over $500,000 in stabilization. And while not without pain to tax and ratepayers, much of the fiscal rebalancing has come due to significant cuts.
Mr. Donovan credits the past administration with building schools and recreational infrastructure. Even in my first year on the job, I found that those things are pretty easy. You prove to the state that you need a new school and they will eventually come through with money. Thanks to the Massachusetts School Building Committee, my administration will be renovating Conte School. By applying for and receiving Community Development Block Grant and other grants, building and maintaining athletic facilities, renovations to the Armory, improvements at the Skating Rink and other projects can happen and are ongoing. The truly hard work is done by the very able employees of the city departments that drive these processes, get the money and manage the projects.
The challenge to growth and stability is in finding investors and employers to help bring new jobs and build a sustainable economy. For the past two years, I have been working with agencies, bringing together the community to build a master plan for the city and constantly meeting with local and regional developers and business owners. Since the beginning of 2011, we have seen significant growth in small business, particularly in the downtown where our occupancy rate has not been this high in years. Crane is now staying in the city, the Brien Center has completely renovated the former Transcript building and kept some 80 jobs in the city and Carr Hardware has made significant investment to their new Route 2 location. Additionally, I will be negotiating with an interested group of investors to privatize and bring back to life the Heritage State Park and we continue to work very hard with [Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts] on a very sustainable solution for the Mohawk Theater.
While Mass MoCA and the arts economy are vital to our continued resurgence, we all know what dependence on one business sector can lead to long term. I work each and every day to grow all sectors with the hopes of creating a long-term diverse and sustainable economy. We are not unlike many and even most communities in the country as we try to grow on the tails of the deepest recession in history. This will take time and it will take a community pulling together.
Mr. Donovan fails to point out that over the past 25 years, virtually nothing has been done to our aging and ailing infrastructure. A study just confirmed that we will need to spend $20 million over the next 20 years to repair, replace and update our water infrastructure and we have similar problems with the sewer. Our Department of Public Works and Public Safety facilities have been neglected and there are failing dams and structural issues with our bridges due to neglect. All of this because of the lack of a sustainable long-term capital plan. I continue to try to identify and wrap my arms around all of the city's capital needs.
And let's not forget the neglect of our employees. As with our infrastructure, our employees have also been neglected over the years. The city has one of the lowest pay scales in the Commonwealth at virtually all levels. And while I have been chastised for giving raises or adjustments in salary to city employees, the former administration benefitted many of its senior staff with increases, in some cases as high as 60 percent over its last 10 years. This would include the mayor's salary, which grew by some $30,000 between FY2000 and FY2009.
Finally, as for Mr. Donovan's assertion that I should ask for the assistance of the former administration in running this city, I only need point to the "assistance" that has been provided to date. Assistance provided for the most part has been the questioning of procedure, process and the accusation of lack of transparency. For the record, my office has consistently brought forth best practices and transparency to every aspect of city business. Mr. Donovan's continuing theme of living in the past is getting as old as his reluctance to accept the fact that the "former" administration is just that.
I will not be deterred by this constant negativity and will hold steadfast to incorporate current practices to motivate and promote the future success of our fine city for the benefit of all.