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North Adams Council Debates Reappointment, OKs Hybrid Cruiser
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:44AM / Wednesday, July 24, 2019
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Councilor Marie T. Harpin wants more diversity on the city's boards and commissions.


The council spent some time debating the reappointment of Paul Hopkins to the Redevelopment Authority.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A normally routine reappointment turned into an extended and sometimes heated debate at Tuesday's City Council meeting. 
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard had recommended City Councilor Paul Hopkins be reappointed to the Redevelopment Authority, of which he has been chairman for at least a decade and a member since 2001.
 
But Councilor Marie T. Harpin objected that the administration didn't seem to be working to diversify the makeup of its boards and commissions. Two members had been members since 2001 and a third since 2006. 
 
"This board here just screams that it needs some diverse action here. I mean, we need some fresh ideas," she said. "We need some new ideas, we need some new people that are involved in our in our government."
 
Harpin said it was nothing personal about Hopkins, who she thought had served well, but rather opening an opportunity for someone new.  
 
"I am one that is going to advocate for a more diverse board," she said. "I think as as a city, we should be encouraging diversity and new ideas in our city and within our boards, and I think this is one that we can start at."
 
But while Harpin indicated her intention to vote against the appointment, Councilor Jason LaForest said there were three reasons to keep Hopkins on the board, "first, and foremost, Councilor Hopkins has served this board with competence and dignity."
 
Secondly, he noted the Redevelopment Authority is nearing its conclusion barring any legislative fix and it wouldn't make sense to appoint someone new as it was also wrapping important projects such as the future of Western Gateway Heritage State Park. 
 
"It doesn't make sense to put a new member on this board and remove someone with 20 years of institutional knowledge," LaForest said, later noting how items had gotten delayed earlier this year when the makeup of the council's committees were changed.
 
He also took umbrage at Harpin raising the issue of ethical violations. The former solicitor had been fined for conflict of interests related to the Redevelopment Authority but not the board's members. 
 
Harpin found little support for her voting decision but did find an accord with her desire to include a diversity of views. 
 
Councilor Benjamin Lamb, speaking to one of Harpin's queries to the mayor, said there is some work being done on creating a portal to solicit interest on municipal boards. It can be difficult to find people willing to volunteer, he said, but felt there has been an effort to involve new people in these past two administrations.
 
"This is not something that's unique and special to North Adams," he said. "You do have a lot of great folks, including Councilor Hopkins who have been committed and engaged — for decades in some cases. And, you know, I think maintaining that institutional knowledge is really valuable, while also inviting talent."
 
Councilor Eric Buddington acknowledged he didn't like the existence of the Redevelopment Authority and thought institutional memory was important. 
 
"But I think we have lots of that. And a new perspective would be useful with the understanding that this is reaching the end of this charter," he said. "So I don't know. I don't expect a lot to change for the rest of the redevelopment authorities existence."
 
Hopkins did not participate in any of the discussion but Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, who also served with him on the Planning and Redevelopment boards, said there was a reason why the two boards shared members.
 
"The mayor at the time wanted some conformity with the two boards in order so that one part of the city wasn't being done one way, and another part of the city was being done in a different way," he said. "So it was intentionally set up for people on Planning also ended up on the redevelopment board."
 
The whole debate, Wilkinson said, was "an insult to Councilor Hopkins" and called the question. His motion failed and debated continued. 
 
Harpin reiterated that she had nothing against Hopkins, whom she considered a friend. 
 
"I addressed it because I represent the people of North Adams. And I want to have diverse people on boards that represent the city of North Adams," she said. "So this is not an insult. It's an insult to say that we can't discuss it."
 
Hopkins was reappointed 6-2 to a term to end in 2024 with Harpin and Buddington voting no; Hopkins abstained. 
 
Harpin also questioned the number of members of the board, which has rarely been more than three in recent years even though it has five seats. The Redevelopment Authority currently has four members — Hopkins, Michael Leary, Kyle Hanlon and David Bond. Bernard said the fifth member is appointed by the governor and he is working with Gov. Charlie Baker's office on an appointment. 
 
The council swiftly confirmed with no discussion the reappointment of Rachel Branch to the Housing Authority, also to a term to expire in 2024, with Wilkinson voting naye. Branch, however, said by email that she had not agreed to a five-year term.
 
"I agreed to an extension of my service until the end of the year or until another commissioner was appointed, whichever came first," she said, adding that she had informed the mayor's office of these conditions months ago and that her term had already ended on July 1.
 
"The mayor totally misrepresented what I agreed to do, and I do not accept this reappointment."
 
In other business, the council approved the transfer of $55,504.93 from the Parking Meter Reserve Account to purchase a police vehicle, a regular upgrading of the fleet.
 
This new 2020 Ford Utility Police Interceptor will be the city's first hybrid cruiser and the second hybrid in the municipal fleet. Last year, a Hyundai Ioniq Blue was purchased for use by inspection services. 
 
"Last year when we did this, there was a question and a suggestion that we pursue a hybrid vehicle," the mayor said. "They were relatively new on the market at that point. They've been in service for for a little while in a test capacity in Michigan, as well as with the California Highway Patrol, both agencies are highly satisfied. ... so it felt like this was the right moment to make that move."
 
The council also accepted a gift of two patrol bicycles valued at $1,190.60 from Greylock Federal Credit Union. Bernard thanked the credit union and School Committee member James Holmes who, as a teacher, and strengthened connections between the schoolchildren and police. Holmes was instrumental, he said, in securing the gift from Greylock. 
 
"It will be a great addition to our community policing," the mayor said. 
 
Updated on July 24, 2019, with final vote tally on Hopkins' reappiontment.
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