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North Adams Council Candidates: Benjamin Lamb
06:55PM / Tuesday, October 29, 2013
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Graduated from MCLA with degrees in environmental studies and biology in 2007 and holds a master's in education from the College of St. Rose, works at Williams College as Assistant Director for Student Involvement.

1) What do you consider the city's greatest asset?
The community; the people that make this place the home it is.

2) What do you consider the city's greatest challenge?
Crime; which I think is a broad area that needs to be tackled from a number of different angles in both proactive and reactive/enforcement ways.

3) How do you perceive the taxation question: Do you think they are too high/too low/just right? If the city has a spending problem, what should it cut? Should the commercial rate ($32.95, second highest after Pittsfield) be raised again?
I still feel that North Adams is an affordable place, so somewhere between high and just right, but we need to critically analyze how our taxes are being spent, and how to increase our tax base. I don't think entire programs should be cut, but we will need to see where we can tighten the belt, or where we can find alternative funding options. I don't think the commercial rate can really be raised again, unless there is some other draw provided to our commercial industry, as the high tax rate is likely a big reason for why businesses are hesitant to come here and stay here for the long-term.

4) There are a number capital needs on the horizon, not least a new fire station and police station. How should the city address these needs? Should it forge ahead or wait until better economic times? If it waits, how can it manage in the interim?
We need to do the research, and start planning out our finances for the long term. We can't wait for everything to fail, and we can't just live with scraping by. We need to fully analyze what is needed, set priorities as a city, and act in accordance so that we can maintain financial resiliency in both good economic times and bad.

5) The North Adams landfill has been operating without a permit for years and needs costly upgrades. Should the city fix it or close it?
We need to see what the costs and alternatives are. If we close it, what does that do to city finances? if we fix it, how does that impact the community both positively and negatively? We need to weigh our options, get opinions from the public, and find a compromise that is both fiscally responsible, and provides the best service possible to the city.

6) Education: The design for the Conte renovation project is nearly complete. What do you think of the project? Should the city reconsider?
I am a huge proponent for education. While in the short term the number looks big, in the long-term, having a fully renovated building will only benefit our educators and students. Research shows that teachers do their job better in new facilities, and that students subsequently learn better. While people worry about the word "contingency plan" as those are being discussed, that is how large projects are done. You need to have contingencies so you aren't caught off guard with no backup plan. I'm personally excited to have a fully renovated facility for when I have children going to school here.

7) City council candidates often talk about improving the school system but the council has no control over the schools other than voting on the budget. Should the council be more involved? How?
I think the council should be there as a sounding board for the citizens who don't necessarily go to school board meetings. Since the mayor is on the board, it's our job to make sure concerns are being brought to their attention constructively. It makes sense for a liaison type situation to exist, but I think you create specific boards for the explicit reason that people can focus on their area of expertise. If you stretch the nine people on the council too much, eventually the work being done will become unsustainable, and the product may suffer.

8) Housing: As a councilor, what measures would you support to prevent or remediate blight? Some residents feel there is too much low-income housing that is making the problem worse. If so, how could the council address that?
As a councilor I'd support a full assessment, on the ground, of our building stock. From there we can determine percentages of high, mid, and low income housing that exists. We should also be researching what the optimal blend for a community is and set that optimum as our goal. To decrease the blight, we need to communicate with the owners of those properties the expectations on those areas, give deadlines and time frames, and then to correct the issue we need to follow protocol and ensure that unsafe and unfit conditions are remedied, rehabbed or removed.   

9) Public Safety: The city has suffered through a number of high-profile crimes this summer. What can be done to make the city safer? Would you support spending more to hire more officers? Are there other ways to make it safer without spending?
Crime needs to be confronted from multiple angles. The biggest thing we need to do is to increase the positive aspects of the city, to force out the negative. This means increasing good paying jobs, making sure we are educating our children better and better each year, and building a positive and enthusiastic brand for North Adams. On the law enforcement front, we should be aiming for optimal police presence, which according to a UN study is 1 officer per every 500 residents. We'll need to figure out the finances to support any increase in our police force, but it is something we can look at critically and plan for. Finally, we need to build community support and engagement in keeping their home and city safe. We can't simply rely on a force of 24 officers or a council of nine to fix all the crime, citizens need to be engaged. Get to know your neighbors, form a neighborhood crime watch, report issues when you see them. We as a council need to model these behaviors and support initiatives to tackle crime that are tradition and innovative. What we can't do, is just spend more money, because we don't have more money to spend at present.

10) Resident question: Would the councilors be willing to help organize public meetings with police or other city employees to discuss municipal issues?

11) City Council: The city has a "Plan A" government with a strong mayor and limited council. How do you see the role of the council in the city's government? Should it be more proactive or more questioning of the mayor? Or should it focus on more of an advisory role as the voice of constituents? Can it be both? Or should the city's government be changed?
The council is the legislative body, representatives of the city's population, community face of the city government, and the group that should work to inspire citizens to engage in their city to make it what they want it to be. Additionally, we are in a position to make concerns heard, and to regularly emphasize those concerns when they may not be apparent to the mayor otherwise. The council should absolutely be proactive in asking questions of the mayor, and of the other councilors, while still being the voice of the people. It can absolutely be both! I think for now, we have a working model, but if for some reason it were to be determined that a different model would better suit the city, then we should certainly work to implement the best model possible.

12) The council instituted limited speech from citizens as a way to prevent disruptions. Do you agree with the rules or should they be revisited? If the council allows more speech, how can it prevent disruptive behavior?
I think there needs to be structure in meetings as it is a business meeting. At the same time, I think citizens need to have an opportunity to ask questions and to provide such, it would be important to make councilors as accessible as possible (within reasonable expectations of a volunteer council) so that concerns could be brought up in the appropriate forums when necessary. If council allows more speech, we would need to determine very clear guidelines and time limits, and absolutely hold people to those. Additionally, to make sure that people are prepared to speak quickly and concisely the agenda and related materials should be made as readily accessible as possible as early as possible.

13) Business: How can the council help to attract and retain businesses? Should it allow or limit the number tax-increment financing (letting businesses phase in property taxes) agreements? What realistically do you think the council can do in terms of ordinances and other measures?
We need to look critically at how we tax industry to see if there is any way to attract innovative new industry that could live, thrive and grow here (which may mean letting businesses phase in over time). We also need to effectively share our brand as a city, and make that an attractive draw. We need to make sure our education system is strong since its a key factor when people look to relocate. Generally, we need to make the city fiscally resilient by diversifying our financial base and industry types. When you have a diverse, strong industrial base, with a larger number of businesses paying into the pot via taxes, it means you can decrease the tax rates and still be financially stable as a city. As a council, we can do the research, ask the question, continually outreach into the community, support strengthening our education system, law enforcement, and tackling the drug issues, while building bridges and networks that will enhance opportunities and make us increasingly attractive.

14) Should the city create an economic development department, similar to Pittsfield and Adams?
I think it is something to investigate, but I also think we should work with pre-existing frameworks and groups like the chamber of commerce and tourism boards to bring in industry.

15) A national drugstore chain has shown interest in the former St. Francis Church. The council passed an ordinance that would delay any demolition of older buildings until plans could be reviewed. Do you agree with that? Or should the city allow historic buildings to be demolished after a certain time? Should the city attempt to save St. Francis for other uses?

We are a city with a historical building stock that is something that makes us a unique little New England city and is something that makes us such a great place for our blossoming arts community. I think we need to think long and hard about demolishing any building to put in a generic box of a building, and look at creative options that can both protect things that make this place what it is, but allow for economic and industrial growth. I would be more apt to say that historic buildings can be rehabbed or repurposed for commercial purposes, and possible have them look at historic building rehab grants to subsidize the need of preservation while repurposing.

16) The Redevelopment Authority is considering a long-term lease with private developers to turn Western Gateway Heritage State Park into "Greylock Market," an artisan studios and residences. Do you agree with the plan?  Should the city actively help the current nonprofits in there - the local museum, theater company and television station - relocate?
I think Greylock Market will bring huge opportunities for growth here. It expands the already successful brand of MoCA, and actually makes people going between the two locations look down main street. The corridor it will create will not only help to bring in new visitors and businesses, but will also help to attract those visitors to the other areas of the city. More money will be coming in to the economy, more people will see this place, and our tax base will increase, all of which offer positive change for the city. At the same time, we should make sure that we are supporting those who would have to relocate, by either helping them find new locations, or including in the final agreements, assistance capital/support that will provide those non-profits the resources they need to continue to exist in the city.

17) Resident question: Do you think municipal employees salaries should be posted online like the state employees are? Why or why not?
I am a fan of transparency, and think people should know what they are paying for with their taxes, but at the same time it's difficult because not everyone will necessarily understand everything that goes into the roles that they see the salaries for. It's easy to complain that someone is getting paid too much for a given position if you don't know what they do and thus don't appreciate what the person is doing to earn that salary, so yes, I think they should be posted, but I think each position should also be linked to the actual job description and expectations to make that information more accessible in like fashion.


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