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Bernard Wants Barrett Investigated; Barrett Denies Any Threats Made
06:13PM / Monday, November 15, 2021
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Mayor Thomas Bernard says the implied threat to his family crossed a line. He is calling for the House to investigate an angry phone call from state Rep. John Barrett III.


State Rep. John Barrett III in 2019 urging caution on the sale of the Mohawk Theater. Barrett says his call last week to Mayor Bernard was only to advise him to have the council vote on the proposal. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Thomas Bernard is asking that the House Committee on Ethics investigate what he said was a threatening phone call from state Rep. John Barrett III last week. 
 
Barrett on Monday denied any implied threats of any kind. The conversation wasn't heated, he said, and he was offering advice on the process for approving the Mohawk Theater deal. 
 
"That wasn't a threat. It was not a heated exchange at all. It was one in which I was trying to say, 'Don't do this on the theater. It's not good.' That was the entire tone of the conversation," he said. 
 
In an email thread sent to Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano, Barrett, state officials, and the members of the press on Monday, Bernard wrote that Barrett had called him on Nov. 9 about his decision on the theater 
 
"I perceived your statement that my presenting an update and strategy regarding the disposition of the Mohawk Theater to the North Adams City Council on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, would be 'bad' for my livelihood, professional standing, and family as an unmistakable, if nonspecific, threat on your part toward me," he wrote Barrett on Nov. 10. 
 
Bernard said on Monday night that "it was the use of or the implied threats to my family that put me in a position where I felt this needed to be addressed publicly."
 
He said he tried to call the representative back on Nov. 9 to clarify their conversation, then texted him with no response. They met briefly at Thursday's Veterans Day ceremony but did not speak, said the mayor. 
 
Barrett said Bernard had come up to him at the American Legion on Veterans Day and said, "'Representative Barrett, thank you for the call the other day. I appreciate it.' And he shakes my hand and walks away."
 
The representative said the conversation on Nov. 9 related only to how Bernard was presenting the proposed sale of the theater to the City Council that night. 
 
"I said, 'The council has to approve it, right?' He said, 'No, I don't need to get the council's approval.' I asked him if the inspector general had approved that," Barrett said. I said to him, 'I would do that.' He said, 'You do what you have to do, and I'll do what I have to do.' 
 
"I said, 'Tom, I want to talk to you as a friend. Your behavior over the past few weeks has been ...' I might have used the word, 'erratic.' I said, 'That's not good. I said that could hurt you professionally and, in turn, could hurt your family.'"
 
On Wednesday, Bernard spoke on the phone with the speaker and then formally requested the investigation by email. He also asked that Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago be notified, as Barrett is a trustee of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 
 
He contextualized the alleged threatening nature of the call by referring to an incident in 2008, when former Gov. Mitt Romney's aide Eric Fehrnstrom accused Barrett of shoving him after an appearance on a news show, and Barrett's own admission at a public event this July of his hard-headed badgering of the governor to release Greylock Glen funding and how if had been the recipient, he would have hung up the phone. 
 
"For the benefit of the parties copied here I offer the following examples to support this perception and my believe that I did not misunderstand, nor am I overreacting to, your statements on the telephone during the aforementioned November 9, 2021, telephonic contretemps call between us," he wrote to Barrett.
 
Barrett said the governor's remarks at the glen were in humor (Gov. Charlie Baker's comments were seen by others as joking) and that Fehrnstrom had been forced to apologize. 
 
"Fehrnstrom was Romney's guy. He had to write a letter of apology [to Barrett] that I keep on my wall. That has nothing to do with anything," Barrett said.  
 
The crux of the phone call was Bernard's decision to accept the sole bid for reuse of the Mohawk Theater, a landmark on Main Street primarily for its nearly century-old marquee. The moviehouse closed in 1991 after a short-lived attempt to use it as a performance venue and was gutted after the city took it over in 1996. 
 
"I appreciate your interest regarding the property, and your stated intention to challenge the city's proposed approach to the Office of the Inspector General, copied here," Bernard wrote Barrett in the first email. 
 
There have been a number of proposals and studies done over the years to renovate the building, and some work to stabilize the structure, but it's mostly sat vacant for 30 years. Two years ago, the City Council agreed to declare it surplus property. The first round of bids earlier this year did attracted two bids, neither of which were recommended. 
 
The second request for proposals resulted in one bid from the owner of the Dowlin Block that abuts the theater. The owner plans to revamp the empty Main Street apartment house into a hotel and use the theater space for a variety of events.
 
Barrett, mayor of North Adams for 26 years before his defeat in 2009, had argued against giving Bernard authorization to negotiate a sale back in 2019, saying there had been "a clear plan" for the defunct moviehouse when he left office in 2010 and that a great deal of money had been spent on the building. He had encouraged the council to send the matter to committee, which it did, and to put restrictions on any sale. 
 
The City Council requested a deed restriction on the marquee to maintain it but had decided against requiring the mayor to bring any bids back before it. That had been based on the assumption the property would sell below value, requiring council approval. However, the city solicitor determined council approval was not necessary and Bernard simply informed the council on Nov. 9 on what was happening. This is what perturbed Barrett as well as some councilors. 
 
Bernard's completing his second term and will be replaced by a new mayor. On Monday, during a public interview for the position of interim town manager in Williamstown, he alluded to his difficult relationship with his predecessor. 
 
"It was a barrier in my work in North Adams," he told the Williamstown Select Board. "I do not have a strong relationship with our current representative for the First Berkshire District. And that has been something that has been a challenge and a problem and it has hampered progress in North Adams."
 
He sent forwarded the emails out shortly afterward. 
 
Barrett said he's worked for the city of North Adams as state representative, bringing in millions. 
 
"I saved well over $2.5 million for the city of North Adams since his tenure as mayor that were denied," Barrett said. "I went to officials in the administration and asked for them to be funded. To make statements such as that is really out of line, and that is unprofessional."
 
Bernard said he understood that Barrett had some proprietary interest in the fate of the theater since had been in office when it was taken on and it was under his control for many years. 
 
"I'm not going to comment on past interactions with me. I'm going to say in this particular instance, in this conversation, a line was crossed," Bernard said on Monday night. "For me, it was deeply concerning. And again, I've been very careful before making this a public issue, to interrogate my own motives and to make sure that my head and my heart and my eyes are clear in this and that I'm not looking for, you know, not making a response based on overreaction or misunderstanding."

 

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