Mayor Jennifer Macksey attendees following her inauguration held at Drury High School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Teamwork and inclusivity were the themes of the new mayor and City Council sworn in on Saturday.
Jennifer Macksey, after taking the oath as 33rd mayor and the first woman to hold the office in the city's 126-year history, reiterated her commitment to an open and transparent government that will take into account the needs and desires of the community during her two-year term.
"The journey will be an inclusive process as we work toward our goal of making North Adams the best it can be," she said in her inaugural speech. "If I am to be successful, I understand that I also need the commitment on the part of the citizens, employees, businesses and of course, my partners in government, the City Council. My administration's biggest challenge will be to regain the confidence of the citizens in believing that the government can and will work in their best interests."
The biennial organization of government took place in the auditorium at Drury High School on Saturday morning with attendees spaced out because of the pandemic. In addition to Macksey taking office as the first woman mayor, Councilor Lisa Blackmer, entering her seventh term, was elected president and Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz as vice president.
The new council includes its first person of color in Michael Obasohan and its first transgender individuals in Ashley Shade. Also sworn in on the stage at Drury were Councilors Jennifer Barbeau, Keith Bona, Marie T. Harpin, Bryan Sapienza, Peter Oleskiewicz and Wayne Wilkinson; School Committee members Richard Alcombright, Emily Daunis, David Sookey and Joshua Vallieres; and McCann School Committee members Diane Parsons and Gary Rivers.
Macksey's cousin Mary Ann Caproni sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Sister Eunice Tassone and the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church gave the convocation and benediction, respectively.
The historic inauguration was attended by the past three mayors: Thomas Bernard, stepping down after two terms, Alcombright and now state Rep. John Barrett III, under whom Macksey was the city's chief financial officer.
Macksey was escorted into the auditorium by Harpin and Shade and an honor guard of police and fire officials, giving Bernard a fist bump as she came down the aisle. The conclusion of her oath, administered by City Clerk Cathleen King, was met with resounding applause and cheers throughout the auditorium.
The new mayor laid out an ambitious program over the next two years, touching on crime, education, broadband, blight and economic drivers.
"I have a lot of priorities," she acknowledged.
Macksey said she will submit a capital outlay program with this coming year's budget to address infrastructure and building needs and that she would work with the council to break ground on a new public safety complex within the next two years.
Her stand on crime generated loud applause as she pledged that police officers will be out patrolling and that drug traffickers will be put on notice.
"Crime and drugs are issues that will be addressed head on, especially in areas where known drug dealers are preying upon our citizens," she said. "I will have a no-tolerance policy for drug crime in our city. I understand that it can't be eliminated completely. But we will make it difficult for dealers to sell drugs here in North Adams."
She vowed to fight blight, from littering to junk cars to deteriorating buildings.
"I want to make it clear that the days of landlords neglecting their properties are over," Macksey said to applause. "The city will be reinstating the code enforcement officer and will ensure properties are inspected on a regular basis — ensuring that we have adequate and safe housing. ...
"I'm committed to rebuilding our neighborhoods, even if it's one street at a time."
As the new chairman of the School Committee, she commended the work down so far and said she would continue to promote a safe and inclusive learning environment. "Great strides have already been made within the educational system. The work is never done."
She also spoke to the need to address deficiencies at the library, the sorry state of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, and decaying infrastructure of streets, sidewalks and water and sewer systems.
"Beautifying our downtown also has to be a top priority. First impressions are lasting impressions," she said, adding that Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Massachusetts College of Liberal Art will play important roles. "All of this calls for a marketing plan from us — the residents and business owners, private investors and beyond. We will restore our downtown and the economy of North Adams so that it shines like a polished gem."
City Councilors Lisa Blackmer and Peter Oleskiewicz take the oath as councilors and were later sworn in president and vice president, respectively.
But her plans appear to put the kibosh on the proposed sale of the Mohawk Theater. The City Council had postponed deliberation on the sale to the owner of the adjoining Dowlin Block until January, giving the new mayor a chance to weigh in.
In her inaugural, Macksey seemed committed to prior plans to turn the vacant moviehouse into a performing arts theater, an idea that's been promoted since the theater stopped showing movies in the late 1980s.
"I've spoken in depth about my vision for the Mohawk Theater, and this will be the catalyst in regenerating and rejuvenating the downtown," she said. "I served in city government when the plan was first put forth to renovate this majestic Art Deco theater. Now it is our turn to save this historic complex information for the next generation. This building is part of our past and it will certainly be part of our future."
Macksey said the challenges are vast and many are interrelated.
"We have many challenges ahead of us, but with challenges brings us great opportunities," she said, adding, "to my partners here at the city government. The tasks before us are not easy. but working together we'll get things done with our motto being everything we do will be in the best interests of the city and its people. We may not always agree but let us always try to find common ground."
Blackmer, in her address, welcomed the fresh faces and ideas and a more diverse council.
"I look forward to working with the mayor, councilors and staff to serve the needs of our residents. I expect we will be thoughtful and respectful in our deliberations. We will not agree on everything, but we must work and compromise toward the best solutions. We can and should disagree at times, but do so without being disagreeable," she said.
The council president noted the challenges she'd highlighted in her 2014 address that included shrinking budgets, stagnant tax bases and the seemingly never-ending Hadley Overpass project. She credited the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on focusing on the needs of towns and cities through programs like the Community Compact.
"We have expanded our tax base with local and out of town investments rehabbing some of our older buildings. But, we still need state and federal funds to address our infrastructure needs including a new public safety building and improvements to our sewer and water systems," Blackmer said. "As we look to the 2022 term, we will have to stay vigilant in our response to the continuing threat that COVID still presents. But in the good news column, we will have a revamped and energized Youth Commission and a newly created Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Commission to guide our efforts in respecting and responding to all in our community. I would like to see the city divest itself of much of our surplus city-owned properties, spurring economic development and increasing our tax base without burdening our homeowners."
The public safety building, along with a capital improvement plan, are critical, Blackmer said. "We as a council must work collaboratively and cooperatively with each other, city staff, and our mayor to bring these to fruition."
King, who called the meeting to order, told the councilors and new mayor that they had been elected with votes of confidence in their words and abilities.
"You've earned the unique ability to lead by example, you will be granted the unique ability to collaborate and compromise through discussion and teamwork," she said. "It will behoove you to set aside personal sentiments in order to act in the best interest of the needs growth and development of the city. ...
"It does not mean you need to think alike, but it does mean to arrive at decisions without personally undermining those who work beside you."
Calling back to comments on teamwork by baseball great Babe Ruth, she said, "this club is worthy of your finest efforts individually and collectively. We are looking forward to the stability and the unity of your leadership. a team is only as strong as its weakest link. But I know that each of you is a solid and strongly, and that North that is will enjoy a positive trajectory as you step into your roles. God bless each of you."
Mayor Jennifer Macksey's inaugural speech as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Sister Eunice for your words on this most important day.
I thank all of you for being here today. I am proud, honored, and humbled to be your next mayor and the first female mayor of the City of North Adams. Before I begin my formal remarks I would like to acknowledge all of my family who are here today -s without their love and support I would not be standing here. I want to give a special thank you to my mother, Teresa, who wants me to stop telling everyone she is 90 years old; to my sister, Libby, who wants me to tell everyone she is the 'First Sister.' Lib — you are not only the first sister but the best sister; and my partner, Jose, who just wants to fly under the radar, but please know no matter how busy my days get, you will always be on my radar screen. Most importantly I thank you, the residents of North Adams, for believing in me and electing me as your Mayor.
Today, I begin a journey that will be the most challenging while at the same time I am hoping it will be the most rewarding part of my career. The journey will be an inclusive process as WE work toward our goal of making North Adams the best it can be. If I am to be successful, I understand that I also need the commitment on the part of the citizens, employees, businesses and of course, my partners in government, the City Council. My administration’s biggest challenge will be to regain the confidence of the citizens in believing that the government can and will work in their best interests. I have always believed that the government should be here to help people and not complicate their lives. My commitment to the residents of North Adams is that you will have an open and accessible city government. Residents should expect their government to be efficient, inclusive and well managed; when we spend money we spend it like it is our own. A mayor cannot have knowledge of what is going on in the community if they spend all their time in their office. I will be a hands-on mayor — I will be out in our schools, in our neighborhoods, visiting businesses and city departments — always representing this community in the most respectful and honorable manner.
There are many challenges that North Adams will be facing in the next several years. Challenges which can no longer be delayed. The days of kicking the can down the road are over. North Adams has been talking about the need for a new Public Safety complex for years and it is time to stop talking and take action. Taking on this project when inflation is at its highest will be a challenge but we can no longer wait. My goal is to break ground on a new public safety facility in the next two years. Working in conjunction with the City Council we must find a way to finance this project without placing an unfair tax burden on the taxpayers.
In addition to a new public safety building the city must also address its decaying infrastructure — deteriorating streets and sidewalks, and our aging underground water and sewer system as well as our failing flood control chutes. And we can't forget our beautiful historical Library building that needs immediate attention. I plan on submitting to the City Council a capital outlay program with this year's budget which will institute a plan to address these infrastructure and building needs.
Throughout my campaign, I talked about quality of life which starts first with safety. Our citizens, young and old, will be safe in North Adams. Police officers will be out patrolling so you know them in good times and bad. Crimes and drugs are issues that will be addressed head on, especially in areas where known drug dealers are preying upon our citizens. As I will have a no tolerance policy on drugs and crime in our City - I understand it cannot be completely eliminated but we will make it really difficult for dealers to sell drugs here in North Adams. And at the same time I will not forget those who are suffering from addiction - we all have been affected in some way and we as a community need to help those who are struggling. I look forward to working with the District Attorney in addressing these most serious problems. Public Safety in North Adams will be a priority.
The strength of any community lies in its neighborhoods. Many of our neighborhood properties have fallen into disrepair. I commit to the citizens of this community that my administration will work to rebuild our neighborhoods, eliminating litter, blight and abandoned cars. I want to make it clear that the days of landlords neglecting their properties are over. The City will be reinstating the Code Enforcement Officer and will ensure properties are inspected on a regular basis - ensuring that we have adequate and safe housing. We will seek out grant programs to help property owners improve their properties to boost our housing stock. We will work with people who are struggling financially to pay their taxes or water/sewer bills. I am committed to rebuilding neighborhoods even if it is one street at a time!
I will work tirelessly to revitalize our downtown and overall health of our economy, which includes streets beyond just Main Street.
I have spoken in depth about my vision of making the Mohawk Theater the catalyst to rejuvenating the downtown. I served in city government when the plan was first put forth to renovate this majestic art deco theater. Now it is our turn to save this historic complex and make it our gift to the next generation. This building is part of our past and it will be part of our future.
Has anyone visited Heritage park in the past couple of years? This once beautiful historic park has become an embarrassment to our city. The deteriorating buildings and unkempt grounds along with graffiti all over the buildings and trains has become an eye sore after the state put nearly $10 million into the restoration of this historic railroad yard. Adding insult to injury the so called experts took a beautiful grassed park and turned it into a cement ghost town. The city saved it years ago and we will save it again and work to market it to be an attractive component of our City.
Beautifying our downtown will also be a top priority. First impressions are lasting impressions. We need to focus on bringing people to North Adams not only for performances, shopping, dining but hopefully to live as well. Mass MoCA and MCLA will play an important part of the plan, too. All of this calls for a marketing plan and collaboration with our current merchants, residents and private investors and beyond. We will restore our downtown and the economy of North Adams so it will shine like a polished gem. It is time to put words into action plans and see results.
The economy of North Adams and the Northern Berkshire area must be a priority. An important element in expanding our economy is to have a decent broadband network. As your Mayor and the issuing authority, Spectrum will know that North Adams has a strong Mayor that will stand up for its people. I will ask other communities to join me and I will undertake a feasibility study that will explore our ability to create our own municipal broadband service.
Education has always been near and dear to me. I am a proud product of the North Adams Public Schools system, graduating from this very high school in 1991. I understand the importance of a good education. I am committed to providing the children of North Adams with the best educational experience possible. Great strides have been already made in improving the City's education system but the work is never done. The children of this community are our future. I look forward to working with our school committees and challenge each of us to focus on setting policies to promote a safe and inclusive learning environment with a broad based curriculum that allows students to be the best they can be. That includes ensuring that our school staff is armed with the best resources that are available and that every possible dollar goes into the classroom. It also calls for continued support of early education programs and expansion of after school programs for all students. I will also ensure parents of this community that programs like band, art, and theater will be part of our educational programming too!
While we focus on education, we can't forget that our children need time to play. We have some of the best recreation facilities in North Adams and under my administration they will be well maintained and accessible to the youth. Kids need to not only learn in the classroom but they need to learn on the basketball courts and on the fields. I will be sure our kids are safe on the playgrounds, on the basketball court, on the fields — free of litter, hypodermic needles, and drug dealers! The youth of this community are our number one asset. We WILL invest in them wisely.
As you sit here today, know that there is not one priority and that the challenges of this community are vast. But know that they are all interrelated and one is just as important as the other. We have many challenges ahead of us but with challenges brings opportunities. I have faced challenges in every position I have held and always turned them into opportunities. As my grandmother would say, when you are handed lemons turn them into lemonade.
To my partners in government, the City Council, the tasks before us will not be easy but by working together we will get things done with our motto being that everything we do will be in the best interests of North Adams and its citizens. We may not always agree but let us always try to find a common ground. President Roosevelt once said, "the future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in good government than in politics." I am confident that we will give the citizens of North Adams the good government they deserve.
City government is special. We are at the level closest to the people, so we must do the big and the small, the beautiful and the not so glamorous tasks. Every business, every street light, every street scape, every pothole, every fire hydrant, every classroom and most importantly every person, lays the foundation for the greater good of this community. It is absolutely necessary in this moment for North Adams to deliver basic city services and generational change. We will tackle our biggest challenges by getting the small things right out of the gate, by getting City Hall out of City Hall and into our neighborhoods, street by street and business by business.
In 1995, Maya Angelou spoke at my college graduation and told us to "do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." I will be the mayor that works for a better North Adams everyday. I will be the mayor who sees the complete picture, a picture on how today's decisions affect the future of this community in years to come. I make this promise to you that I will work everyday in the best interest of the city and I will not sell this city short.
I will be a mayor that represents ALL the people of this great city, i will be a mayor that not only listens but sees you and hears you. I will not just talk about transparency and accountability, I will practice it. I will be fair, yet firm when needed. I will ask no more of my staff, then I will give.
In a nutshell, when it comes to leadership, the mayor must be the hub of the wheel — the center to keep things going and I will be the mayor that keeps us moving forward.
As we talk about the future of North Adams and my leadership style, I think it is important that you understand what drives me to be me — who has been the hub of my wheel. As most of you know, my dad died when I was 12. I had a great childhood with piano lessons, ballot classes, and the best ponies my dad and Bud Hayden could find. My mom was a stay at home mom and in a matter of days, she had to find a job, learn to drive, and raise a 12-year-old child who didn't understand at the time what a budget was and why I couldn't keep my pony. Quickly my white picket fence life changed. My mom instilled in me not to look at the glass half empty but half full; to care about people as you don't know what bagage they are carrying; and to invest in yourself — work hard because no one is going to do it for you. My mom was or is my hub and as I enter this office I will never forget these values.
I tell you this because I know that the job ahead is not an easy task. I know that I have many hurdles to overcome but with inherited strength and wisdom I obtained from my mom early in life and now with the support of you, the people of this fine community, the job will be a bit easier. I believe in North Adams and its future — and I am honored that you believe in me. Thank you North Adams for giving me the privilege to serve as your next Mayor and as my father would say in true Irish fashion, I will never forget whence I came.
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