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North Adams City Council Candidate: Michael Hernandez
07:03AM / Saturday, November 02, 2013
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I am running for City Council because I am a father and a business owner. As such, I have deep concerns about the city I was born in, and the city my children call home. I believe there are several tough issues facing the citizens of North Adams: Crime, slowed economic growth, and a declining population to name a few.
 
Everyone says they want to be a voice for the people, but I believe first you must listen. I have been listening to the citizens of North Adams my entire life. Now, I want to share what's on the mind of my family, neighbors, and friends.
 
All members of our community, senior citizens, working families, and young people are entitled to an avenue to express their views, their concerns, and their ideas. I want to be that liaison. This is a small community, I know most of their names, and they know mine. They can call me, come sit with me, whatever they need to be encouraged to participate in making North Adams a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
 
As a real estate broker, I work with present and future home and business owners. I understand what makes a city attractive to both.
 
I have a lifetime of managerial and business experience. When I served on the community development board we operated a small business loan program that assisted our local businesses to grow. I served 16 years on the McCann School Committee. While on the school committee I served on the Budget, Facilities, curriculum and Collect Bargaining subcommittees. In that time, I watched the school grow in leaps and bounds. They now have a top notch Academic Curriculum and offer trade programs with leading technology. I'm proud to have been a part of that for 16 years. I have also been an active member of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
 
1) What do you consider the city's greatest asset?
Our greatest asset is the location. We have a small community nestled in the Berkshire Hills which offers a great place to raise a family. Our city's greatest asset is the location. We are nestled into the Berkshire Valley with beautiful surroundings.  
 
2) What do you consider the city's greatest challenge?
Developing a plan to overcome the challenges.  
 
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?
In order for the residential tax rate to remain close to its current value, we need to increase the commercial tax base. The city needs to turn the properties it owns over to the private sector. Windsor Mill should be sold as a whole or as commercial condominiums allowing its current tenants to own their space thus putting the property on the tax rolls. I believe there are other opportunities to build our tax base on the residential side by improving our neighborhoods.  
 
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?
A new public safety facility is crucial to the future of North Adams. The current facilities are antiquated. Certainly I believe the City should put a strong focus on this project.  
 
5) The North Adams transfer station has been operating without a permit for years and needs costly upgrades. Should the city fix it or close it?
The transfer station is a disaster. I have visited other transfer stations around the state, we could model ours based on other cities that have had success with their operations. Closing the facility is an option. The city could bid the residential trash pickup to private haulers. Other cities have had success with these scenarios. We need to look at the impact citywide that residential pickup will have on small local haulers. It certainly will affect some local business owners. The bidding process would be competitive.  
 
6) The design for the Conte renovation project is nearly complete. What do you think of the project? Should the city reconsider?
The city has entered into the Conte renovation. We need to follow the project through. The Massachusetts School Building Assistance program used to reimburse 87 percent of the costs of a school. The current program reimburses 80 percent of the cost to construct a new school. If the city waits on the Conte project it could set us back years reapplying and being approved for a new site and the reimbursement may be much less at a later date.  
 
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?
Whether the council should be more involved in the school is a tough question. If the city council made changes to the school budget it would create a redundant process to the School Committee. I do believe the Mayor should not be automatically appointed chairman of the school committee. The School Committee should be independently elected and allowed to perform their job.  
 
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?
The City Council should encourage the community development office to seek grant funds available to all homeowners to improve properties in need. The town of Adams has been very successful putting properties back on their tax rolls with these programs. North Adams should do the same. Some councilors have said the funds have dried up. In reality, they are available and the North Adams community development office has been working with the town of Adams. They can institute the same program for our residents.  
 
9) 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?
Operating as a Plan A form of government has not helped North Adams. This form of government limits the ability for city councilors to effectively represent the community. The council needs to act more aggressively to seek solutions that will promote change in our city. I have been a propionate of changing the form of government in North Adams. If elected I would pursue the General Committee to review and make recommendations to change the current processes. The Form A type of government often leads us in a circle that stagnates positive change.  
 
10) 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 believe it is appropriate to give the public a chance to speak at City Council meetings. Clear time limits should be in place. If a resident has a lengthy issue to discuss they should be invited to the appropriate subcommittee meeting to express their views.  
 
11) 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?
The council can help by supporting the new city planner and expanding their role to include marketing North Adams to small and mid-size businesses.  
 
12) Should the city create an economic development department, similar to Pittsfield and Adams?
The city has a capable economic development officer. We should expand his staff to better serve the community.  
 
13) 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?
The St. Francis' Church has been vacant for years. I agree with the ordinance allowing the Historic Commission to review the demolition of historic properties. The commission can easily approve or deny a demolition permit. They play a crucial role in evaluating the properties on our city and should continue to have a voice. Under the new ordinance a historic property can be demolished after period of time if a reuse has not been established. In my opinion the city of North Adams should not get involved in owning or renovating churches.  
 
14) 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 agree with the plan? Should the city actively help the current nonprofits in there - the local museum, theater company and television station - relocate?
I agree that The Western gateway Park should be sold to a developer. If the Greylock Market has the resources to create change to the park then we should welcome their investment. If their proposal is not viable then we should pursue another developer. As far as the nonprofits located at the park, the city should help them find space to relocate. Our community development and city planner are ideal offices to assist those organizations.  
 
15) Resident question: Do you think municipal employees salaries should be posted online like the state employees are? Why or why not?
In reference to publishing municipal employee salaries I think it is satisfactory to publish the line items in the City Budget. The city needs to make sure the budget is easily accessible to residents.  

 

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