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North Adams City Council Candidate: Lisa Blackmer
07:45AM / Saturday, November 02, 2013
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I am asking for your vote in my run for re-election to the North Adams City Council. I am married to William "Bill" Blackmer, have two grown stepchildren, Jennifer and Bill, and one very little granddaughter, Lena. When I first ran in 2007, there were no open seats. All of the incumbents were running for re-election. I decided that I wanted to serve the City by being on the Council and jumped in. I worked hard to get elected and that work paid off, both for me and for the residents of the City when I was elected. 
 
During my time on the Council, I have served as the vice president and chair of the Public Safety and Community Development committees. I currently sit on the Finance Committee and previously worked on the General Government committee. Since being elected, I have participated in most of the meetings of Council committees. My Finance Committee work has included budget oversight and policy review. As chair of the Public Safety committee, some of the issues we addressed are the role of the commissioner of public safety, diagonal parking and mediating between the Traffic Commission and the Commission on Disabilities regarding parking in the downtown. I was appointed to the search committee for a new commissioner of public safety. Additional work I have done includes evaluating and researching ordinances, looking at the event planning process for the city and more.
 
My work on the Council has expanded to the state level, where I am a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Association policy committee on Regional and Municipal Administration. This committee addresses issues such as veterans affairs, planning and zoning, housing authorities, the medical marijuana regulations, unfunded mandates, and public safety to name a few. We advocate to the Legislature and administration on behalf of cities and towns. There are few issues that come before the MMA that do not impact North Adams in one way or another. Examples include the charter school funding mechanism, the Special Education Circuit Breaker, and water infrastructure funding. I have testified at the monthly meetings in Boston of the Local Government Advisory Committee with the Patrick administration about releasing the remaining funds in the Transportation Bond Bill. If the governor had released the funds (and in a timely manner), road work would have been started on Franklin Street this past summer. I was approached last year to run for the seat on the Massachusetts Councilors Association, representing the cities of Western Massachusetts and was elected this past January. 
 
I was born in Pittsfield and grew up in Williamsburg, a small town in Hampshire County. We moved to North Adams 27 years ago and raised our family. We became sports boosters and band parents, sold Girl Scout cookies, candy bars, and fruit - anything that Drury band leader Carl Jenkins could come up with. I served on the first School Council when the state education reform was enacted in 1993.
 
After my children graduated from high school, I became involved in other activities to give back to the community. I served on the boards of the Berkshire Food Project and the former Downtown Development Inc.'s Mohawk Theater project. I was a founding member of the Northern Berkshire Food Festival committee and serve on the Open Studios committee. In May 2001, I had the privilege of representing Rotary International as team member of a Group Study Exchange program to Belgium and Luxembourg, a four-week vocational and cultural exchange for young professionals. This gave me the opportunity to examine and discuss the issues of health care, education, energy and cultural resources at the international level. Currently, I serve on the Boards of the Alumni Association of MCLA, the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Mass., and the North Adams SteepleCats.
 
I have a bachelor of science degree in business administration from MCLA with a concentration in management and economics/finance and a certificate in nonprofit management from BCC. My private sector work includes management, human resources, event planning, state and federal compliance, accounting, finance, budgeting, tourism and hospitality. As an MCLA graduate, Alumni Board member, and assistant downtown manager, I understand and appreciate the role the college plays in the community. I would like to continue the partnerships between the city, college, and private sector. The Greylock Market will combine public and private efforts to better integrate Mass MoCA, the downtown, and other stakeholders. Many of the new candidates will bring fresh ideas, energy and a collaborative attitude to the Council. 
 
I look forward to using my skills to work with the new Council members to continue to move our city forward. I use my experience and education to research issues that come before the Council to make the best decisions possible. I listen to residents and industry professionals when evaluating matters on the agenda and working toward a compromise when necessary. I am enthusiastic about the city and promote it wherever I go. I continue every day to work on your behalf to make this a great place to live and work. It truly is a labor of love. I have the experience, education and enthusiasm to serve the residents of North Adams. I ask you for your vote on Nov. 5 so I can continue to address the challenges we face and to celebrate our successes.
 
1) What do you consider the city's greatest asset? 
The passion and commitment of its residents to move the city forward.
 
2) What do you consider the city's greatest challenge?
Finances: We need to grow the tax base so that we have a bigger pie, but everyone's piece would be smaller
 
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 think the taxes are relatively low. I do not think we should raise the commercial rate back up. Again, we need to grow the tax base.
 
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?
I think we should have a long-term capital budget. Every year we should allocate a certain percentage for capital expenditures, and a plan of where those funds will be spent. We currently have borrowing that will come off the books in future years. We should add those funds to the capital budget.
 
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?
I do not believe in closing the transfer station and requiring residents to have trash picked up by a private entity. 
 
6) Education: The design for the Conte renovation project is nearly complete. What do you think of the project? Should the city reconsider?
I believe the work has been done. I do not think the City should reconsider. Any needed adjustments can be made as the project proceeds.
 
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 could be involved in looking for best practices, alternative programs, and encouraging conversations about ways to change. Other than approving the budget we have no statutory role.
 
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?
I think that we have to be proactive to remediate blight as quickly as possible, working with the owners when trouble is first identified. In the past Community Development Block Grant funds have been used to address these issues with low-interest loans for homeowners. Some even have a forgiveness provision. Attracting people to the city who would have the time and money to invest in their property would help raise the tax base and improve the housing stock.
 
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?
I have said that our staffing levels are too low for the police department, and this was before we had the summer increase in incidents. Would more officers have prevented these incidents? I don't think they would have prevented the violent crimes, but our officers spend their time being reactive and not proactive. They respond to calls, they have little time to drive around the neighborhoods. Also, many criminals have police scanners are very aware of the goings on in the Department and where resources are deployed. They go the other way. More officers would provide an unknown element to the patrol function and increase the risk to the criminal of being caught, discouraging at least some of them.
 
10) Resident question: Would the councilors be willing to help organize public meetings with police or other city employees to discuss municipal issues?
I think this has been done at committee meetings, i.e. Public Safety, Public Services, and Finance.
 
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?
I don't necessarily think we should change the Plan A. I do think the Council should question agenda items that come before us. I would like to see us be proactive, which can be done through the committees. I think we should be advisory also. We also have the power of the purse - if we don't like something, we can chose not to fund it.
 
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 time limits are helpful, both on the topic and agenda item.  
 
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?
One of the things businesses look for is a welcoming and stable political arena. I think we can provide some of that. I think we have worked to streamline the permitting process. TIFs should be used for businesses that are paying full-time workers a living wage and providing appropriate benefits. I don't think we should be giving TIFs to businesses that have billionaire owners and overcompensated CEOs while their employees already qualify for state and federal benefit programs. Most of the businesses that receive TIFs get the tax phase-in on improvements to the property, not the taxes they are already paying. Yes, there have been some well-thought out exceptions to that. 
 
14) Should the city create an economic development department, similar to Pittsfield and Adams?
We already do. The city has the Office of Community Development. Pittsfield and Adams each have a Community Development Department but they all play the same role. They apply for and administer the Community Development Block Grants, work with businesses and the boards, and work on planning issues for the city or town. Pittsfield has a larger department and more staff, but they are a larger city and the county seat. I think our department should be expanded and have a proactive approach to economic development, business retention and business recruitment. Historically, the recruitment of business has been handled by one person in the city. 
 
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?
I think review of plans involving historical properties is a good idea. I think the city should support efforts to save the building and be willing to meet with and advise private groups/investors who may have other ideas for the space.
 
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 agree with the plan? Should the city actively help the current nonprofits in there - the local museum, theater company and television station - relocate?
It has been described as "mixed-use." I think that is an important feature. I thing we need to work to bring Mass MoCA, the downtown and other stakeholders together. Yes, I do think that we need to help find viable appropriate venues for the nonprofits now located in the park. 
 
17) Resident question: Do you think municipal employees salaries should be posted online like the state employees are? Why or why not?
I understand that this is done for the state employees and sounds like a good idea for sunshine and transparency. I do worry about the employees becoming victims or targets and having that information used against them. We have seen how social media can become a game of telephone gone toxic.

 

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