Those following the City Council this week may have noted that Tuesday’s full council meeting lasted about a half-hour running through 16 items. Meanwhile, Monday’s meeting of the council’s ordinance & rules subcommittee lasted the better part of three hours to hash out three items. This is a testament to the amount of time and energy that goes into vetting and sharpening many proposals long before they even get to the council for approval. Monday included a lengthy discussion on a proposed adjustment to one section of the ordinance related to the personnel review board. To the credit of all the members, we spent a significant amount of time on tedious verbiage to make sure it was done right. Then there was the proposed food truck ordinance. Kudos to the city planner C.J. Hoss for crafting the proposed ordinance and creating an outline, while allowing the council the opportunity to deliberate on key issues that were left open-ended. Such details included the permitting authority, fees, location of food truck zones and more. Much was accomplished Monday, however, the matter was tabled further to ensure the community will have a full opportunity to be informed and to weigh in on the issue. The thought is that the food truck season is quickly coming to a close, so there is no rush to have this finished in the next few weeks. Instead it can be adopted sometime before the end of the calendar year.
So, as the saying goes, that is how the sausage is made. City councilors are typically members of two or even three subcommittees. So the responsibility for a ward councilor (in particular) is manifold: two council meetings most months, often one or two subcommittee meetings per month, and of course, the constituent services.
I am disappointed that the West Side Initiative may not be holding a debate for the ward 6 race, like it has in years past. Four years ago, the committee held a debate for the ward 6 and 7 races, and the West Side even held a debate for the sheriff’s position a few years back. Logistical challenges have been cited, and there was some opposition from one committee member who didn’t believe that the initiative should hold a debate. However, most members disagree with that notion – as do I. I hope that the West Side Initiative will be able to find a way to put it together.
With that said, blogger/journalist Dan Valenti has offered the opportunity to take a part in a debate that would be held at PCTV. This debate would replicate the format of the face-to-face debate (two chairs, three mics) between Jim Ruberto and Dan Bianchi in 2009 (see photo to the left). I have told Dan that I would love to take part and I’d love to do it tomorrow (i.e., ASAP).
The people of Ward 6 deserve to hear a real debate on the issues to understand the candidates’ philosophies and, importantly, their records. My opponent and I both have a record as members of the city council. This gives our residents an even better view of how either candidate will serve them for the next two years. I welcome that, and I look forward to debating, right now.
Evelyn Park is one of the best kept little secrets in the city. This little street has just a handful of homes that wrap around a city-owned circle (or park) just at the top of Euclid Avenue. It was also the home of legendary block parties that would go until 3 or 4 a.m. – but no one seemed to mind. A fifty year resident Evelyn Park shared this tidbit with me, and also had pictures to prove it. They were taken by the late-great Joel Librizzi of the Berkshire Eagle….good times!
Who’s looking out for the neighborhood? To anyone who lives there, it’s usually pretty clear. There are those who take a special pride in how their own home and street is up-kept, and they’ve usually been there for not just years, but decades. Many neighborhoods have their unofficial so-called “mayor.” In the downtown, the title belongs to Steven Valenti whose years of business and advocacy for our city distinguish him. Berkshiretown Apartments has its own “mayor” who is a dear friend, and also keeps me right up to date on issues that need my attention for our seniors in that community and in the blocks beyond. South Onota Street has one resident who earns the distinction with more than four decades in his home. Even in my recent trip to his doorstep, he walked out holding a taping knife covered with compound – saying he hasn’t stopped working on his home for 40 years. It shows, the home is beautiful. It was the neighborhood “leader” on Meadow Ridge Drive that worked with me to make that long-overdue road reconstruction a reality. Community-oriented leaders on West Union Street and Onota Street, who see all that’s going on, and contribute their valuable time and energy to the West Side Neighborhood Initiative. And, of course, there is the “mayor” of Daniels Avenue who led an effort to drive drug dealers right off of that street, and who unapologetically fights for her block. This included what turned into a controversial vote to deliver a four-way stop sign to the corner of Daniels Avenue and Bradford Street. It was a small, but important, move that has made the block safer. No one knows their neighborhood better than the residents there, and that includes all those wonderful people who have earned their special titles.
It’s great speaking to people one-by-one, door-to-door. But, what’s even better is when you happen upon two or more neighbors together enjoying the evening outdoors. Often their kids are out playing in the yard together, or maybe they’re taking a walk on a beautiful early fall evening (like tonight). This is a great way to get an even better feel for what’s happening in the neighborhood, and of course, get a better sense on how I can be helpful. It’s a meeting of the minds in the best way. Everyone has the intention of making their neighborhood a little bit safer and nicer. Sometimes you learn about the traffic issues, or maybe a property that’s in transition – which can cause a little concern. We’re all invested in our neighborhood, and its overall quality. If a property a few house down, or across the street, is not being kept up to snuff – it will hurt your own property value, no matter how well you maintain yours. This is one of the reasons I’m such a proponent of the city’s code enforcement responsibilities. We have a health department, a building department, and a fire department (responsible for addressing unregistered vehicles and more) for this very reason. Yes, they issue permits for a variety of projects, ensuring they are done correctly. However, much of their work includes getting in front of problem properties before they spiral out of control, becoming a blight, and ultimately, a safety hazard. Our city’s housing stock is a reflection upon who we are as community. As a city, to protect our collective investments, we must do whatever we can to support those who are investing in their own properties.
At a recent debate, candidates in the Ward 1 race were asked what is the number one issue that residents have raised during the campaign. The correct answer was provided by the incumbent Christine Yon: speeding traffic.
There are a variety of other issues that arise, from code enforcement issues for particular properties, water issues, safety hazards – the list goes on. However, collectively, speed of traffic is the issue that will tend to come up in all sections throughout the ward. For Ward 6 the issue is particularly problematic on West Street, Onota Street, Merriam Ave., Eleanor Road, Forthill Ave., Valentine Road and Churchill Street. What do all these streets have in common? They are all double-lined thoroughfares that are used as connector roads. They are also very much residential neighborhoods. This challenging dichotomy is an absolutely legitimate concern for neighbors in these areas. Many have children who ride bicycles and who should be able to a walk to a friend’s place a few houses down the road without worry. Unfortunately, in some of the aforementioned streets there is no sidewalk to serve as a safe barrier between road and pedestrian. In some cases there is a sidewalk on only one side of the street.
What’s the answer? Well, if it was that simple, speeding traffic wouldn’t continue to be an issue. The answer is, of course, enforcement. Happily, the council was supportive of additional resources allocated for greater speed enforcement in the city. This will be helpful. However, there are other elements that can help. For instance, residents of Churchill Street correctly complain that the speed limit on the south end of the street was actually increased within the last few years. This is the most densely populated area of the street. I still have not been able to receive a clear answer as to why this occurred. A petition that I sponsored to reduce the speed about two years ago was shot down by the Traffic Commission. However, I have been following with great interest the progress residents of Maple Grove Drive have made in understanding how the city may have a greater ability to control the speed limit on these streets (always presumed as solely the state’s jurisdiction). Further, as I tell all my constituents, you will be able to receive more enforcement by continuing to call police on the issue. The police welcome this. It helps the department prioritize resources. You can call the police at 448-9700, or you can email them at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, for drivers: Please recognize that these connector roads are inhabited by people, their families, their children. Ease up on the gas and treat it as if you were driving through your own neighborhood.
Attention residents of Ward 6:
Overnight several of our Krol Ward 6 lawn signs were stolen from properties in my own neighborhood – including on my own property at 7 Trova Terrace. I am not sure how widespread this is, so I’m asking for your help.
If your sign has been lifted, or you’ve noticed others that have, please notify me ASAP so we can replace it immediately. Thank you!
Lately there has been a bit of buzz out there regarding lawn signs. Who has them? Where are they being placed? Are they on city property? And most important: Are they important? So, here are my thoughts…
Yes, it’s that time of year. As sure as the leaves begin to turn and the days become shorter, like mushrooms that pop-up without warning, so do political lawn signs.
I’m no expert. However, running for office for the third time and managing 300+ lawn sign locations has taught me a thing or two.
Quality of Signs
To begin, the quality of the sign is reflection upon the candidate. Not all signs are made the same. If your signs are unsteady and flapping in the breeze, then what does that say about the candidate?
For any budding candidates out there, here are my recommendations:
- Make your lawn sign clear and concise: One simple strong message, and if possible, one clear color. Multiple colors distract from your message.
- Union Bug: Ideally your sign will have the seal of approval (union made). You can tell by looking at the right hand corner of the sign, which should include a small, so-called “union bug” (see photo below). This is not an endorsement by, or for, unions – it’s an indication that the signs were made with a high degree of quality. In other words, a stiff wind won’t make them fly away when properly placed. Also, they are made in the USA.
- Call Ben Kaplan: To make it all much more simple, consult with sign czar (and former Ward 4 City Councilor) Ben Kaplan who will help you design and order signs that will help you achieve points 1 and 2.
How about the old adage: “Lawn signs don’t vote?”
Technically the old saying is true. A lawn sign cannot pull a lever, fill-in a little bubble, or punch a hole (chad-free or otherwise).
However, what I have found is this: Whether lawn signs are meaningful (or meaningless) depends entirely on how you acquire them.
This is how my campaign acquires lawn sign locations:
1. Pounding the pavement: For our campaign, a lawn sign is earned by a knock on the door, a good conversation on the issues and a personal ask to host our lawn sign. This is the best way to do it and accounts for 90+ percent of our signs out there. Last Sunday morning (9/22) our crew placed 200+ signs out there. That was the result of nearly two months of pounding the pavement and earning (and/or confirming) the support of Ward 6 constituents.
2. Following-up with longtime supporters: However, often people may not be home when I knock on their door or ring the doorbell. In a handful of those cases, with those who have been adamant supporters in the past, a quick Facebook message or email will suffice to confirm their continued support and lawn sign location.
3. Unsolicited requests: Finally, once our signs went out last Sunday, we received a number of calls, emails and Facebook messages requesting a sign. We, of course, do our best to oblige in a timely fashion.
Where NOT to place signs
Outgoing School Committee Member Terry Kinnas has once again raised his deep concern of lawn signs being placed on city property. However, to truly decipher whether significant numbers of signs are on private or city property, you’d be wasting valuable time of city personnel and, therefore, wasting taxpayer dollars. Instead, we use the common sense rules: For streets with sidewalks, the signs should be placed on the inside of the sidewalk (away from the road, and on the side of the private property of your sign host). Also, signs should not be placed on any parkway medians (city-owned property), in a city park, etc. – again – common sense.
Finally, it’s not a good idea to place your sign on a property with visible code violations. Again, this may seem like common sense. However, we are occasionally approached by a well-meaning supporter who has a “great location” for a sign, but after further review, it’s not really all that great. Yes, it’s visible to many passersby, but so are the multiple unregistered vehicles, dilapidated front porch and more. If it’s a blight to the neighborhood, you won’t see my sign there. My job is to support those who are investing in their neighborhoods and building them up, not to try to score cheap political points on properties that are dragging it down.
The properties that host your sign are a reflection upon what you represent as a candidate.
So, what about those properties that have signs of opposing candidates?
This has always been an interesting phenomenon. Again, for our campaign, we acquire lawn sign locations in the way I described above (personal approval during door-to-door discussions). Sometimes after that takes place an opposing lawn sign will also appear. I cannot explain how or why that takes place, I can only speak for how we do it. In those cases, here’s what I have found: Often, that property is on the lawn sign list of another politician who is supporting the current candidate (publicly or behind the scenes). After the sign goes up (and there are two on a lawn), the property owner wishes not to offend anyone and keeps them both. Of course, the other choice (in an effort not to offend) is to have no lawn sign.
I’ve read some suggestions that there are sometimes spousal differences that generate the double lawn sign property. However, in my experience this is extremely rare, and instead, it’s often the scenario I’ve described above.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got….gotta go knock on some more doors and talk about more important issues!
I loved my constituents on the south side of Gale Avenue. They were always a wealth of interesting and helpful information. This includes Gale Avenue’s position as a part of the historic route from Pittsfield to Boston (if you take a ruler over Pittsfield, you’ll see that Gale Avenue aligns perfectly with Williams Street – which was also a part of this historic trail), or the south side’s development covenant that had some interesting rules (no to lawn signs, yes to lawn signs?), and with significant amounts of former and current farmland, generations of families that have called Gale Avenue home.
Today, Gale Avenue is the border between Ward 6 and Ward 5. Those on the south side are now in Ward 5, those on the north side are still in Ward 6. This was the result of state-mandated re-districting that is done each decade. The state says that the population of each precinct has to be within a certain percentage differential – essentially the goal is for each precinct to have about the same population. Naturally, over the past decade, the population has shifted around the city.
While I wish the south siders were still part of my jurisdiction, it could have been worse. The original plan put forth by the state would have removed a huge chunk of outer West Street, including Meadow Ridge Drive, Mountainview Drive, streets past Berkshire Community College, portions of Cascade Street at the entrance of the state forest – and more – placing it into a completely transformed Ward 5.
Happily, my colleague Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop and I were successful in working with our city clerk and the state. We educated the state election officials on how Pittsfield is really a city of corridors. If you look at the natural borderlines in the city, it should look a bit like a bicycle wheel with spokes that separate wards and precincts. For Ward 6, West Street is a contiguous corridor with the natural border with Ward 5, generally, being the railroad tracks that run between West Street and West Housatonic Street. The same could be said for Holmes Road in Ward 4 and Elm Street in Ward 3 and now, for Ward 5, West Housatonic Street.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes was a great success again this year, as the effort to raise dollars for the Elizabeth Freeman Center drew more and more men walking down North Street with flashy heels and open-toed footwear. The nation-wide effort doubles as a message to deliver the message to stop sexual assault, rape, and gender violence.
As I type my toes are still a little numb from the experience. My shoes weren’t the flashiest. Simple black. Medium heel. I have a new found respect for what women have to go through, even with the most modest height heels.
Most important, undoubtedly thousands were raised for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which surely saves lives and raises aspirations each and every day. With quality people like Nakeida Bethel-Smith, executive director Janis Broderick and board member Susan Gordon, among so many others, it’s a critical service for our community. Thank you, ladies, for all that you do.