NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The future of the elementary schools was the main topic of Wednesday morning's debate between the three candidates for mayor on WNAW 1230-AM radio.
Incumbent Richard Alcombright and challengers Ronald Boucher and Robert Martelle agreed that jobs, growth and taxes were the major issues facing the city but the schools — and the failed Proposition 2 1/2 override — dominated the hourlong conversation.
Incumbent Richard Alcombright, left, and Ronald Boucher, City Council president, expressed their differences at Wednesday morning's debate in the WNAW studios.
While the tone and remarks remained cordial both on and off the air, the mayor and the City Council president strongly disagreed on the school project — and Boucher's stand on it.
Alcombright, who as mayor also is chairman of the School Committee, reiterated his support for a two-school option that would see a new Greylock School built and Conte Middle School renovated into K-8 to replace Sullivan School.
Boucher, who attended the last School Building Committee, said he'd rather see repairs to Sullivan and Greylock to get them through the next 10 years until the economy improved.
"I truly believe in my heart, we couldn't get a $1.2 million override passed for a budget, I can't think we're going to get a $6-$8 million override passed for a school," said Boucher.
Alcombright, however, said Boucher "was more than adamant of your support of a two-school solution at that time," including saying he'd work within the community to help a debt exclusion pass.
But Boucher said it wasn't the case. While he agreed the committee should "go with the gusto" and submit a two-school project to the state, he didn't think the Massachusetts School Building Authority would approve it anyway.
"I didn't feel a debt exclusion override would pass," he said. "And I would not go out and market people to vote for a debt exclusion when I was not in favor of having a 2 1/2 override."
(This reporter who attended that meeting does not recall Boucher's stance being particularly "adamant" in either direction.)
Martelle stuck to his mantra of low taxes through most of the hour. "I would like a new school, but if we can't afford a new school we can't afford it," he said.
Robert Martelle stuck to his theme of no more taxes. The Berkshire Anodizing employee told us he was running to make sure that issue wasn't forgotten.
Boucher also took issue with an email sent from the mayor's office to the SBA claiming "solid unity behind this proposed direction" that included a majority of councilors because the council had not voted. Alcombright said he had sent the letter as head of the School Building Committee based on a unanimous School Committee vote and councilors who were at the building committee's vote. A resolution is expected to go before the council this month.
Alcombright said despite the Proposition 2 1/2 defeat, he felt the city would support the school project.
"We were trying to do what was in the best interest of the city ... my heart tells me that this city would rally around a debt exclusion override for the schools, for the kids," he said.
"I don't who you're talking to mayor, but the people I talk to are totally against the debt exclusion override," responded Boucher. "I'm not opposed to a new school as long as we can build it within our existing budget without going out to debt exclusion."
He suggested the schools weren't overcrowded and the city could wait until the debt from the renovations at Brayton and Drury fell off the books in a few years. Alcombright countered that there are two fourth-grade classes now at Brayton with 27 pupils each; half are on individual education plans. The problem isn't classrooms but space for programs and special education, he said.
Alcombright also said it would be several years anyway before the school project debt was incurred.
"My thought is strike while the iron is hot," he said. "As soon as you start to patch these buildings up you trigger all kinds of ADA requirements, which would trigger accessibility issues ... so what you think may be a couple hundred thousand dollars for a boiler or $400,000 for windows could turn into millions in renovations."
Both schools predate the Americans with Disabilities Act, but could be forced to come into compliance the federal law depending on the scope of any repairs or renovations.
The mayor also defended his presentations on the failed Prop 2 1/2 that painted a devastating picture of what could happen to the schools saying "these are very scary times."
"I think we made a great compromise," he said in making further cuts and dipping into the city's depleted reserves, which he hadn't wanted to do. He added that his administration had winnowed a $3.2 million structural deficit down to $420,000 over the past year.
"I've kind of dismayed at the idea that people think because I didn't make the cuts we talked about, it's almost like I'm a failure for trying to be successful," said Alcombright. "We made cuts that had to happen but were as mild as can be."
Boucher said more cuts should have been made before the voters. "Duty and the job of government is to make the cuts and after you've done the best job possible of cuts, then go to the public and say we've done our job, we need your help."
Martelle said, "Mayor Barrett left Mr. Alcombright a big hole, he's got to try to dig out of, but like I said, raising taxes just makes the hole bigger."
Property taxes were major concern of those signing his nomination papers, he said. "I have to work a month and a half right now to pay my property taxes."
Voters will decide on Tuesday, Sept. 27, which two candidates will move to the general election in November.
The forum was sponsored by the Berkshire News Network (WNAW & WUPE radio) and iBerkshires.com. The moderator was Larry Kratka, WUPE news director; questions were asked by Kratka, iBerkshires Editor Tammy Daniels and North Adams Transcript Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau.
Edited with clarification, added material at 10:19 a.m.
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Override nuber 2 What a surprise.
The mayor said he did not see young children with signs hung around their necks ??? Well I guess he did not drop in at ward 4 during the last override . All day long mothers were having kids ride back a forth on the sidewald with ( Save our schools signs around their necks. So I guess the people have already voted on the school question.
Great job by Mr Boucher. He has earned my vote. I just don't understand why people don't want to live within their means. Let's put one new school in if we can afford it and patch the other school. That is how families work. If you can't afford 2 new cars you buy one and continue on fixing the second. The mayor has low support for a debt exclusion over-ride and to be honest I don't trust him. Mr Boucher deserves a shot
I feel really let down by the mayor. Once again I feel he has resorted to scare tactics. And I point to the ADA items even though the schools pre date the ADA (per your article), and thank you calling him on that.
On that note Ron has earned my vote with his straight talk. If we want something we find a way to put it in this budget (without raising taxes) like everyday people do. I encourage others to do the same.
Editor: No, that's not what I meant. The schools pre-date ADA so they are NOT in compliance. It is true if a certain amount is spent on renovations it can trigger more expensive accessibility issues. Mount Greylock Regional has been concerned about this during its repairs; other schools I've covered have faced the same issue. It depends on the repair/renovation and the cost. I Agree (14) - I Disagree (2)
Thanks Ron for showing leadership today. Raising taxes is NOT always the answer. Cutting fat is. I was on the fence but no longer. I am getting on board the Boucher bandwagon like the majority of the folks I know and I encourage others to do the same.
Nice job on the debate Tammy. As a recently retired senior on a fixed income I simply can't afford to have my property taxes go up. Let's just build one school. And after listening to more scare items about possible maintenance costs, sorry but I just DO NOT TRUST the mayor. And once that is gone it is gone for good
Give Ron an opportunity
Finally a face and voice to this Martelle person. From what I heard this is a waste of tax payers dollars to have a preliminary. If he gets fifty votes that will be a lot. If I heard right he's blaming the local economy on Clinton? How did this guy get fifty signatures?
Will this debate/conversation be televised on local tv at some point? I am still up in the air as a voter regarding the schools. I would like Greylock expanded, upgraded or rebuilt but not a big fan of renovating Conte at this point.
A perfect picture of our Mayor reading his script. He must have found it difficult to answer question without having anyone around to help him. I just wish the press would not let him get away with his half truths especially about how much money is in the school account.
Editor: Paranoid much? There is no missing audio. If everyone wants to listen to occasional feedback, so be it. I'll figure out how to post it. I Agree (5) - I Disagree (0)
Boucher is flip flopping on this. When the mayor suggested one school Boucher wanted two. Now that the committee endorsed two schools Boucher wants one. As mayor tough decisions need to be made. He needs to decide if having the lowest tax rate is more important than the lowest school grades. Lower taxes wins votes. Lower grades wins nothing. He can't stand there and say he wants what is best for this city and talk about keeping taxes low and making more cuts. Cutting services is not best for the city. You can't expect to cut $4 million dollars from the schools and services and not see an effect.
Alcombright the typical tax and spend politician at our expense. Runs the city like a typical banker. Isn't the banking industry what help get this county in a mess to begin with. Sure, thats just what we the voters need is to re-elect an out of touch banker.
I believe Mr. Boucher will be the next mayor, but not because he is a better candidate than the current Mayor. Towns people are frustrated, broke, and scared and the only thing they can control is who sits in the corner office.
We will get a new mayor, but I believe the name plate is only thing that will change.
Editor: I had a paper to read from, too. So did the other reporter, in fact, everyone in the room had a papers or notes in front of them. Guess we're all a bunch of losers. I Agree (7) - I Disagree (0)
Tammy just an fyi...there is a topix poll that correctly predicted the winner last time....this time it has Ron ahead 57%-40%...just an fyi....
I have included the link
Talk about "seminar bloggers".... No wonder they thought Alcombright had people posting. It's because somebody is obviously coordinating and suggesting for Boucher. Too funny.
"I predict that Ron..."
"I believe that Mr.B...."
If you are going to try and astroturf for a campaign, you really should learn how to do it without looking obvious.
And don't get me started on Topix. If the campaign wants to promote a rigged poll on a site best known for its racist, sexist, homophobic commentary, I await their solicitation of Clark Billings' endorsement.
I feel one school is better and lower taxes will be better for those on fixed income. We need more jobs to help people rather than hanging around doing nothing. I feel the mayor should look at the ecomy as it stands because most people don't have the funds for higher taxes.
Hahaha must be either a bitter person representing a faltering campaign or the designated attack dog of a faltering campaign that has decided to go negative. Nowhere above do I see a repitition of the phrases used.
It is appearing all to clear that a majority of voters in North Adams want a change. To say the above posters are part of a fake astroturf effort is demeaning and insulting
I represent no one but myself. My area of expertise is national lobbying campaigns, with astroturf being one of the major tools employed by opponents and colleagues. I can smell "suggested" letters and phrases a mile away.
If you would like some free advice, don't send out a blast email with prewritten material combined with "everyone express your support for Ron on iBerkshires." It just smells bad. If you want to go down this path, write specific letters for specific people. One size does NOT fit all.
The other risk you take, is that if it really is not multiple people, but rather one or two pretending to be many posting, it will come back to bite you if the site administrator releases the IP addresses. I've seen it happen. One local online editor has chosen to block this kind of "sockpuppetting" - one person pretends to be many and has a conversation with him/herself in the comments. I wish Tammy would call it out, too.
Not bitter, just really good at what I do and its funny to watch it happen in my own backyard for a change.
In referring to a persons character I would watch the City Council meetings and almost be ashamed to say I voted for some of these people especially the way Ron Boucher would act towards Cardimino, and then be on the front page of the Transcript shaking his hand at the Spaghetti dinner. Now that is a hypocrite, but I guess a gavel goes to some peoples head.
Seriously non of them deserve to be re-elected, and sick of hearing from Cardimino about Bloom and the insurance, what about Marie Harpin who also takes advantage of the insurance, what does he do, donates money to her campaign. People should stop blaming Dick for everything when our Council was a joke!
Based on past results mayor needs to be Ron by about 30 points tomorrow to stop his support from growing. In my opinion expect the mayor to push his supporters for a huge turnout. Otherwise Rons support will continue to grow
Now or never for the mayor
RealObserver you can't really sit there and say thats all dick has done is raise our texas. You going to tell me that in the last 26 years that your taxes weren't raised at all? hmmmmm.....sounds not right to me. Taxes go up EVERY year no matter who is the sitting mayor! My opinion is that Ron Boucher can't even run a civil council meeting.....imagine that happening in higher government.
It's unfortunate that the voters will be poised to have to vote for one of two "losers". Neither one of them can pull off the Mayor's role, Dick's proven it first hand, and unfortunately yes, Ron as chair of the city council shows us time and time again, he is a puppet...Take a good look at his campaign commitee, it speaks for itself.....If you ever thought of leaving North Adams, Now is a good time
Moose, you sound very bitter, and are woefully uninformed. Insulting Ron's campagin committee takes the cake. Very suprised Tammy that you even printed that. Those people are not even running for public office.
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