Friday July 20, 2012

RICHMOND -- Potholegate -- as one local official wryly described it -- ended with a whimper on Thursday, not a bang.

West Stockbridge road crews on Thursday fixed a few potholes on Furnace Road that Gov. Deval Patrick's office had asked be repaired in preparation for first lady Michelle Obama's visit to his Richmond home on Aug. 3.

The first lady will be visiting Patrick's home following a presidential fundraising appearance at the Colonial Theatre. The dinner and discussion at Patrick's home, Sweet P Farm, is an invitation-only event limited to 20 people that includes a contribution of $20,000 per person.

News of the governor's request became front page news in the Boston Herald on Thursday, with comments from Republican Party operatives in the news story, and a column titled "Princess and the Potholes" by Howie Carr.

West Stockbridge Town Administrator Mark Webber wasn't exactly sure how many potholes the road crews filled on Thursday, but said the mission didn't take very long.

"It took an hour and a half, and [cost] less than a hundred dollars," Webber said. "We fixed it last fall. It was scheduled to be fixed [again] this year. It just happened to be done today. We were going to pave it this year."

Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood had relayed the request from the governor's office to Webber because the section of Furnace Road that contained the potholes is located in West Stockbridge.


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Kerwood told the Herald that a member of the governor's office had asked the town to fix potholes on Cone Hill Road, which is where Sweet P Farm is located. But it turned out that the potholes were actually located on Furnace Road.

According to Kerwood, the whole kerfuffle began after he called the governor's office upon learning that the first lady would be visiting Sweet P Farm.

"I offered any assistance to make sure her trip was pleasurable," Kerwood said.

"Irrespective of politics, the fact that the first lady is coming to town is a big deal," said Kerwood, a Republican and former aide to Gov. Jane Swift. "We certainly would want to put our best foot forward. What community wouldn't want to do that?"

The issue of fixing the potholes came up following some back and forth communication between the town and the governor's office.

"It was phrased in the manner of ‘If it's possible," Kerwood said.

"I said sure, ‘I'll take a look at it,'" Kerwood said. "Again, it's not any different that any request by a resident. I can't stress enough that this is not a preferential situation. We respond to residents, and that's what this is."

Kerwood, a former Pittsfield City Councilor, was annoyed that the issue became such a big deal.

"As a resident, [Patrick] has as much a right to ask about a pothole, a beach sign, or questions in his tax bill," Kerwood said. "We respond to that. There's no preferential treatment.

"The fact that this is the governor means absolutely nothing to me," he added.

Kerwood on Thursday downplayed any political aspects of Patrick's request, which were highlighted in the Herald.

"l'll leave the politics to others," he said. "My job as town administrator in Richmond is to respond to requests made from my residents and to act accordingly. That is exactly what I did.

"The politics is somebody else's issue."