North Adams mayoral race: Incumbent Bernard has unfinished business to tend to

Incumbent North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard said his first term was a great learning experience and allowed him to get started, but he has a number of things he wants to continue working on.

This is the first of two profiles of candidates for North Adams mayor.

NORTH ADAMS — Incumbent Mayor Thomas Bernard has a simple answer for why he's seeking another two-year term: "I'm not done yet."

He has one opponent in the Nov. 5 election: Rachel Branch.

Bernard, 48, said his first term was a great learning experience and allowed him to get started, but he has a number of things he wants to continue working on.

"I feel good and confident about the first two years," he said. "The first year was a pure learning experience — intensive on-the-job training."

And now that he's coming to the end of the second year, he feels much better about his abilities and his understanding of the tools and the teams available to help administer the city in a way that will move it forward, he said.

"I worked hard at building the teams around me through strategic hires," he said. The new director of the information technology department, Kathy Lloyd, and the new police chief, Jason Wood, are examples of his team-building efforts.

Other work he would like to see through includes the sale of unneeded city properties and reworking the city zoning codes, which haven't undergone significant revision since the 1950s. Both projects would clear the way for future opportunities, Bernard said.

Financially, the city doesn't have a lot of wiggle room, but "we do have a solid financial plan and decent reserves, although we are approaching our tax levy ceiling, so we do have to manage that carefully."

Staffing is an issue as well.

"We are bare-bones in a lot of places," he said. "We have adequate staffing right now, but I worry about backups and redundancy."

Bernard noted that there are a number of people in key positions approaching retirement, and there is a limited pool of professional municipal employees seeking work in this region.

And after two years on the job, Bernard said he has learned that engagement with the community is essential to the process.

Through appointments, he has been trying to diversify boards and committees, and bring new voices into the process.

"The more engagement you have, the better," he said.

Bernard serves as chairman of the school committee of North Adams Public Schools; is a member of the Berkshire Compact for Education; the Berkshire County Education Task Force's governance subcommittee; the Berkshire Blueprint steering committee; and the Impact Council of Berkshire County Leaders.

"We're in a really good place right now," Bernard said.

He pointed out the new investment coming to town from business investments at Tourists, Greylock Works, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the plans of Thomas Krens.

"We've got new capital investment coming into the community. You can feel the energy and sense of excitement. We've got a world-class educational institution, a world-class cultural institution, but we still need to work on reinventing the downtown."

Scott Stafford can be reached at or 413-629-4517.