NORTH ADAMS — The City Council's General Government Committee will review a controversial proposal that would strip the Public Arts Commission of its decision-making power.

The council unanimously agreed Tuesday to refer ordinance revisions proposed by Mayor Thomas Bernard to the General Government Committee, which will dig into the issue at an upcoming meeting with the commission.

The proposal would rewrite the ordinance that governs that commission and remove its authority to acquire, install, or remove art on public property, instead vesting those powers in the mayor's office.

Bernard's proposal comes shortly after the commission drafted and approved a template agreement this summer among the city and artists or organizations that wish to install public art.

A deal has yet to be signed, but three proposals are pending.

The Public Arts Commission was established in 2015, under ordinances drafted by a working group of community members formed by then-Mayor Richard Alcombright, who sought to relinquish control of where public art could be installed and when it would be removed.

Bernard argues that his proposal is a clarification of his executive power because, as he is the city's "contracting authority," he would have to sign off on any contract between the city and an artist.

He also said Tuesday that the way the original ordinance was written, "it grants the commission greater authority than is normal" for a city commission. He cited examples such as the Human Rights Commission, Windsor Lake Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Traffic Commission.

"I think it's important to make the advisory role of this commission clear going forward," Bernard said.

Councilor Eric Buddington said he identified five commissions that have the ability to enter contracts written into ordinance, including the Airport Commission.

The mayor also noted that the installation and care of public art would place obligations on city departments.

Bernard fully endorsed the proposal being sent to committee.

"The language should get a full and careful vetting, with plenty of input," Bernard said.

Bernard's proposal was met with concern by members of the Public Arts Commission and received a mixed initial reception from the City Council.

Councilor Marie T. Harpin said she would not support the proposal.

"I think it's important to have inclusion in the city and create an atmosphere of inclusion, which creates ownership," Harpin said.

Several councilors and members of the public expressed concern about the precedent that the proposal would set for future mayors, who might feel differently about art.

"We need to rethink leaving that power up to one person. Not that I don't trust you, mayor, I do," said City Councilor Rebbecca Cohen.

Erica Manville, who was a part of the group that helped craft the original ordinance, spoke to its purpose.

"What we intended to do was make it so it was mayor-proof," Manville said.

Julia Dixon, chairperson of the Public Arts Commission, raised several issues with the proposal and the precedent it could set for other city commissions.

"This places all decisions regarding public art in the hands of a single public official," Dixon said.

Council President Keith Bona noted that the recommending bodies, such as the Parks and Recreation Committee, typically have their recommendations carried out.

"There's this fear that by changing this, art will not happen. Art is happening here, and if the mayor doesn't allow it to happen, the mayor won't happen here," Bona said.

Though opinions on the proposal appeared mixed, several agreed on the need to clean up its language.

"The bottom line is, these ordinances do need to be rewritten," Councilor Jason LaForest said.

William Blackmer, a member of the Public Arts Commission, said the commission "provides continuity," regardless of who is mayor at the time.

Several councilors and commenters raised the public art controversy at the pillars on Marshall Street beneath Veterans Memorial Bridge — an "elephant in the room" that led to a dispute over who has control of the public space.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said it was premature to declare opinions on Bernard's proposal before vetting it at committee.

"It's premature. Let's go to committee, let's talk it out, let's hear from the public," Wilkinson said.

The General Government Committee has yet to schedule a meeting on the topic.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.