NORTH ADAMS — Before her decadeslong career with the city of North Adams, Deborah Pedercini ran a cafe with her sister.
In the late 1980s, residents such as then-Mayor John Barrett III would drop in, order a coffee and buy the newspaper.
“I’d go there every morning,” Barrett remembered. “That’s where I first met her, and I couldn’t find a position for her quick enough. She was as delightful then handling customers as she was handling people who came into City Hall, no matter what their problem was.”
Barrett hired Pedercini in 1989, and, after a brief stint in the auditor’s office, she moved to the Office of Community Development, where she worked for 27 years.
In her last few years with the city, she moved to the clerk’s office, where she oversaw historic coronavirus pandemic elections.
Pedercini will depart City Hall in early April, leaving the clerk’s office to newly hired Cathleen King. But, her dedication, wits and memorable confectionary will not soon be forgotten by those who worked with her.
Pedercini, a lifelong native of North Adams, graduated from Drury High School, worked at the Mohawk Theater and still lives on a farm that has been in her family for generations.
Once she joined the city, she became a de facto “landlord,” she said, managing properties like Western Gateway Heritage State Park and the Windsor Mill. Also, she helped start the city’s first downtown celebrations and supervised projects like improvements to the Armory building.
“It was pretty much a dilapidated building,” she said. “Every year, we’d do a roof project, or an elevator. … I watched them do these great things to the gym. I watched my son play basketball there. So many kids enjoyed that project.”
Barrett said that, during his administration, Pedercini caught several potentially major issues and brought them to his attention.
“She was quick to pick up on things that had to be addressed rather quickly that could’ve turned into serious situations,” he said. “She was the type of employee that you knew that you could trust with handling everything.”
By 2016, then-City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau was on the lookout for someone she could train to fill her shoes so that she could retire.
Pedercini was a natural fit.
“I thought she was a perfect candidate,” Gomeau said. “She knew the workings of the city, and she was a very dependable person.”
After so many years in community development, Pedercini was a bit nervous about stepping into a new position. But, she decided to give it a try anyway.
Before she took on the role, she had only a vague sense of the volume of responsibilities entrusted to the clerk’s office, and she had “no idea” how much work the clerks did, between answering constant calls from the public, procuring certificates, taking meeting minutes and handling a huge flow of municipal information.
“I have such respect for clerks now,” she said. “We’re really like the hub of information. People call us for absolutely everything.”
Pedercini worked as an assistant clerk at first, learning to write up vital records with a typewriter. In early 2019, when Gomeau retired, Pedercini stepped in to the clerk position.
It took about six months, she says, before she felt comfortable in the clerk’s role.
One of her favorite parts was becoming a justice of the peace and marrying people.
“The good thing about this job is, it’s been done before,” she said. “You go in the vault, see what the previous year looked like, there’s usually a template. But, there’s also a lot of rules and regulations that change, especially with elections.”
Elections were tricky
The elections would turn out to be the trickiest part of the job, after the pandemic hit and mail-in voting expanded to unprecedented levels.
Mayor Tom Bernard said Pedercini played a key role in managing the pandemic elections.
“The piece that is frankly heroic is what she did to coordinate a whole new way of conducting an election,” he said.
“It’s one of the things that speaks to her work, her ethics and her experience. Voting is this fundamental, foundational action of our democracy. It has to run with integrity, and with the confidence of our community. In Debbie, we had someone who had that integrity and inspired that confidence.”
The nature of the elections meant long workdays for Pedercini. When a part-time job at the Lee Housing Authority popped up, she took it, as an opportunity to rebalance her work and home life.
Even though she once thought she would spend the rest of her career with the city, she now looks forward to shortened workweeks and more time with her daughters.
“I will miss it in a lot of ways,” Pedercini said. “But, I won’t miss all the extra hours. I’m really excited to spend a little more time with my family.”
The city will miss her, Barrett said — and her baking skills.
“She was the best baker in City Hall,” Barrett said. “Nobody made a better carrot cake, or a better cheesecake.”
But, Pedercini says, even as she leaves City Hall, she always will be a committed member of the North Adams community.
“We have a lot of history here,” she said. “If you were born here, you don’t want to leave, at least for me. … We’ve had to re-create, as a town.
“We’ve gone through some depressing times. But, I give people a lot of credit. It’s great that they’re reinventing things.”