Keith Bona readies for 2nd year as North Adams City Council president

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NORTH ADAMS — Through his first eight terms, Keith Bona was never seriously interested in being City Council president.

Now, he's poised for a second consecutive year at the helm.

Bona, who was first elected in 1993 and is 10 years into his second stint on the council, was unanimously voted as president, again, by his fellow councilor's during last week's annual organization of government.

"While I may mention the years I've served, the newest councilors are as equal to me, and our diversity of ages, backgrounds and experiences is key to a successful council that will benefit the city the most," he told The Eagle.

The presidency is a role Bona avoided for years, not wanting to give up the right to speak on issues that came up before the council. But he fit into it in 2018.

"When I started on council, for many years we were always told that the president is not really supposed to speak during meetings — it's really about running the meeting," Bona said. "That was the thing that turned me off."

But more recent council presidents have simultaneously managed meetings and participated in debate, Bona said.

"Last year, I looked up Robert's Rules [of Order], which is our guide, and it clearly states that if you are a voting member, that you have the right to discuss, debate and even bring forward issues," Bona said.

Still, it's an evolution from tradition.

"His style is not what mine was or most council presidents' was," said Alan Marden, a former City Council president whom Bona leaned on for guidance in his early years on the council.

Despite their respectful disagreement about the president's role, Marden said he's glad Bona, who co-owns Berkshire Emporium and Antiques on Main Street, is still involved 25 years after his first election.

"He's like the mayor of Main Street and a great communicator through social networks," Marden said.

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To Bona, the council's traditional model of the president didn't make sense — community members are voting for a candidate they expect to participate in debate when he or she serves.

"The president has the authority to, yes, run the meeting, but at the same time has the ability of all of the others," Bona said.

As president, Bona said he usually holds off until all of the other councilors have had their chances to chime in — "instead of trying to totally dominate the topic like I may have in the past," Bona said with a laugh.

"I've toned it down, but I will still give my opinion," he added.

This year, Bona plans to exercise that opinion on a number of topics, including revisiting the processes for starting a business in North Adams and addressing city requirements that a simple change of ownership require a special permit.

"We've discussed it for years," Bona said.

With the urban renewal plan expiring, Bona said he would also like to rethink the city's Redevelopment Authority.

As Mayor Thomas Bernard prepares to appoint a new police chief, Bona said he also expects public safety could become a topic of discussion.

Despite his experience, Bona said he values newer members equally.

"Different councilors are going to have different priorities," he said. "As I've always said, I like a diverse councilor."

While the council, which currently has four members in their first term, has jelled, Bona expressed a desire to see its relationship with Bernard, another first-termer, improve.

"I do feel there needs to be a stronger line of communication with the administration," Bona said.

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


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