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Override divide outlined in at-large Northampton council race

  • Anthony Patillo, who is running for Northampton at-large councilor, at his home Tuesday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jesse Adams, Councilor At-Large<br/>FILE PHOTO
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Northampton City Council President William Dwight
  • Anthony Patillo, who is running for Northampton at-large councilor, at his home Tuesday.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Anthony Patillo, who is running for Northampton at-large councilor, at his home Tuesday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Anthony Patillo, William Dwight, Jesse Adams.

Anthony L. Patillo said incumbents William H. Dwight and Jesse M. Adams may have been well-intentioned, but they did a poor job of clearly spelling out the long-term consequences leading up to the override vote.

“It’s very clear to me when I speak to people that’s one difference that they cited over and over,” said Patillo, a 23-year city resident. “They felt that they were spoon-fed information, that they weren’t given a clear picture.”

Dwight and Adams disagree sharply. They say they were instrumental in the vetting of the mayor’s $2.5 million override request on the council floor, at forums and in conversations with residents all over the city. They question Patillo’s criticism now, especially when he participated in much of the discussion.

“I focused on being clear about the consequences of an override and the potential impact,” Dwight said.

Dwight maintains that Patillo wanted him to argue against the override, which Dwight said was not his or the council’s job. Though he personally supported the override, Dwight maintains his role on the council was to provide facts to residents so they could decide for themselves.

Adams said he asked tough budget questions of the mayor, department heads and other officials during about 10 hours of budget hearings, spent dozens of hours talking with constituents about the override and did all he could to inform both himself and residents about the issue. The same holds true for other issues affecting the city.

“What people see on the council floor is only a snapshot of what the council does,” Adams said. “There’s so much work that goes on off-camera. I think we know very well the financial impacts on the city.”

Adams, who supported the override, points out that Patillo declined to participate in an override debate sponsored by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association last spring.

The campaign for the two at-large positions on the council has been relatively quiet this fall, perhaps due to a health problem that limited Patillo’s ability to campaign rigorously. Patillo said pain in his hip began shortly after he took nomination papers at the end of June and never dissipated throughout the summer. When his doctor said a mass on his hip might be cancerous, he decided not to postpone surgery until after the election, nor did he feel it was right to withdraw. The mass was benign, he said. Patillo had hip replacement surgery in October, though he expects to make a full recovery and would be ready by January to assume his council duties if elected.

Voters on Tuesday will be asked to cast votes for two of three candidates on the ballot to fill the two at-large seats. What follows are profiles of each of them.

Jesse M. Adams

AGE: 35

JOB: Attorney

Adams, of 187 Main St., believes the city is headed in the right direction in many areas but has work to do to make it an affordable place to live and do business.

“I’m concerned about affordability,” said Adams. “Our taxes are right around the middle of the pack, but that doesn’t mean people don’t feel it when they go up.”

The two-term councilor said he’s been an independent voice on the council who is willing to work “in the weeds” on tasks that don’t get headlines, while at the same time make tough decisions on divisive issues such as last June’s override. Adams supported the override to maintain city services, though he said he understands the sacrifice higher taxes mean for many residents.

If re-elected, Adams vows to stay involved in solutions designed to ease the tax burden for homeowners by expanding the city’s residential and commercial tax base and generating new revenue.

In addition to economic development throughout the city, Adams said the most pivotal projects for the city’s downtown are redevelopment of the Round House lot and it’s neighbor, Pulaski Park.

“I’m invested in downtown and I want to see a project that adds to the tax base, but also has a public space component to it,” Adams said.

Other money-related initiatives Adams supports include regionalization of services, a solar facility on the landfill and continued investment in clean energy strategies. Adams also supports progressive tax reform at the state level, and has joined others in advocating for changes to the state’s local aid formula.

While he understands the need for a new stormwater and flood control enterprise fund, Adams maintains there should be safeguards to prevent rapid increases in fees. As written, the ordinance would cap the budget at $2 million a year for the first five years, but does not address what will happen after that. He wants the council to have control of future increases to the fund’s budget.

“I don’t want to see the rates go up like water and sewer did,” Adams said. “This would be a substantial safeguard.”

If re-elected, Adams said he will continue to fight for accountability. During the current term, Adams drafted a public comment ordinance that mandates that every decision-making body in the city must have an open public comment period at every meeting. Also last term, Adams advocated for a new charter and lobbied for its passage. He was elected the council’s first vice president and took the lead in drafting council rules so they were consistent with the charter.

Adams also cites as priorities boosting the city’s cultural scene. As the creator of the Northampton Jazz Festival, Adams notes that not only are the arts vital to the human experience, but they are a local economic driver. He’s encouraged about efforts by local arts organizations to create a new public arts center on Hawley Street.

“I share the view that a lot of people felt that our arts were on the decline,” Adams said. “Now I feel that we’re starting to turn that tide.”

Adams owns a general practice law firm. He recently became engaged to Emily Thomas.

Anthony L. Patillo

AGE: 62

JOB: Retired as Northampton building commissioner

During his 15 years as city building commissioner, Patillo honed many of the skills — listening, research and fairness — he believes will make him an effective councilor.

But he says were it not for what he sees as the current council’s unwillingness to ask tough questions, particularly about the override, odds are Patillo would not be running for office.

Patillo, of 14 Autumn Drive, spoke out publicly against the override last spring, reminding people that the property tax increase would be permanent. He said he was amazed at how little people understood what the override meant to their bottom line for years to come.

“For a public official, your duty is to lay everything out and let the voters make a true and just decision based on all of the facts,” Patillo said. “A lot of people appreciated that I stood up and spoke that out.”

Instead of an override, Patillo believes the city should have braced itself for budget cuts, just as most families do. He’s disturbed that few alternatives were brought up by the council.

“That lack of discussion really made people upset because it felt like it was a decision fait accompli,” he said.

Patillo added that many people tell him they feel “outside the circle” and are not being heard. If elected, his goal would be to bring those people back under the tent. He points to a post-override picture that ran in the Gazette of people celebrating its passage as one example. While acknowledging that those in the picture can’t control what the newspaper chose to publish, he said the image reflects a feeling of triumph of one point of view over another.

“They (opponents) really felt disenfranchised from that,” Patillo said.

Patillo said there’s no what he termed “Kumbaya moment” to make everyone feel heard, but he believes councilors should do a better job listening and truly understanding people’s feelings about issues.

Patillo worked for 17 years in city government, most of that time as head of the Building Department. In that role, he was able to deal with difficult issues in a thoughtful way, explain complicated building regulations to the average person, and break down an issue so that all involved understood the facts behind any decision he made. He believes residents want more of that thoroughness back in government.

Patillo is floating several ideas he’s like to see the city address or explore, including development of a business incubator to help businesses start and stay in Northampton. He thinks it’s too expensive to do business in the city, which is why Easthampton and Holyoke are seeing more growth.

The former building commissioner is concerned about the lack of foresight when it comes to budgeting for the maintenance of city buildings. He said he would like to see the city develop a maintenance program that sets aside money to care for existing buildings. Other issues he cites as priorities include adoption of a clear policy regarding overtime practices, and taking a close look at whether to continue some regionalization programs or initiate new ones.

Patillo is married to his wife, Vicki, a retired surgical nurse. He has two grown children, Adrian Jones, 45, and Marc Patillo, 34. A third child, Andre Patillo, died 10 years ago.

William H. Dwight

AGE: 58

JOB: Social Media Coordinator at Media Education Foundation, Northampton

From supporting a new charter that expands the role of the City Council to fostering an environment where all opinions are welcome, Dwight, of 39 Myrtle St., believes he has expanded opportunities for people to talk about important city issues in forums, debates and other gatherings.

“I think we walked the walk,” Dwight said. “Everything I’ve done as council president is to try and promote the conversation, make us accessible, not turn us into authoritarian figures.”

But Dwight’s also no Pollyanna. Dwight said many problems must be addressed: expanding public spaces downtown and upgrading Pulaski Park, offering more affordable housing, reforming the way the state finacially supports cities and towns.

The 26-year city resident said it’s a given that finances top the list of items on people’s minds. While he admits that the bad feelings generated by last June’s override still reverberate, Dwight said the city is doing a good job managing its money in a dysfunctional funding system. He said the new charter gives the council more power to scrutinize the city’s budget, and that’s just what councilors did last year. The bottom line is the state local aid formula forces municipalities to ask the community for overrides to pay for schools, public safety and buildings, yet over time the narrative has changed so that asking for an override is an indicator of economic failure.

“The frustration is trying to explain that’s not the case,” he said. “All these municipalities aren’t struggling because they don’t know how to manage their money.”

Like other candidates, he will continue to lobby outside the city’s borders for progressive tax reform and changes to the state’s local aid formula.

Dwight served for eight years as Ward 1’s city councilor, but stayed engaged in politics and two years ago won an at-large seat on the council when Mayor David J. Narkewicz left to be mayor. His fellow councilors then tapped him to be their president.

After voters approved the charter, Dwight found himself presiding at council meetings. He said having the council control its own meeting forces councilors to struggle with issues that it didn’t deal with in the past.

“As opposed to putting forward ordinances and proposals, my job is more about presiding over and maintaining order in a meeting to get governance done,” Dwight said. “It’s not particularly sexy, but I felt I was an effective facilitator and promoter of clear and thoughtful discussion.”

In that role, he has insisted on more opportunities for public discussion on major issues, chiefly a new stormwater fee, the override and the charter. He’s also promoted the videotaping of all city meetings and has a productive working relationship with the mayor.

In addition to staying involved in the discussion about the redevelopment of Pulaski Park and the Round House lot, Dwight said the city should explore creating its own municipal broadband service downtown.

“There are a number of communities that do that as a municipal service,” Dwight said. “They can make money and offer a very appealing service for businesses.”

Dwight is also believer in the council weighing in on issues of state and national importance in the form of resolutions. Among the resolution he’s co-sponsored include a measure asking the city to divest from fossil fuels and a “drone” resolution that asks the federal government to protect privacy and property rights.

Dwight is married to Lida Lewis, an instructor at Holyoke Community College, and has one son, Eli Dwight, 27.

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I missed the deadline for submitting my letter to the editor on the elction, so I thought I would post it here: To The Editor: I ask the voters to use one of their two at-large Northampton City Council votes today to re-elect Bill Dwight. Dwight is a thoughtful and caring representative who considers all citizens in his work on the Council. These qualities are encapsulated in a comment Dwight made while speaking at the October 3rd City Council meeting about mental illness and homelessness, he stated that when we speak of mental illness, “we are talking about the community, people with mental illness are not separate of the community, they are part of it […] and that sometimes we fall short [in this duty], and I appreciate the opportunity to be reminded of it.” Dwight knows that the whole community needs representation, not just those with the loudest voices. In his comments at the council meetings and on WHMP you can hear how his thought process considers all individuals. Dwight is a great advocate for the city and its citizens. Please join me in supporting with him your vote today. Patrick Boughan Florence

Mr. Patillo, I couldn't disagree with you any more vehemently. If people felt they were "spoon fed information" about the override, it was only because they were too lazy or uninvolved to find out for themselves. There was plenty of information available to anyone who WANTED to know.

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