By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield’s mayoral candidates on Monday showed that while they’re in step on many of the issues facing the city, they are proposing different leadership styles.
A two-hour debate at Conte Community School, co-hosted by the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP and the UpStreet Comeback Group, covered in depth issues of education, housing, community development, economic revitalization, public safety and public services.
Photo credit: Ben Garver, Berkshire Eagle
In many of these areas, the answers given by candidates Peter Marchetti and John Krol pointed to similar solutions. Both candidates believe in the necessity of creating more housing and economic opportunities in the city, making the city’s main streets more inviting and safe and in the importance of bringing back neighborhood networks like the West Side and Morningside initiatives.
Where the candidates drew contrast between themselves was in their approach to the office of Pittsfield’s chief executive.
During the debate, Krol repeatedly emphasized that he plans to shake things up when it comes to the city’s financial systems. For several weeks, he’s said that he intends to hire a new financial director, create an “independent internal auditor” position and hire a new external auditing firm to handle the city’s annual reviews.
On Monday night he added additional detail to that plan, saying that he would use the city’s current charter review process to embed the internal auditor position within the city’s governing document.
Krol added that giving the auditor position the kind of autonomy from the mayor’s office as he’s proposed would require “an independent setup, and a board or commission that individual then reports to.”
Krol’s calls for an independent auditor began in October after reporting by The Eagle revealed that Krol had used funds from a local nonprofit, Animal Dreams, to pay off his credit card in a period when he served as a member of the nonprofit’s board.
When asked on Monday night about the reporting and any potential qualms voters may have about placing “confidence in [his] judgment” or integrity, Krol reiterated that he feels the situation was a mistake that had been resolved and doubled down on his proposal for an auditor.
“I don’t believe that setting up a government based on one individual’s oversight is the way to do things and that’s why I am going to bring an independent auditor to the city of Pittsfield,” Krol said. “You should be able to trust a system that is going to benefit us no matter who the mayor is today, tomorrow or into the future.”
Krol said his job, if elected mayor, would not be that of an expert in the minutiae of running a city but to bring in experts who can help guide the city. During the debate, Krol said he would bring in a consultant to look at the Department of Public Services.
“It’s up to the mayor to bring in the very best as far as that expertise,” Krol said. “So I’ll tell you there will be changes.”
Peter Marchetti, the current City Council president, said he plans to use mentorship and a hands-on approach to strengthen city services and responsiveness to constituents.
Inside City Hall, Marchetti said that could take the form of providing professional development for department heads if there are issues with effective management. He said his role as mayor would be to create and hold city staff accountable to goals that make city business run smoothly.
Keeping staff accountable could take a variety of forms. In the example of keeping city services up to snuff, Marchetti committed to “doing ride-alongs” with the commissioner of public services during winter storms to keep an eye on snow plowing operations.
“I’ll be out and about during every storm to make sure that we’re getting the services that we’re paying for,” Marchetti said.
Outside City Hall, Marchetti said he plans to make the city a larger presence at important discussion tables. A signature of Marchetti’s campaign for mayor has been a proposal to create a mental health and substance use task force.
On issues of mental health and substance use, Marchetti repeated that he recognizes the skills of nonprofits in these areas but wants to create a more targeted and collaborative approach to these issues.
“We talk about mental health and we talk about substance use and the city is nowhere in sight,” Marchetti said. “We need to be at that table, having those conversations, pushing people to work for better solutions.”
Both candidates encourage residents to continue to be vocal and advocate for the types of changes they are hoping to see in the upcoming administration.
“We’ve both been knocking on doors and I think the one thing that we can agree on is that people have a lot to say when we’re knocking on those doors,” Marchetti said. “Speak up; let us know.”