Northern Berkshire Community Coalition An example in civics
Lieutenant governor hails volunteer group; pledges assistance from state
By Jessica Willis, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Saturday, June 09
WILLIAMSTOWN — It was an afternoon of praise and gratitude for the "social safety net" known as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which was conceived, according to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, during Northern Berkshire's "darkest of hours" in the economic collapse of the mid-1980s.
"We don't realize how lucky we are," Downing told the 210 in attendance at yesterday's NBCC annual meeting, held at the Williams Inn. "Its ability to bring people together is absolutely unrivaled."
Gesturing toward NBCC Executive Director Al Bashevkin, Downing said, "It's a pleasure to say you're a part of my district."
As the meeting's keynote speaker, Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray noted that the thriving organization — now in its 21st year — has a "level of coordination" that he would like to see at the Statehouse.
"It's what we're trying to replicate in the executive branch," Murray said.
Congratulating the winners of NBCC's Northern Berkshire Heroes Award, given to residents who embody the spirit of selfless service and volunteerism, Murray called for "a new level of engagement" for all residents of the commonwealth.
He said the battle would be fought in the places "north, west and south of Route 128," and community involvement was a necessity "if we're going to reverse the trend of the last four years."
Mentioning the Boston Herald article that blasted Gov. Deval L. Patrick for using a helicopter to get around the state, Murray said the pair was going to be in the Berkshires — and often.
"And if it means we take a helicopter on occasion, so be it," he said.
On the topic of the "action packed" first five months of the new administration, Murray spoke about a number of municipal issues — namely, "taking pressure off the property tax," the dispersal of Chapter 90 funds for the upkeep of roads and bridges, and, last but not least, broadband, or the lack of it, throughout much of Northern Berkshire.
Murray was optimistic about broadband's eventual ubiquity in the county — sooner, rather than later.
"It's a quality-of-life issue, and I think you'll see significant progress," he said, noting that a larger bond bill, still in its early stages of formulation, would bring "significant dollars to move forward."
At the end of his presentation, Murray said wryly that many residents wanted to know: "What (exactly) does the lieutenant governor do?" And he said one of his key projects was spearheading an interagency council on substance abuse prevention — an issue dear to the NBCC since its early days — and that his council currently was studying the impact of alcoholic beverage marketing.
Speaking from the floor, Ed Sedarbaum, the NBCC's special projects coordinator — and the facilitator of several anti-underage drinking campaigns — told Murray that "sometimes the solutions (to underage drinking) in cities don't necessarily work in rural areas."
And with that, Murray invited Sedarbaum to take part on his council.
"We're always looking for strategies for rural areas," he added.
Vivian Orlowski, a Great Barrington resident who works with the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association, asked Murray about increased communication among the county's boards of health and other entities in the public sector — a "background issue" — and wondered whether the Statehouse has a plan in place for coordination if a public health emergency were to occur.
Murray agreed that there had been a "gap" in the continuity between the Board of Health and various other agencies, and noted that John Auerbach, the new commissioner of public health, "brings an integrative approach."
Standing at the lectern, state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley recalled an early meeting, 21 years ago, held in the American Legion, when he had been uncertain whether the fledgling NBCC would get off the ground.
Surveying the crowded room, the legislator said, "It seems like this gets bigger every year." Although the problems are the same, he said, "We've become far better at responding to them. And we still need to work together."