29 Dec Mr. Jon Cartu Research – Pittsfield 2020 Year in Review: City Grapples With Social Issues …
Police Chief Michael Wynn marches in the procession to Durant Park in June. The chief says he is committed to working with community groups to build a more equitable society.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield in 2020 addressed social issues such as police reform, inclusivity, and domestic violence, along with a worldwide pandemic.
In June, following weeks of worldwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., at the hands of police, Pittsfield began to look at the Police Department’s use of force policy and saw a number of rallies and protests against police violence.
While waiting for guidance from the Legislature, the Pittsfield Police Advisory and Review Board issued a statement in September saying the use of neck restraints is currently not authorized by the PPD. This was before the Legislature implemented a police reform bill in December that limits no-knock warrants and bans chokeholds.
That same month, the City Council cut $100,000 out of the Police Department budget and allocated $85,000 of that for additional mental health clinicians. The Police Department also reported that its partnership with the Brien Center for mental health and substance abuse services is going well and was seeing positive benefits.
In an effort to aid non-English speaking Pittsfield residents and provide incentives for being bilingual, The Ordinance and Rules subcommittee unanimously approved Mayor Linda Tyer’s proposed ordinance to compensate city employees for being bilingual and bi-literate. Under this ordinance, a city employee may be eligible for an additional $125 a month for either oral or reading/written fluency, or $175 for both oral and written fluency.
To fill a gap of needed services for domestic abuse victims and survivors, District Attorney Andrea Harrington launched a High-Risk Team designed to bring multiple disciplines together to strengthen social service and law enforcement responses to domestic violence. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito was in attendance for a socially distanced press conference at The Common on First Street to announce this initiative.
Pittsfield mourned the loss of former Mayor Gerald Doyle Jr., who died in August at the age of 62. Doyle was successful in forcing General Electric to live up to its obligations to the city of Pittsfield, signing a consent decree with GE that guaranteed $10 million to the city, and the cleanup of PCBs.
The city also said goodbye to Pittsfield Public School’s Superintendent Jason McCandless, who became superintendent at Mount Greylock Regional School District after being offered the post. Pittsfield chose Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis as interim superintendent and held McCandless to his 90-day notice, which ended in November. The School Committee has begun the search process with the expectation of having a new permanent superintendent by July 1, 2021.
Pittsfield, along with the rest of the world, saw death, cancellations, and a different way of living because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The virus reached Berkshire County in early March when a man admitted to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield was the first in the county to test positive for COVID-19.
By the end of the year, at least 40 residents at Hillcrest Commons had died, the majority of the city’s 46 recorded deaths. Berkshire Medical Center treated more than 270 patients since March and had 51 deaths.
To aid Berkshire Medical Center’s efforts to fight the rapidly escalating public health crisis, award-winning singer/songwriter James Taylor and his wife, Kim, donated $350,000 to the Pittsfield hospital to establish the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Berkshire Health Systems.
The Taylors said they felt the need to support BMC because the Berkshires are their favorite place to be even though they travel globally. James Taylor has performed at most of Tanglewood’s 4th of July concerts since 1974.
On March 23, in the second week of the pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker announced an emergency “stay at home” order mandating that only essential businesses continue operating. At this time, Tyer was in contact with Baker and the Berkshire delegation asking for three critical things: expedited access to personal protective equipment from the national stockpile for first-responders, faster access to testing supplies and labs, and the inclusion of economic response and recovery in Community Development Block Grant applications.
Berkshire Medical Center joined a convalescent plasma study being done by the Mayo Clinic in April, turning to recovered COVID-19 patients for blood donations that have the possibility of helping those currently suffering from the virus.
BMC set up a tent for drive-through testing in the spring. It later expanded to testing sites in North Adams and Great Barrington.
In June, the City Council accepted $900,000.00 from the state through the CARES Act to be used for pandemic-related expenses. This was the first installment of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, as the city was eligible for $3.7 million total.
Pittsfield experienced a beacon of hope toward the end of 2020 when Berkshire Medical Center was one of 21 hospitals selected to begin receiving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in December. BMC got to work offering the vaccine to individuals who are in most contact with the virus and will offer the vaccine to all 4,000 employees.
Pittsfield was also added to the nationwide Stop the Spread program or for asymptomatic, cost-free testing around the same time as one of the three testing sites in Berkshire County. This was in great need after a COVID-19 surge following Halloween weekend that placed Pittsfield in the high-risk category for transmission.
Pittsfield’s long-held traditions fell victim to the pandemic as well. The Fourth of July Parade was canceled for the first time since 1977 and replaced with a historical document on Pittsfield Community Television called “Fighting for Independence: The History of the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade.”
Other cancellations included the annual Halloween Parade that locals have enjoyed for the past 25 years, the iconic 3rd Thursday season, which had been a staple event since 2006, and the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony that was done virtually. The Halloween Parade was replaced with a segment aired on PCTV called “Haunted Streets: A Celebration of 25 Years of Halloween Parades,” that looked back at some of the best floats and moments of the past 25 years of PCTV’s parade coverage.
In addition to experiencing a global pandemic, 2020 was the year that Americans voted in record numbers in the presidential election.
Leading up to this election, Pittsfield Democrats were active in encouraging eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote. In mid-October, the Berkshire Brigades participated in a nationwide “Big-Send,” a national campaign by nonprofit Vote Forward to encourage participation in this year’s presidential election. The political group collected was able to contribute thousands to the Big Send. State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier contributed 50 letters addressed to individuals in the state of Florida.
Both Edward Markey and Joseph Kennedy III made stops in Pittsfield and the county during the Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate. Markey, who won re-election to the Senate, spoke in Park Square twice, first in July during a primary campaign swing where he spoke about education, health, and the Green New Deal and again at a last-minute rally at the end of October on the tail-end of his campaign.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, county Democrats celebrated the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris win (nearly 2-1 in Massachusetts) with dancing, a drum performance, and speeches.
Pittsfield saw a boom in the cannabis business in 2020. In February, the Community Development Board voted to allow outdoor marijuana cultivation in residential districts as long as they are 500 feet away from homes instead of restricting pot growth in residential areas. That same month, the Zoning Board of…