Pittsfield officials hear from constituents at ‘speed-repping’ event

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Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, May 2018
 
Pittsfield’s public library took a cue from “speed dating” when it hosted its first “speed-repping” event on April 13 to connect people with their local officials and legislators, making officials available for short face-to-face conversations with residents.
 
For two hours in the afternoon at the Berkshire Athenaeum, residents could sign up for five-minute slots with local officials including Mayor Linda Tyer, City Council President Peter Marchetti, Administrative Services Director Roberta McCulloch-Dews, and School Committee member Dennis Powell. Also participating were Sen. Adam Hinds and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier.
 
Alex Geller, outreach librarian at the Athenaeum and organizer of the event, said participants could sign up to speak with as many representatives as they’d like. A timekeeper kept each conversation to five minutes or less. Volunteers with the Junior League of Berkshire County helped keep the event moving “smoothly and swimmingly,” Geller said.
 
Marchetti acknowledged that he was a bit nervous when he agreed to participate, but found the conversations to be generally positive rather than a litany of complaints.
 
“They were not just laying a problem on you, but they had done some thinking about how to solve the problem at the same time,” he said.
 
Among the topics Marchetti heard about were parking issues, mosquito spraying, deteriorating infrastructure and jobs. One piece of feedback that stuck out was the perception that Pittsfield, in trying to market the city to young professionals, seemed to exclude young people not working white collar jobs.
 
“It was a good thing to hear from someone, that hey, it’s not necessarily what we’re doing, but the perception is that we’re doing that and it doesn’t encourage all young people to return here,” he said.
 
In an email, Tyer also praised the event, saying she enjoyed participating and found it to be a fun way to connect with residents and hear about the issues important to them.
 
“There were many great suggestions on how we could continue to better our community, but my favorite suggestion was that of pothole killers,” she said. “If there’s a remedy for potholes, I want to hear it!”
 
Acknowledging that the event was held during typical work hours, Geller said Pittsfield Community Television was brought in to ask officials questions that were crowdsourced in advance, with the answers aired live so those who couldn’t attend could still have their questions posed to officials.
 
Geller said he found the idea online through the Urban Libraries Council, where libraries from across the country submit ideas and share their program successes and failures. The Memphis, Tennessee, Public Library did a similar speed-repping event last year with their mayor and city councillors. Geller thought it would translate to Pittsfield because of the library’s strong relationship with the mayor’s office and City Council.
 
“I think we have representatives that value transparency and openness, and want to meet with their constituents on how to solve our issues and reach all aspirations,” he said.
 
The Berkshire Athenaeum plans to host the event at least annually, Geller said, and hopes to expand the next event to include police and fire department representatives.
 
For more information, contact Outreach Librarian Alex Geller at 413-499-9480, ext. 202, or alexander@pittsfieldlibrary.org.