|Persip Focuses On Collaboration In Council Re-election Bid|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:47PM / Monday, August 12, 2019
|Earl Persip is looking for a second term on the City Council.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Earl Persip III knows that he doesn't have all of the answers.
And that's why he listens to others. He said 100 people in Pittsfield will have 100 different views on an issue and he feels his job as a councilor is to listen to them all and find the best solution.
"I never go into a meeting and say I am definitely voting this way. I have an idea of how I am going to vote but then I listen to some people and oh, I didn't think about that," said the at-large councilor, who is running for a second term.
It is a quality he brings to his job as director of facilities at The Mount. He'll have an idea about how things should be done but he'll always ask his co-workers for their opinions because there might be a better way. It is a quality he brought to the City Council when first elected to an at-large seat and he is now looking to be re-elected to continue to bring collaboration and compromise to the dais.
"I don't have all of the answers. Anybody who says they have all of the answers are fooling themselves and everybody around them. I will work. I will listen. I will embrace everybody. I think that is important," Persip said.
He said it is important that a city councilor works with the administration, not against it, and focus on goals the two share. He said he'll bring his ideas to other councilors and the mayor for input and he'll do his part to help move their ideas forward.
"When you go out and campaign, 'I'm going to help fight crime.' No ... 'we.' It should be a we comment. As an individual, there is not much you can get done without banging your head against the wall. That's what's going to happen. But if you work and talk and collaborate is when you can get things done," Persip said.
The recent debate over the trash collection system is an example. Persip said even though the toter plan was rejected by the council, he still wants to make changes to the system to reduce the amount of trash being strewn about on the sidewalks. Persip said the councilors all took their votes on it for different reasons and as a councilor, he wants to focus the pieces each councilor did like and try to come up with another plan. He said he doesn't know the answer yet but knows there is one.
"Let's talk about what the answer is. There is an answer out there so let's work it together. I think ultimately the administration sent us a plan and we beat up on it and we just sent it back and saying we don't like it without what we do like. You have 11 different personalities up there. You have 11 people saying bits and pieces. How are they supposed to come back to us with a plan when you have 11 different people saying 11 different things?" Persip said.
He said residents live their lives in a lot of different ways and one person will never understand how each other person lives. That's why it is important to listen and find a solution to a problem that will work for every resident.
"It is hard for people to understand how other people live their lives. It is hard to understand how someone in the Morningside area goes throughout their day when they have a leaky roof, can't afford to fix it and just put a bucket under it. And some people will fix their roof, some people will move," Persip said. "How that person lives their life, you will never understand that so listen to those people."
He's met a lot of different people over the years. For most of his life, he worked at the Pittsfield Family YMCA, only recently moving on to The Mount in Lenox. The YMCA started as a part-time job when he was a teenager and he left after serving in a number of different roles, ending with overseeing the facilities for YMCAs in Pittsfield, North Adams, and Bennington, Vt.
"I've dealt with people at the Y in many different ways, all kinds of people in crisis, people just going to work out, big donors. I had the variety in working with a lot of people. I think I'm good with people. I think people can related to me in certain ways. I treat everybody the same," Persip said.
Persip grew up in the West Side, splitting his time between parents on Linden Street and John Street. The family didn't have much money so he started working as early as he could to buy his own school supplies and clothing.
"The day I could work, I got a work permit. I worked for the summer to pay for my school supplies, my school clothes. It was what we had to do. My dad was around but there were substance-abuse problems so he was in and out. My mom worked two jobs. I was always with my grandparents," Persip said.
He began working a summer job at the YMCA and when he graduated Taconic High School had plans to go to technical school and eventually open an auto dealership as his father had. But that got sidetracked in a hurry.
"When I was 19 my dad got incarcerated so my plans for going off to college kind of fell apart. At 19 years old, the guy who was going to pay for me to do this had substance abuse problems and got in trouble. It sucked," Persip said. "So I stayed working at the Y. They were very supportive."
He got promoted at age 23 to be camp director. He took over running after-school programs. Eventually, he got certified in early education to be a preschool teacher and oversaw the school-age program. He ran youth sports for a period of time. He was promoted to senior program director, overseeing multiple programs. And then up to operations director when the Pittsfield YMCA merged with the North Adams one. In that role, he oversaw half of the organization's budget, was responsible for all of the licenses, facilities, and the operations of a number of programs
"The biggest budget I was in charge of at the Y was $2.2 million," Persip said. "The overall budget was $4.5 at the time. It was a lot of budgeting and I was good at budgeting."
But the merger was difficult. He ultimately got asked to handle only the facilities, both YMCAs, plus offsite locations. It was a continuation of a trend, if there was a part of the organization struggling, Persip would be asked to step in and help. He remembers being asked to find 10 percent savings and did so through new preventative maintenance contracts and bulk ordering products to get better pricing.
"We tried to run both buildings with the staff we had and it was not working out. You'd be in one building and be needed in another building. Usually, when the Ys are together, they are a 10-minute drive, not 30 miles apart. It was a weird scenario," Persip said.
A few years back, when the city's streetscape project was half complete, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. asked the YMCA for a representative to sit on the board. Persip agreed and that started his path toward city involvement.
"That was my first board experience. I volunteer coached flag football, I've volunteer coached baseball, I've volunteer coached basketball but this was my first something to do in the community outside of the Y," Persip said.
He liked it. He joined the board at the Christian Center. He saw the mayor at an event a few years later and asked to sit on a board and was appointed to the Animal Control Commission. He would later help get the Pittsfield Educational Foundation up and running.
"I saw more of what the city was trying to do at the time. I always followed politics. I was kind of a local politic nerd. I like national politics too. I always liked that kind of stuff. I always watched debates. As soon as I went to Downtown Inc. it was 'how can do I more to be involved in the city,'" Persip said.
He thought the at-large councilors were doing a good job so he wasn't really thinking about running. And then former Councilor Kathleen Amuso announced she wouldn't seek re-election. He kicked around the idea of running for the open seat for months, finally deciding that it was something he wanted to do.
"I left work. It was like 10 or 11 in the morning. I want to run. I think I can do a good job. I think I'll be good at this. I want to give it a shot," Persip said.
A few days later, he announced his candidacy. He, his brother, and his wife made up his entire campaign staff and he won.
"No one tells you what to do. Alright, you won, you need to get inaugurated on Jan. 2. Then you get inaugurated and nobody tells you either. You go to the city clerk's office and they give you a book but who runs this department and this department?" he said. "Between November and January, I looked it up and actually met with department heads, told them who I was, how I operated, is there anything I can do to help them do their job better."
In the last two years, he feels the council has accomplished a lot and that it is a "false narrative" that it has been ineffective. He cited a number of grants, the plastic bag ban, and the wastewater treatment center upgrades as accomplishments. The hotly debated wastewater plant was something Persip felt just had to get done after years of the city kicking the can down the road, thus raising the cost to do the work.
"Construction prices are never going to go down, ever. Putting things off to save money is the wrong approach," Persip said.
He said he'd like to do more to fight crime, but he's not going to tell the Police Department how to do that. His approach is to find the resources the department feels it needs to effectively do the job.
"I will do everything I can to Police Department decrease the crime. I will do everything I can to get the Fire Department the tools they need to do the services they do. The same with the highway. The same with parks. It is helping those departments do their job better," Persip said.
Economically, he hopes to help the city have multiple sectors, including tourism, manufacturing, bolstering downtown, and arts and cultures. He says together, all of the different economic strengths come together. He praised Wayfair bringing some 300 jobs to the city. He thinks the Berkshire Flyer passenger train will be important to tourism.
"That middle-tier manufacturer, that's our bread and butter. We are good at that," Persip said.
He worked downtown for 24 years and said he's seen how the city has improved tremendously and he'd like to see that continue. At the same time, he recognizes that there are still problems in the city.
"I'm an optimistic person. There is plenty of doom and gloom to look at but where does that get us? We are just dwelling on doom and gloom. How does that help us?" Persip said. "Let's talk about the good things that are happening and address the bad things that are happening."
Persip said there are times he doesn't want to compromise on an issue but will do so if needed to move things along. He said he is willing to work with anybody in city government to find a solution. He said even if he doesn't like the job someone is doing, he'll still be there willing to help them do it better.
"No matter who the mayor is, no matter who the city councilor is, there are always going to be problems. There is no quick fix. There is always going to be an issue. There is never going to be a surplus of money and all of the roads are paved, that's not going to happen. The city is an ongoing, growing thing. You grow, you get more problems, you decrease population, you have different problems. It is working through those problems together," he said.
Also seeking at large seats are: Alexander Blumin, Jay Hamling, Auron Stark, Yuki Cohen, Richard Latura, and incumbents Peter Marchetti and Peter White.