The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is about to announce its first new leader in more than two decades.
Nathaniel Karns took the helm of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in 1994, becoming its second leader since its 1966 inception. Now, almost a quarter century later, he’s about to see the Commission elect its third chief.
“OK, so the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is, well, it’s a governmental unit," said Karns. "In Massachusetts lingo, it’s a substate district. The commission is represented by a delegrate from each town and city — so we have 32 delegates and 32 alternates — and our mission is, oh gosh, I wish I could recite it from memory, it is really to serve those communities and their individual and collective interests and needs, and to serve the community at large on critical issues.”
Karns has overseen the commission’s growth from a limited organization primarily dealing with transportation planning into a stronger, more complex entity with a robust role in leading the county.
“How I’ve expanded the commission’s role has been methodical," said Karns, "of taking advantage of opportunities to branch into new areas as they came up, or being extremely responsive to requests that we were getting from our local governments that they needed assistance in, X Y or Z, and always trying to find a way to respond to that.”
Despite the commission’s achievements- Karns is particularly proud of the collaborative county health program it established- he says there’s plenty for his successor to take up.
“Are there any great unfinished projects?" laughed Karns. "Gosh, I could probably run through the list.”
Karns identifies broadband access in rural communities, expanding passenger rail service to the Berkshires, and the decades-long cleanup of General Electric’s pollution of the Housatonic River as the issues the commission still has to tackle.
“Nat was a wonderful, very inclusive leader, that had built up through the years tremendous relationships with all the communities in the county," said Kyle Hanlon, of North Adams. He’s the chairman of the commission, which will announce his replacement Friday.
“I hope that his successor can fill his shoes,” said Hanlon.
Karns, 65, is looking forward to spending more time at his camp in Maine and seeking out interesting consulting work in his retirement.