The following is my inaugural speech. I look forward to a great four years working together.
Governor Baker, my fellow elected officials, clergy, and citizens.
It is an honor for me to be here tonight with my wife Alison, my son Ryan, my daughter Kiley, my family, and so many dear friends. I want to thank them publicly for their support and the sacrifices they have made for me and for this community.
I would like to thank the citizens of Melrose for the privilege of serving as this city’s Mayor. I would like to thank all the staff that are here today, for dedicating their professional lives to making our lives better. I would like to thank the hundreds of volunteers who serve on our boards and commissions. I would also like to recognize those who stand on the stage tonight, who have stepped forward, put their name on the ballot, and stood for election. Each of you deserves the respect and admiration of the community, and I congratulate you.
Tonight I hope to paint a picture for you of this city’s future. So much of the world is changing, and so much will change over the next four years. Despite this external change, however, the governing philosophy of my administration will stay the same. These are my ten guiding principles:
- Assemble the best management team;
- Manage costs, manage debt, and always stay ahead of a potential crisis;
- Ensure equal access to resources and opportunities;
- Strive always to bring depth and meaning to the slogan “Melrose: One community open to all”;
- Embrace transportation planning that accommodates a mix of modes, including auto, rail, bike, and pedestrian;
- Promote a citywide agenda that always puts public education at the forefront;
- Continue to invest in the maintenance and enhancement of our city’s infrastructure and technology;
- Create a vibrant economic climate that attracts and supports a wide diversity of businesses, cultural, historical, and recreational opportunities in every part of the city;
- Promote balanced and responsible suburban design and planning, and protect our city’s environmental greenbelt.
- And most important, promote and involve an active citizenry that works in partnership with a responsive government to manage this City in a thoughtful, honest, and accountable manner.
Let’s dive in.
Working together, this is what we can accomplish.
- With the Veterans Board, we will complete the Ell Pond Knoll as a comprehensive veterans’ monument, honoring all wars and conflicts, making it a centerpiece for community remembrance, acknowledgement, and recommitment to our veterans.
- We will follow the lead of Alderman Lemmerman in the creation of the Melrose Commission on Women, to provide a unified voice to promote issues in the community, such as family policies, equal pay, and women’s health, and recognize the accomplishments of Melrose women past and present.
- We have spent the past six months surveying and conducting focus groups with our seniors. In the coming month we will release a comprehensive plan to expand and re-energize senior services throughout Melrose.
- We will complete a major phase in the renovation of Melrose High School with the opening of the Learning Commons, a project that will further enhance the experience and offerings at our flagship school.
- We will complete the Hoover School renovation project, bringing new life to this 60-year-old school, which is a thriving anchor for one of our city’s most beautiful neighborhoods.
- With the Library Trustees, we will complete a grant application for submission in January 2017 for a major renovation of the Melrose Public Library. If successful, it will present an opportunity to renovate our historic library with up to 50% reimbursement through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program.
- By signing the Community Compact with the Baker-Polito administration, we will further advance our Complete Streets program; improve and expand our regionalization agreements; and further our successful energy conservation efforts.
- We will complete Melrose’s first comprehensive and sustainable technology plan for both city and schools. As the plan is currently being implemented, our students are already seeing increased access and opportunity in every classroom.
- This year, we will announce several drop-in events throughout the city whose focus is to educate and enroll eligible citizens in our discount programs for water, sewer, property taxes, and solid waste, as well as for veterans’ benefits. We invite all citizens to meet personally and confidentially with our City Hall team in a “one-stop shopping” environment to help eligible citizens continue to live and thrive in our community.
- We will soon post the Melrose virtual budget, making us the eighth community in the Commonwealth to provide this online tool, which creates a citizen-friendly visualization of our city budget and enhances our ability to communicate complex financial data in a meaningful way to residents. It is my hope that this will promote increased transparency and civic engagement.
- We will complete a comprehensive Master Plan for our community by the end of this summer, a blueprint led by you, the citizens of Melrose, that directs us, your public servants, into the next decade.
- We look forward to the completion this summer of the MASSWorks project on Essex Street that will expand the beauty and vibrancy of our envied downtown from West Emerson to Main Street.
- In 2016 we will unveil a new community event, a New Parent Expo, which will engage our newest residents and new families with our businesses, social programs, and our public schools.
- We will increase downtown parking to support local businesses, by creating new parking spaces in the Shaws parking lot through recent land acquisition.
- With the help of the Commonwealth, we will begin the painting and renovation of the historic and iconic Beebe Estate, in partnership with the Board of Trustees.
- We look forward to unprecedented private development in this community, including new development on Corey Street, the city’s first assisted living facility on Essex Street, the full renovation of the Moynihan Plaza, and Phase Two of the Stone Place smart growth development. And it is my hope that I will be Mayor the day that Caruso’s reopens.
- In a regionalized effort with Malden, we will renovate the rugby field at Pine Banks, further enhancing this outstanding regional athletic facility.
- With the help of Governor Baker and the signing of our new liquor laws, we anticipate the opening of Giacomo’s restaurant from the North End. Last week we saw the opening of a new restaurant, Wood and Fire, on Essex St, and we look forward to the opening of a new restaurant that will bring more diners to the Highlands.
- I fully understand the continued concern over water and sewer bills. That anxiety stretches not only through Melrose but through the entire MWRA service area. In the coming month I will send to our Water and Sewer Committee a list of goals, initiatives, and reforms designed—not to make headlines—but to actually help alleviate, within our powers, water and sewer rates in the city of Melrose. They include
- The completion of new metering throughout the city by July 1 to immediately identify leaks and problems in individual systems as well as to eliminate estimates.
- Exploration of monthly billing, with a plan that would begin monthly billing for large user accounts in July 2016 and create an opt-in option for all residential properties in 2017. This will eliminate proration and allow families to manage their bills on a monthly rather than quarterly basis, if they choose, and identify irregularities more quickly.
- Implementation of programs in 2016 that extend senior citizen and income based discounts to all qualifying residents in condominiums.
- An aggressive multi-year inflow and infiltration program, on a par with the major investments this city made over the past decade to eliminate flooding.
- These real reforms produce relief, savings, and needed investment. We ask the MWRA to make similar reforms and acknowledge the unsustainability of their debt and their practices.
- As our federal drug and opioid grant funding ends this fiscal year, I am making a commitment that we will retain the services of our substance abuse prevention coordinator. Her work within our schools and with addicts in search of help as well as families in crisis has saved lives in this city. It is her efforts, along with the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition in our Health Department that has put Narcan in our fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, and we are committed to partnering with Governor Baker to eliminate the stigma of this horrible disease that affects every family, and get people the help they need.
- And tonight, I would like to recognize two people who embody the active citizenry that I spoke of earlier. For 37 years, Ed Cassidy served on the Melrose Planning Board. His expertise and high standards can be seen in every nook and corner of this city. His wife Joan formerly served on the School Committee, but to list her civic involvement would take all night. Ed passed away in 2015. The room next to my office is called the “Mayor’s Conference Room,” but I think it is fitting to rededicate it in memory of Ed and in honor of Joan as the Cassidy Conference Room, in recognition of their example of the power of citizens to improve their community through volunteerism.
Such promise, hope, excitement, and investment! The key word to all of these goals is “we.” Because we will accomplish all of these things.
But as I have said before, I must share with you that what we have collectively built is at risk, that what we rightly call the Melrose Model of municipal government could be dismantled, that what has made this community the number one real estate market in Massachusetts and the country is absolutely at risk, and that the sustainability that we have built needs to be secured through immediate corrective action.
The citizens of Melrose clearly spoke on November 3. But what was said did not make the challenges go away. It makes solving them even harder, and in some cases impossible. How do we not go backwards?
Since November 3, the answers to that question have been few and far between. We know that
- The federal government is absolutely withdrawing from cities and towns.
- The state could be facing a $1 billion revenue shortfall and many complex challenges.
- Insurance costs, even with the GIC, are skyrocketing.
- We are running out of space in our schools because Melrose is such a desirable place to live, and there is no money to solve this issue.
- Revenue is capped, growth is limited, and we remain 96% residential.
In order to avoid very serious financial consequences and allow us to make the targeted advancements announced tonight and move forward, tonight I am offering the following plan. I believe that all ten of these steps must be taken. Not a few—all must now be taken in order to be successful.
- The rehabilitation and strengthening of the MBTA is absolutely critical to the health of this city. I commend Governor Baker for his leadership on an incredibly complex issue, and I am co-chair of the Fix the T Coalition, a coalition of businesses and government leaders. We must support the Transportation Board as well as Governor Baker’s reforms and initiatives. In addition, we must support the Governor’s recently submitted municipal reform act. During these challenging times, the state must take the handcuffs off cities and towns to allow them to be more creative, faster, more flexible, and more efficient, and not bog them down with regulations that are oftentimes without reason.
- The biggest challenge politically and financially will be contracts, our most expensive line item. Contracts with employees who we respect and admire, and yes, who deserve more. I am not asking for wage freezes, as we have done in the past, but the people on this stage, without question, are going to have to hold the line. That is not easy. I have spent my professional life advocating for municipal employees, but we must respect that our first job is the financial security of this community and our obligation to taxpayers. We must preserve jobs and services FIRST, and if we do not hold the line on salaries and benefits, that will be absolutely impossible. To start, all non-union COLAs will be capped at 1%, and I will not seek additional compensation for the office of Mayor for the next six years. The Board of Aldermen and the School Committee will never be more relevant than in the coming year, and if we do not approve contracts that we can support and that are sustainable, then this community will be in real trouble.
- We must hold the line on operational debt. We are on track to pay off two-thirds of our debt over the next 10 years. That is very positive, but I must commit to no bonding, outside of our commitment to inflow and infiltration work, in 2016. We must preserve our current bond rating, which is the highest bond rating in the city’s history.
- We must limit the use of one-time money for ongoing operating expenses. The need to use free cash to balance the school budget is not a problem that we can fix without unnecessary harm to students, and I won’t do it, but we must hold the line today on one-time revenues for ongoing operating expenses or we will be in real financial trouble.
- We must continue our reforms, which must include a total revamping of our police and fire 911 systems. This will be difficult, but in order to preserve and advance services in public safety, this must be accomplished, either through regionalized dispatch with the cities of Medford and Somerville or through combined police and fire dispatch in this city. The system we have today is flawed and inefficient.
- We must continue to grow, with a focus on smart growth surrounding our transportation nodes, in order to become less dependent on state aid that is inconsistent.
- We must support small businesses but also understand that the great challenge of the next four years will be the growth and survival of Melrose-Wakefield Hospital. It is imperative that Melrose-Wakefield Hospital find a partner to take it to the next level in terms of capital investment and technology. City Hall must hold the hospital accountable, as it could be seeking unprecedented growth in the future, but the fact remains that this100-year-old institution is our largest employer and a tremendous benefit to our citizens.
- Melrose must continue to be seen as a place welcoming to all people. We are not a perfect community, as we saw at the middle school. But the fact is, we must strive to be perfect and continue to be a community that is welcoming to all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, regardless of what languages they speak, and even how long they have lived in this city. We all have a seat at this table.
- We must maintain and in some cases re-establish civil communication and dialogue as a community. We have always taken great pride in the civility of our public debates, but we must not be tempted to sink into the abyss which is the current national political dialogue, which is a disgraceful circus of name-calling, scapegoating, rumor-mongering, and utter disrespect. That is beneath this community.
- The conversation this community had this past election regarding the future of funding public schools, and the issues we face, did not end on November 3. It has just begun. We are not talking about another ballot question here. What we are talking about is a continued conversation regarding the fundamental challenges that our School Department faces that are not being addressed by this community. Because—let me be clear—for as long as I am Mayor, the leadership and the issues that I promote will never be about the next election. They will be about the next generation. We cannot be afraid of those discussions.
Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said “It is incumbent on each generation to pay its own debts as it goes.” As the federal deficit grows, it is often discouraging to look back at those words of our founding father. Instead of being discouraged, let this small community of 28,000 committed citizens be an example for all. Together we have lived within our means, managed our debt, and saved for the future. We have invested in our roads and pipes. We have led to preserve our environmental treasures. We seek the right answers, not the Republican or Democratic answers. We invest in our wonderful library and our cultural centers because they define who we are. We support our local businesses and our houses of worship. We lift up our neighbors in need. We invest in our children, and we keep them safe. We should be proud of all these things, for it is my goal, for as long as I am Mayor, that when Melrosians look back, 20 or 30 years from now, on our time and our collective effort and our stewardship during these challenging times, our children and our children’s children will look back on all of us and say… “Thank you.”
Let us continue to make history together.