New modes of outreach and two-way communication between City Hall and Melrosians and emphasis on Melrose Public Schools highlight the 2012 agenda laid out by Mayor Rob Dolan at Monday night's inaugural ceremonies in Memorial Hall.
In reaching out to Melrose citizens, the 10-year mayor entering a new four-year term said that with the ongoing economic climate, in which the city needs to create sustainability without relying on additional assistance from the state or federal levels, requires the city must go to its "active and intelligent citizenry" to brainstorm and develop ideas for the future. (Read the full text of Dolan's speech.)
"We must engage the thousands of new residents who have moved into our city in the past 10 years," he said. "We must re-engage those who have been here for decades. We must create a new melting pot of Melrose citizens. All their voices need to be heard, and they need to be an active part of our vision."
In stoking that two-way communication, Dolan noted the launching of the city's new official Twitter account; a survey attached to every email from any city employee that goes to a resident; posting of city department goals every six months on the city's website; and the Melrose Board of Aldermen and School Committee using tablets during their meetings, with agenda documents available to viewers at home as they're being discussed.
"But I also believe some of the old fashioned ways of communicating, like actually talking to people, can be just as effective," he said. The city will launch an "Our City" series of community discussions with the volunteer help of Melrose resident and consultant Gary Romano, in the hopes of creating a "modern master plan that will spell out our shared vision," Dolan said.
High School Renovations on Horizon
In October 2007, Dolan had announced plans for a multi-phase renovation of Melrose High School. The first phase of that project was completed in the summer of 2008, with electrical and data wiring upgraded throughout the school and interactive whiteboards installed in every classroom, but shortly thereafter, the fiscal crisis hit and plans to further renovate the tired building stalled.
Then last June, Melrose High School was placed on warning status for curriculum and building condition standards during the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) reaccreditation process.
Work on the curriculum standards continues, with a mandatory progress report deadline extended to March 1, and Monday night Dolan—after first noting the search for a new school superintendent—pledged that the city would create a building committee to invest "millions" in the renovation of Melrose High School.
"We must do it without a debt exclusion, we will do it within our debt limit, we will do it without compromising classroom education," he said.
Among the items targeted for renovation in the high school are new science labs for which the city will apply to the Massachusetts School Building Assistance Program for funding. NEASC cited in its accreditation report "inoperable hoods in some science labs that do not meet code and are labeled 'Do Not Use.'"
Also, the city is working with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council on energy-efficiency throughout the building, and Dolan said wants to turn the School Resource Center into "a new Melrose Technology Center"—a 21st century library that will also serve as a center of professional development for teachers, city employees and the community.
In addition to the high school renovations, Dolan said he'll propose increasing the city's contribution to the school district by over $1 million and invest an additional $75,000 in textbooks and learning materials—another item noted by the NEASC report—on top of the $40,000 for textbooks committed this school year.
Dolan also seeks to establish two $10,000 city grants: a Melrose Innovation Grant Program that supports teachers who want to try new approaches that, if successful, could be replicated throughout the district; and an fine arts grant program named after Joe Messina, the school fine arts director who retired at the end of the 2009 school year after 45 years of teaching.
New Board Leaders Speak to Volunteerism
In brief remarks, Ward 1 John Tramontozzi—elected earlier in the evening by his peers as the Board of Aldermen president for 2012—thanked his wife Martina and his four daughters, who he said "embody the spirit of involvement which is so much of what we as aldermen work so hard to foster." Tramontozzi's daughter Maria sang "God Bless America" during the ceremonies while Laura and Anastasia played with the MHS Marching Band; the board president's eldest daughter Martina is on an exchange program in Barcelona.
"These kids and their peers represent what sets Melrose apart—an active sense of community, the willingness to participate to make things better and the willingness to work and to try new things," Tramontozzi said. "I hope that future generations will look back and say that today, our community leaders honored that spirit of engagement. That they had the sense and foresight to build a community fit for us to inherit. That is why a responsive, open and fair system of local democracy is so important."
Kristin Thorp, a Melrose School Committee for the past seven years and the 2012 committee chairwoman, said the commitee is comprised of "serious, knowledgable, committed volunteers who have given many, many hours of their time" and also spoke to Melrose's spirit of volunteerism.
"When there's a need, there's always someone who steps forward to fill it," Thorp said. "Without that base of commitment and caring, we would not be the community we are, and I am proud to be a part of it."
In his opening remarks, Congressman Ed Markey called Dolan "one of the greatest mayors in America" and noted that the U.S. unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, the Massachusetts rate is 7 percent and Melrose's rate is 4.8 percent.
"This city has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States of America," Markey said, attributing it to the "incredible team of people who are sitting up here on the stage" and the "incredible work" done by those in the audience and public at large.
"I know that Sen. (Katherine) Clark and Rep. (Paul) Brodeur and I consider ourselves to be wholly-owned subsidiaries of the mayor, Board of Aldermen and the School Committee to do whatever it is they want us to do," Markey said to chuckles from the audience.