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Mayor Dolan Delivers State of the City Address at Melrose Inauguration

Several speeches were given during the Melrose Inaugural Ceremonies Monday night at Memorial Hall, including Mayor Rob Dolan's State of the City Address.

Mayor Rob Dolan gives the State of the City Address during the Melrose Inaugural Ceremonies Monday night at Memorial Hall. Credit: Mark Ouellette
Mayor Rob Dolan gives the State of the City Address during the Melrose Inaugural Ceremonies Monday night at Memorial Hall. Credit: Mark Ouellette

Several speeches were given during the Melrose Inaugural Ceremonies Monday
night at Memorial Hall, including Mayor Rob Dolan's State of the City Address.

Processional

The ceremonies, which were presided over by past president of the Board of Aldermen William Forbes, got underway with a processional, led by Police Chief Michael Lyle and Fire Chief Christopher Leary. Shortly thereafter, the Melrose Girl Scouts participated in the posting of the colors, followed by the Melrose Cub Scouts Pack 615's reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Melrose High School Band's playing of Francis Scott Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Invocation

Reverence Veronica Lanier of the American Baptist Church was unable to participate in the invocation; however, Rabbi Arnold Fertig of the Temple Beth Shalom led in the reading of the invocation.

Opening Remarks

Suzanne Bump, auditor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, provided the opening remarks for the ceremonies.

"I'd like to extend my best wishes to all taking the oath of office this evening," she said. "Your willingness to take on these positions of responsibility deserves our thanks. I hope you'll find that even when the days are long, when the resources are scarce and the solutions seem unattainable that holding public office can be a source of tremendous satisfaction."

City Officials Sworn In

Several minutes later, City Clerk Mary-Rita O'Shea administered the oath of office for the Board of Aldermen and the School Committee members gathered on stage while more than a hundred people in the audience looked on.

Conn: City Has Evolved Over the Years

Donald Conn Jr., recently tabbed as the president of the Aldermen for the sixth time during his tenure on the board, spoke briefly during the ceremonies. 

"I grew up in Melrose and I've had the opportunity to watch the city evolve over more than 50 years now," he said. "There's a stark contrast today to the Melrose we all knew growing up.

"Over the last decade the mayor, the Melrose School Committee, the Board of Aldermen, our great city department heads with the support of our community, we've constructed a wonderful middle school, we've made tremendous strides in trying to solve, and I think solving, the terrible flooding problems that beset the city for many, many years and we now have playing and athletic fields in the City of Melrose that are second to none."

Following Conn's remarks, Blue of a Kind, a local men's a cappella ensemble, sang two songs, including Jean Sibelius and Veikko Antero Koskenniemi's "Finladia" and "Walk Humbly Son" by Michael R. Clem and arrangement by Bob Eggers.

Forbes, who is retiring from the Aldermen after serving as president in 2013, introduced Dolan as a man who "loves his job, he loves his city (and) he loves the people that live in the city." 

State of the City Address

Like Forbes, Dolan also received a lengthy standing ovation from the audience before giving the State of the City Address. The following is Dolan's entire State of the City Address:

Good evening. I would like to thank the people of Melrose for the continued opportunity and privilege to serve as the Mayor of this great City.

Tonight I will not talk about our collective past accomplishments but speak of our future and a renewed dedication to recommit to the partnerships, the collaboration, and the teamwork that allows me to say that the State of our City is strong and vibrant.

Tonight we celebrate and usher in those citizens who have committed to improve our City through a more formal process of elected office. I wish to congratulate and thank the wonderful members of the Board of Aldermen, many of whom I have served with through my entire tenure as mayor, and welcome Jennifer Lemmerman and Scott Forbes, who represent a new generation of Melrosians willing to serve and improve our community.

I want to congratulate my colleagues on the School Committee and welcome Jessica Dugan, who has been a tireless advocate to improve our schools for the past several years. I also wish to recognize those who stepped forward in some of the hardest times to run for office: Michael Zwirko, George Doyle, James Bradley, David Buonopane, Dale Parsons, Bruce Carmichael, Mario Portillo, Richard Costa, Lizbeth DeSelm, Gerry Mroz, Jason Kraunelis, and Ed O’Connell, as well as Don Lehman, Ron Seaboyer and Bill Forbes, who are retiring from public life.

The people on the stage tonight, those individuals who serve formally on the two dozen boards and commissions, our school site councils, our PTOs, and our countless task forces, advisory groups and search committees, these individual community leaders are at the heart of the partnerships and collaborations that have found solutions for the challenging problems of our times.

For example, the Melrose Planning Board in the coming months will take on the rezoning of Tremont Street and Essex Street and review proposed developments on the Washington Street corridor, and from Oak Grove to the Highlands, which will fundamentally change and improve the landscape and the spine of our city forever. These are incredibly important deliberations that will bring about positive change and sound economic development.

The Recycling Committee will move in 2014 toward achieving a collective goal that we set out two years ago of weekly recycling for the city of Melrose, a goal that must include collective community commitment to lessen tonnage, increase recycling, lower costs, and improve our environment.

The Board of Aldermen, who have been incredible financial stewards, must continue to protect the highest bond rating in the city’s history as we face another year of less revenue and more demands. They will openly and fairly debate proposals sent from my administration.

It must also be noted that none of this could have been possible without our extraordinary staff, led by a group of department heads and managers, who are here tonight, that I believe make up the best management team in Massachusetts, and I would like to publicly recognize them tonight, along with those outstanding employees whom they manage.

This collection of human resources that our city holds, from elected to appointed officials, have brought us through some of the most challenging times since the Great Depression to the point where our community is described by Standard and Poors as having “an incredibly strong economy,” “strong budgetary systems with consistent operating results,” “strong liquidity and debt management, ” and “strong management and business practices.”

We have proven here in Melrose that government can work–but not alone. The foundations of our success, today and in the future, are those partnerships, both formal and informal, those collaborations, both in the Aldermanic Chamber and in playgrounds and in coffee shops, and the collective teamwork, from citywide endeavors to neighborhood projects, that are not simply focused on pointing out the problems but on finding and advancing solutions.

Tonight, I want to extend once again an open invitation to young and old, individuals and neighborhoods, those who are new to our City or have been here for generations, to join our government initiatives and to collaborate with us and with your neighbors to find solutions. The people on the stage tonight have chosen a more formal approach, but there are countless ways to become engaged, to educate yourself about our community and what is happening, and to find your niche, to make your contribution, and as importantly, to be part of the community-wide dialogue.

It continues to be our goal to increase our use of social media, to bring the community dialogue to your home or office on your time. We are bringing the invitation and the access to you because your opinions are important and valued. For example: The mayor’s blog receives over 100 hits a day. With a move in 2014 to more posts by individual departments, not-for-profits and neighborhood groups, you can be part of that 24-hour, 365-day dialogue. We currently have close to 1,000 Twitter followers. Help us reach our goal of 1,000 followers by February 1 and be part of this real-time dialogue. Check out our new school websites and learn about the exciting things that are happening in our public schools, regardless of whether you have children attending now, your children graduated 20 years ago, or you have the hope of a family in the future.

Since fully launching our websites a few months ago we have seen a 200% increase in traffic. In 2014, we will launch our new City website to make information even more accessible and to provide you with the opportunity to participate in a community conversation and to receive newsletters in areas of our city government that you might be interested in, be it recycling, economic development, or public safety to name just a few.

We will continue to reach out in new ways:

In 2014 I will hold bimonthly online question and answer sessions with the public.

In December, we brought people together to discuss the school budget in an informal, relatively unstructured forum led by the Melrose Education Foundation. That was so successful that I would like to expand the program in 2014 and begin a Citizens’ University that includes interactive seminars on topics like Proposition 2 ½ and assessments; zoning, planning and building codes; a citizens’ police academy; and the Community Preservation Act. The topics are endless, and suggestions are welcome.

In 2014, Chief Lyle and I will initiate ward meetings to discuss collaborative ways to make our city safer.

In 2014, we seek to bring new life to the incredibly successful Adopt-A-Site programs with more sites and invigorated volunteers, to beautify and protect our city’s parks and open spaces.

The old forms of civic engagement still work for some but don’t work for most people any more, in a culture where both parents in a family may be working, their children are busy with countless activities, and time is scarce. We will use technology along with more traditional methods to engage all citizens at their convenience and by their choice, to invite them to become more involved in the community, to volunteer in our schools, to take part in our veterans’ activities, to support our city’s not-for-profits and houses of worship, and to make positive change. Your actions are important and valued.

Can one individual make substantive change in an era of gridlock and a lack of civility in the public process?

In Melrose, the answer is still yes. I know there are people in this room and at home who perhaps don’t think that a small group of citizens can make fundamental change, but that is not true here in Melrose. In 2014, as we did last year, we will see the fruits of the efforts of individual citizens and groups who sought to work with a collaborative government to make changes that benefit all of us, now and in the future. Some examples:

A group of concerned parents from the Melrose Educational Coalition began greater discussions of the educational needs of our students. That spark triggered the Innovation Grants, which were established in the FY 13 budget.

That excitement in turn inspired the Melrose Education Foundation, which has already made a substantial mark on community awareness and raised money to support educators with the help of hundreds of volunteers. The future of this foundation is limitless.

The Our City Series, sparked by a small group of parents, led by Gary Romano, sought to engage the public, with government, in a new, modern process of community planning and goal-setting, based on meeting the needs of individuals at different points in their lives. This program not only won the 2013 Pickard Award for innovation in government from the Massachusetts Municipal Association but also brought us more bike racks, better parking regulations, expanded adult education classes, a new teen center format, and an incredibly fun Summer Stroll block party.

A group of young parents with new babies, a time of great joy but also great trepidation, sought out others who are going through the same experience. They contacted Melrose City Hall and the Birth-to-Five Committee, with over 200 members, in a few short months established the Parents of Newborns group to provide community support and connect these citizens to one another.

The Messina Grants: A small group of artists sought ways to bring the fine arts to all our citizens and to support the artists within our community in a time when funding for grants and projects is being cut at all levels of our government. Our community provided some money, and they are expanding the availability and participation of fine arts throughout the city.

Conflict ensued when dogs were banned from Mount Hood. Instead of escalating the issue, parties from all sides got together and not only solved that problem but created the Melrose Dog Society, which provides support for pet owners across the city and brings like-minded people together for positive change, and they in turn partnered with the city to create the Dog Park.

A small group of children and parents decided they wanted to rebuild their playgrounds. They organized, they engaged the government and our incredible neighborhood and school organizations, and they were able to rebuild the Roosevelt playground and the Bingham Park at the Lincoln School. Soon, the Horace Mann playground will be renovated as well. These dreams and goals were set into action by citizens and government to create a better community for all.

The examples are endless. Lisa Lord’s veterans’ history project, the creation of the Melrose High School girls hockey team, the renovation of the World War I memorial, the Martin Luther King days of service, the work of the Friends of the Fells, all of these in one short year are examples of government in partnership with solution-minded citizens working collaboratively to change our City, to find solutions, and to prove that this process in America does still work. Just look at our Melrose.

Tonight we recommit to make next year better than this year.

These collaborations and partnerships don’t stop at our man-made borders. They include regional partnerships, partnerships with private businesses and investors, internal partnerships within city governments, and collaboration with not-for-profits and houses of worship and clubs and organizations to assist those in need and lift up all of our neighbors. In 2014 we will mark year one of our groundbreaking regionalization agreements with eight communities and advance the study of a regional 911 emergency response system.

2014 will also begin some of the largest infrastructure projects in our city’s history: A $1 million investment in the Highlands business district and a $3 million investment in Lebanon Street and Hospital Square. This, along with millions dollars of private investment, from one end of Melrose to another, will require true partnerships between small businesses, property owners, private investors, and a user-friendly municipal government. It is a true pleasure and privilege to work with our Melrose Chamber of Commerce. 2014 will be dedicated to strengthening our business relationships to promote jobs and investment to benefit all.

This will include the unparalleled cooperation with my partner, Cyndy Taymore, the Superintendent of Schools, to continue to work collaboratively to benefit taxpayers and students. We support our schools in countless ways, including sound financial planning, legal support, contract negotiations, human resources and benefit management, energy efficiency, capital improvements, maintenance and purchasing and snow removal–all costs and responsibilities and time that would otherwise take away from the focus on student achievement and educators. The burden on our educators has never been higher, and my goal is to ensure that their professional time, training, and energy are solely focused on improving the Melrose Public Schools.

Tonight I am joined by three prominent Melrosians and spiritual leaders who must be recognized: Rabbi Arnold Fertig of the Temple Beth Shalom, who is also a member of our Human Rights Commission, Rev. Veronica Lanier of the American Baptist Church, and Rev. Bruce Lomas of Trinity Episcopal Church. These three partners, along with their colleagues in faith, work together with our City government every day to achieve the universal goals, regardless of faith traditions, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and inviting a stranger in need into shelter. We work together to give hope to the hopeless, to help those addicted to drugs and alcohol, and to end discrimination in all forms, and when anyone in our community mourns due to tragedy, we mourn together. Let 2014 be a year when we strengthen even more our partnerships and collaboration with our houses of worship, our hospital, our human service agencies, and our fraternal organizations that share our goals.

Why are these partnerships so important? They are important because the times we presently live in are incredibly challenging. Some of the challenges:

1. Our revenues have never recovered from this recession, yet the demands have never been greater–and this doesn’t add up.

2. The question remains whether the federal government will be a partner or not. If they withdraw, there is nothing left to fill that hole.

3. The ability to fund our schools at the rate of communities with higher taxes and more commercial properties is not there without higher taxes.

4. The constant mandates of the MWRA and federal regulations are in direct conflict with our ability to set lower water and sewer rates.

5. Our technology needs outpace our financial ability to maintain constantly relevant, 21st century upgrades, especially for our students.

6. Our historic properties, such as our public safety buildings, Memorial Hall, and the library, need infusions of investment that simply aren’t there today.

7. Health insurance for our employees is our second largest line item and is still growing. What room does that leave for reasonable cost of living increases?

8. Drugs and alcohol continue to challenge our families even though we have never done more to fight this epidemic.

9. How do you balance affordability with the fact that houses in Melrose are selling for $40,000 or more over asking price?

These are really hard challenges. Some are not solvable, and if they were to be solved, there are others to take their place.

But we are not the only ones with these challenges, and we have proven we can solve problems that Melrosians never thought could be solved. The people on this stage do not have the complete answers to all these questions, but we may have part of the answers. You, the people in this audience and at home, may also have part of the answers, or a proposal, an idea, an idea that sets a spark that leads to another idea that leads to a solution.

It is easy to point out the problems, but let us commit tonight, in 2014, to these community partnerships that have worked, to our community collaborations that have produced results, and to recommit to our team, our great Melrose team, and let us continue to make history together.

The evening concluded with the benediction, read by Reverend Bruce Lomas of the Trinity Episcopal Church.

Check out our video coverage of the State of the City Address during the Melrose Inaugural Ceremonies on Jan. 13.

Myron Dittmer January 17, 2014 at 07:11 AM
If you listened to Mayor Dolan’s “State of the City” address this past Monday, you came away thinking that the city is well managed while the Mayor quoted from Standard and Poor’s description of Melrose as “having "an incredibly strong economy, strong budgetary systems with consistent operating results, strong liquidity and debt management, and strong management and business practices." The Mayor gave much credit to the volunteer spirit in Melrose by numerous non-profit agencies and organizations extending help to those in need, as well as city governmental departments and agencies streamlining operations and improving the delivery of services to the community. However, at the end of his speech, the Mayor listed nine (9) challenges facing the city and seven (7) of them hinted of dollars needed! It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this one out - the Mayor is looking for more money even though our taxes have been going up steadily over the years he has been Mayor. In this author’s opinion, it’s beginning to look like our Mayor will be soon requesting an override!

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