GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 1, 2008

Inauguration: Text of Mayor Carolyn Kirk's speech


Good afternoon. Thank you Kristian.

Citizens of Gloucester, former mayors, state Rep. Anthony Verga, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, my colleagues on the Gloucester City Council and School Committee, distinguished guests from our neighboring communities, family, and friends who have come here today | Welcome.

It is my great honor to address you as the mayor of Gloucester. Before I begin my remarks, let me extend my warmest congratulations to the new City Council President Bruce Tobey, the City Council Vice President Sefatia Romeo, the new Chairman of the School Committee Greg Verga, the Vice Chairman Amy-Beth Healey, and the Secretary Val Gilman. Congratulations also to each member of the City Council and School Committee on your election or re-election to the office you now hold.

In many ways, we begin this New Year with heavy hearts. One block from here, the operation to find Mr. Taylor's remains continues so that he may be brought to his final resting place and buried with dignity. In addition to the many families who lost their homes, the Cape Ann Jewish community lost its Temple in the devastating fire of Dec. 15.

We also begin this New Year with great hope. The outpouring of donations from our community for the victims of the Lorraine Apartments fire is tremendous. The Jewish faith community started their plans for rebuilding while the fire still smoldered. And Gloucester firefighters have donated their time to search for Mr. Taylor.

I ask all of you to take these lessons of altruism and renewal into the New Year as Gloucester faces its challenges ahead.

The City of Gloucester does face challenges, and there is no shame in admitting it. We begin first by facing up to some facts. The first fact we need to face is to come to grips with the fiscal reality of the City of Gloucester. These realities include the following three issues:

1. Not having the reporting capability to see how expenses and revenue are tracking against the enacted budget for the current fiscal year.

2. The budget gap for the next fiscal year stands about $2.5 million. So, to deliver the same diminished levels of service we provide today, it will cost another $2.5 million above and beyond what the city will be taking in in revenue.

3. Thirdly, I recently met with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. They informed me that the City of Gloucester reported budget deficits for the '03 and '04 fiscal years, and then stopped reporting. They wondered out loud if Gloucester is hiding deficits from the state. We are currently behind schedule in reporting for FY07.

The bottom line is that we are in for a major budget correction.

Let me take a moment and ask all the people who are optimists by nature to raise your hand.

Now let's see the pessimists. I am happy there are more optimists than pessimists because here are the definitions that I use for the optimist and the pessimist. We'll start with the pessimist:

The pessimist believes:

r Conditions are permanent

r And there is nothing that can be done about it

The optimist believes:

r Conditions are temporary

r And we can do something about it

For those of you who describe yourselves as pessimists, by the end of this Inaugural Address, I hope to convince you that Gloucester's difficulties are NOT permanent and that something can be done about them.

I am an optimist. I believe our challenges are temporary and we can influence our situation. During the past eight weeks of the transition, I met with 35 managers and department heads throughout the city. I also had the great benefit of meeting and learning from veteran mayors from across the state. I am convinced that there is no challenge facing the City of Gloucester that is insurmountable.

I know we have to slog through the unglamorous world of municipal finance, and I am asking you all to slog through it with me. There are many things we can do about our challenges. I am starting by taking two steps immediately:

For my first step, I am enacting an Austerity Order as of today. Under the Austerity Order,

r I will review in advance all city expenditures over $100.

r I will approve in advance all non-emergency requests for overtime.

r I am calling for a hiring freeze except for the positions essential to the renewal of Gloucester through economic development and planning.

r We will implement an energy conservation program starting immediately.

r Under Austerity, it may be necessary to reduce the hours city offices are open to the public for business. This analysis is an overdue step because in many cases, the staff has already been cut. My administration will be asking the work force to spend more time regaining financial control, identifying and implementing reforms, and working on revenue enhancement.

The second step is the establishment of a Finance Team chaired by the mayor and made up of the appropriate city professionals. We will meet weekly until there is a grasp on revenues and expenditures for this year, until we understand the overspending patterns from the past few years, and the budget gap going forward. I will ask the City Council to fast track the replacement of the recently retired city auditor and to provide a short-term resource on the Finance Team. I have invited the Department of Revenue to meet our Finance Team in January, and I will be proactive in managing our relationship with the state so that we can restore their confidence in Gloucester's ability to manage your money.

By April 9, 2008, which is the 100th day of my administration, I will publish the State of the City Report. By then we will have a clear grasp on Gloucester's fiscal situation. And I will inform you, the taxpayers, the answer to the basic question | where is my money going? The State of the City report will also explain the tens of millions of dollars in water and sewer work the city is facing, which weighs on the minds of residents and the business community every time they get their water and sewer bill.

In April, my first budget will also be published. It will contain strategic measures for lifting the Austerity Order and will in all likelihood reflect the harsh reality of the inevitable budget correction that we are in for. I will also put my administration's recommendations in the context of a comprehensive plan for putting Gloucester back on the path to fiscal health.

I have said difficult choices lie ahead. My administration, along with the City Council and School Committee, will need to make those hard choices.

At the same time we are stabilizing the fiscal condition of the city, we need to stabilize our education program and provide certainty to the families. The fifth-graders in the temporary school called the Fuller Fifth that sang us the beautiful song of peace were 4 years old on the day of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This is the first class of students to enter public school since the attacks and the subsequent recession.

These are the children who are caught in the cross fire of the budget battles that have raged over the past few years. These are the children who were pulled out of their elementary schools last spring with only five days notice. These are the children who will go to three different schools in three years. This class, and the classes behind them, needs us to shepherd them through the only shot they get at their education.

Five hundred students were redistricted last year. The School Committee bit the bullet and executed a significant budget correction and downsized the elementary program by 15 percent and will have shrunk the facilities by 20 percent by vacating either Fuller or O'Maley. Let's decide to make stabilizing education in Gloucester a priority. As such, the first hard choice I will ask the City Council to make is to fund the additional classrooms for our elementary schools which completes the redistricting plan.

Other restructuring proposals for city departments will need to be a part of my first budget but I will not wait until April to begin restructuring.

I fully support Council President Tobey's order to consider the consolidation of some administrative functions between the School Department and City Departments.

On Monday, I will announce a restructuring of the Community Development Department into the Office of Economic Planning and Development. I will hire a Community Development director. I will redirect Federal Housing and Urban Development grant or HUD money that Gloucester receives into eligible economic development initiatives. Today only 6 percent of Gloucester's HUD money is devoted to economic development. Under my administration, Gloucester will see a policy shift toward using the HUD money to invest in economic development in Gloucester in ways that help sustain our community.

I've given you a sense of what facts we need to face. I've given you a sense of the budget correction and restructuring that is inevitable and the realignment of community expectations as to what service levels the city can actually afford which comes with it.

Amid all of this, remember one thing. We live in Gloucester. A beautiful city with strength of character. The character of our great city comes not from the city's physical surroundings which are stunning but from the people of Gloucester.

I need the people of Gloucester to get behind the plan which will take us through this rough time. Together we need to make decisions about our future from a position of strength so that we can preserve the Gloucester we love and guide her to becoming not something different and unrecognizable but to become more of who and what we are.

This brings me to Gloucester Harbor. Expanding the revenue base along the harbor is essential to the economic vitality of Gloucester.

Within the next six months, I will appoint a panel to accept testimony from the public during hearings my administration will host which will be held throughout the city, including Lanesville and Magnolia. Together and with your input, we will decide what to move forward regarding changes along our waterfront. I envision taking testimony on at least four scenarios:

r rezoning Fort Square, which sits outside the Designated Port Area and thus is within local control, to its highest and best use;

r The waterfront property owners 75/25 plan which they have been working on through the Chamber of Commerce;

r Removal of most of East Gloucester's waterfront from the Designated Port Area which would require approval from the state;

r And the Rosenfeld Plan which is a mixed-use concept for property along the Inner Harbor.

My intention is to vet these scenarios thoroughly and with proper input from the public. The scenarios will be presented to the public with visuals and an economic impact analysis so people can make informed opinions. I will rely on the professionals from my Office of Economic Planning and Development. My administration will put forward professionally developed, and publicly supported recommendations to the City Council for action.

So, everyone who thinks Gloucester's difficulties are temporary, and that we can do something about them, raise your hand again. We are optimistic about Gloucester's future. I hope I have changed the minds of some of the pessimists. We don't live on easy street, but it's home. A city of neighborhoods came together for the city it loves, and I am proud and ready to lead us to our best days. Thank you all for being here, and thank you to all of the participants in this Inaugural Program. I wish each of you a very Happy New Year on this New Year's Day. God Bless Gloucester.