On Monday, February 5, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer delivered the State of the City Address in Nevins Hall of the Memorial Building. You can read the text from the Mayor's address below:
One of the things that I have enjoyed thus far in these first thirty-six days has been getting to know the people of this community; and in particular, thinking about our City, so I welcome you to the City of Framingham and to the first State of the City Address! I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Framingham City Council, School Committee, Legislative delegation, division and department heads. I also welcome each of you to Nevins Hall, and those watching at home on the Government Channel or on Facebook.
In April of 2017, the People of Framingham cast their vote for a change from a town to a city form of government. In November, you chose us, the City Council, the School Committee, and me to lead this City with integrity, transparency, and our foremost goal to move the City of Framingham forward. I firmly believe that through collaboration and focusing our efforts on the tasks outlined in the Charter and on what is important – we will set the tone for exemplary and collaborative government.
I am pleased to report that we are making strides to refine our goals to be result-driven, to maximize community engagement and to be fiscally responsible.
The Framingham Public Health Department has been working with state regulators to enforce the laws and regulations for the cleanup of contaminated sites; this includes the department working with property owners to go through the process of risk assessments and remediation. Hazardous sites endanger the health of our citizens and our community. Cleanup remains a priority for Framingham.
Our older adults are our community treasures. We need to support and enhance their independence. With a grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation, our Public Health Department is collaborating with the Callahan Center to transform the City of Framingham into an age and dementia friendly community. The City of Framingham will continue to be a place where older adults will have access to age-friendly community programs and be more inclusive and supportive of people living with dementia.
An investment in our youth is an investment in our future. Data has shown that stress remains a major concern that affects more of our adolescents than any other mental health issue. A joint initiative, between the Framingham Public Schools and the Framingham Public Health Department will focus on stress and other mental health concerns of our adolescents. Together they will implement programs to strengthen social and emotional health and coping skills of our adolescents.
While the opioid epidemic is a national problem, the Framingham Public Health department has built a coalition with agencies and community stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to battle this serious health crisis. In the past few weeks, I have met with leaders in community organizations such as Advocates, Wayside and SMOC to explore ways that we can work together to alleviate some of these challenges that we have in our community.
As your Mayor, I am committed to creating safer neighborhoods, and increasing community policing is paramount. Since 2017, the Framingham Police Department has reduced violent crime by 8%; and has had an overall reduction of crime by 24% in the past four years. By adding approximately 10 new officers per year, the Framingham Police Department has been able to deploy additional officers throughout the community.
Framingham is a culturally diverse community, and every member of our community should feel safe. I am proud to say that the Framingham Police Department is represented at the National Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force. This task force was established to prevent federal immigration policy from negatively affecting local police-community relationships. Through the department’s partnership with the Framingham Coming Together movement, we have created a multi-disciplinary team to assist family members affected by immigration enforcement. This team is now in place and is committed to supporting our residents.
The Inspectional Services Division’s code enforcement team is working to remove blight in our neighborhoods and to establish a database of vacant commercial properties throughout the community. Through their work, we will raise the value of property within the community to also make a point that we will never accept blight again in Framingham.
In collaboration with Senator Spilka, Representative Walsh and State legislative committees, the Inspectional Services Division was successful in instituting a Housing Court in Framingham. The Housing Court oversees legal actions that involve the health, safety, or welfare of homeowners or those who live in residential housing in Framingham.
In 2017, the Framingham Fire Department responded to 33 major building fires, 421 cooking fires and 7,864 calls for medical services. The Fire Department Training Division is working to limit the impact and effects of fire and provide advanced emergency medical care for the community. Programs like “Every Day is a Training Day” help to keep our residents safe and secure.
Continuing the theme of safety and security, it is our responsibility to ensure that our Firefighters have adequate equipment and follow the proper protocols to make certain they are not exposed to toxins. As part of a national pilot program, every Framingham Fire Station has been equipped with gear-washing devices to reduce long-term exposure to carcinogens and dangerous chemicals. This is part of the department’s goal of a healthier workforce and reducing sick leave.
Community and Economic Development Department and Planning has started to plan and implement core initiatives to anchor our downtown development. These include housing, business development that is consistent with transit-oriented development. One such project -- 75 Concord Street -- is scheduled to break ground in the spring. This is an ongoing process of looking critically at some of the development in downtown and how we can be much more responsible in our community.
Framingham’s early adoption of a Complete Streets policy that will make our city a pedestrian, bicyclists and transit rider friendly. In collaboration between the Community and Economic Development department and Department of Public Works, resulted in Framingham obtaining $400,000 in state funding to build the Dudley Road multipurpose path. Construction of the path was completed in July of 2017 with the assistance of the Framingham Parks and Recreation division. This type of collaboration has allowed Framingham to secure additional funding to construct Phase 2 of the path - extending it from Farm Pond to the Bowditch Athletic Field.
Not only do our divisions and departments work with one another, they work with adjacent communities in the best interest of the city. The Community and Economic Development Division has joined with the Town of Natick in drafting a plan for the redevelopment of the “Golden Triangle” better known as the Route 30/Route 9/Speen Street area. This plan will ensure continued growth and investment in times of retail and office market uncertainty.
Keeping Framingham’s interest at heart and working for our citizens, the Community and Economic Development division secured a $300,000 grant to assist property owners to investigate and mediate environmental conditions on redevelopment sites.
It is also important to note we are exploring opportunities to re-engage on issues such as Nobscot Plaza, Pinefield Shopping Plaza and the former State Lumber. The dialogue need to continue and solutions to challenges developed and implemented. As your Mayor, I will look for the win-win solution that best serves our community!
The Planning Board was able to develop the “Plan – Build – Grow” expedited permitting process. Decreasing permitting time of projects to under three months.
The Framingham Department of Public Works has eliminated the regular and sanitary sewer overflows and have reduced water losses through the distribution system. Although many portions of these vital systems have exceeded their life expectancy and are prone to failure; maintaining compliance and improving conditions is a priority.
The water division was recently recognized by the New England Waterworks as the 2017 Utility of the Year award in the large utility category.
After the success of the construction the award-winning McAuliffe Branch Library, the Capital Projects and Facilities Management Division is overseeing the Loring Arena addition and interior renovation, including making the facility ADA compliant. Construction is scheduled to be complete in early summer of this year.
The Framingham Public Library has expanded its various literacy services for the residents of Framingham. They have successfully secured 52% of funding for the Costin Room Improvement Project through fundraising and grants.
In collaboration with the Capital Projects and Facilities Management division, the Framingham Public Library completed the construction of the new Pearl Street side handicap accessible ramp and stairs at the main library. Through the combined efforts of the Framingham Public Library, the Framingham Public Library Foundation Inc. and private citizen contributions, the library will purchase, outfit and deploy a bookmobile providing access to the library to all citizens of Framingham.
Aimed at improving government services, the Framingham Technology Services department upgraded its virtual environment. By staying current with underlying switching and routing networks, the division has been able to provide network consistency.
Looking to the future, the Technology Services department is planning for upgrades to the financial management software. This upgrade will provide new functionality for theemployee portal including self-service applications and enhance the on-boarding process for new employees.
Per the Charter, the Finance Division is being reorganized as Administration and Finance. We are in the process of developing systems to work collaboratively with the school department to streamline processes for payroll and other financial functions.
Through the development and implementation of a 3-year budget plan, the Framingham Finance Division has been able to maintain moderate adjustments to the single-family tax bill to no more than $100 dollars over three years.
Our Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs department is continuously seeking alternative funding to support City projects. In 2017, they were awarded the Massachusetts Office of Disability grant for ADA improvements in the amount on $180,000. This funding was appliedto the Loring Arena project and was associated with making it fully accessible to the public.
More recently, the Rotary Club of Framingham donated $17,000 for improvements to Butterworth Park, including the purchase and construction of a shade shelter near the playground equipment. Walkway improvements are also a part of the project.
In collaboration with the Public Works Department, the Human Resources Division was able to offer training to employees in workplace safety, first aid, and needle and sharps preventative care.
The Framingham Veterans Office has coordinated a two-year partnership with William James College, a graduate college of Psychology in Newton, MA to better meet the needs of our most recently returned veterans, including Framingham’s own 1060th Transportation Company who returned from a tour in Kuwait.
Under the guidance of our Superintendent, we are undertaking several core initiatives at the Framingham Public Schools to ensure excellence in the education of our children. As an ex-officio member of the school committee, I work closely with him and I share his vision for our schools.
The Superintendent and the Framingham Public Schools Leadership Team are drafting a multi-year Strategic Plan for improved outcomes for student achievement over a three-year span. The plan is currently in draft form and is open for public comment.
Early childhood education expansion and availability of affordable preschool options is another priority. We understand that reaching our students as early as possible in their educational journey will yield the best possible long-term outcomes as we nurture the academic, social and emotional growth of our children.
In addition, we are fostering pathways to college education for all of our children. The Framingham Public Schools, in collaboration with MassBay Community College and Framingham State University, is exploring the Gateway to College Program. The program is designed to help 16-to-20-year-old students that have left high school without earning a diploma to return to education and gain a diploma while earning college credits. This is an opportunity to bridge the divide for all students on their educational journey.
Not surprisingly, our challenges are related to funding (either the need to raise and appropriate funding or through the prioritization of spending where trade-offs are necessarily made). Nevertheless, we will seek to identify cost-consolidation and operational efficiencies as well as grant funding to help offset the costs of these important initiatives for our children and young adults.
Our departments collaborate under a variety of circumstances, including day-to-day activities and extreme situations involving public safety. Soon after I was sworn in as your Mayor, I witnessed first hand the extraordinary efforts of our departments as they responded to the first major snowstorm of the year. Let us applaud this example of collaboration between our departments and their continued commitment to excellence.
Our Goals for the Immediate Future
A smooth transition to city form of government is our first and immediate goal. I believe we are off to a great start. The Charter provides the foundation and guidelines as to how we proceed. For example, I am pleased to report that we received 17 applications for five seats on the licensing board. Following instruction of the charter, resumes were vetted by a (5) member committee, the nominees were submitted to the Council and announced to the public in a press release for the public’s feedback. It is in all of our best interest to sustain the desire for participation in public service. Volunteers on boards and commissions should be from a diverse pool of residents from across the city. The 17 applicants consisted of 6 women, 11 men, 4 Spanish speakers and 1 Portuguese speaker. Going forward we will continue refining our process to ensure the greatest degree of transparency
while supporting participation from across the city.
The Budgeting process is scheduled and will be upon us shortly. The City Council, the School Committee and the division heads are part of the budget-crafting process to ensure adequate funding for the upcoming year. We have a Budget Summit scheduled for early March with the Finance Division and City Council. Together, in this first for the City of Framingham budgeting process, we will set the tone and commit to collaboration, transparency, and accountability.
The Charter requires hiring a Citizen Participation Officer. We will go above and beyond this requirement to ensure the People’s voices are heard loud and clear in our government’s decision-making process. Hiring this officer and the creation of formal Neighborhood Associations is a priority. I am committed to supporting neighborhood groups that meet regularly for years to come. The Citizen Participation Officer will be responsible for fostering and partnering with neighborhood associations and will work closely with the Councilors to represent their districts. This is the vehicle to meet regularly with your neighbors to discuss strategies to build a cohesive vision for local development, public safety, our schools, and our shared future.
During our first year as a City, it is essential that Framingham residents have frequent opportunities to meet and discuss issues with me. I will hold 12 conversations on different topics. “City-Wide Conversations” around Framingham will begin this month. I look forward to these discussions as they will inform and guide my decision-making process. I will be accessible to you, and I will be making your issues a priority. I will share what I learn in these conversations with the City Council in order to make our community stronger, our schools and institutions more inclusive, and our city an even better place to live.
We have already started researching the Mayor’s ‘311’ Hotline that residents can call, text or email for prompt service. One of my most important responsibilities as your Mayor is to offer and maintain reliable services to our residents. Some of this work is of every-day importance, for example ensuring timely trash pickup and road maintenance.
Economic development and invigorating our local economy is a top priority. This is why the first in our series of citywide conversations will be centered on small-business development. I feel strongly that supporting and growing our local businesses is the key to re-energizing our economy and alleviating the tax burden on our residents. I will seek to collaborate with the Council and the business community to focus on what is important: examining our past experiences and exploring options with the goal of invigorating our economy.
I have already started to build relationships with business leaders. Recently, I met with the Framingham Business Association to discuss their shared goals and convey that I am looking forward to collaborating with them on initiatives to build our community and support business growth. In addition, I am exploring the possibility of creating a Business andInnovation taskforce that will dialogue action to retain existing business and attract new business to Framingham.
Our residents are reaching out to me to share their frustrations across all sectors about our transportation system. Whether it is long wait times in rush hour traffic, rail-related congestion, unreliable public transportation and more options needed for our seniors; we must address these concerns in a comprehensive way. As stated in the Charter, we are in the process of recruiting the “Transportation Commission” with the goal of analyzing the findings of the city traffic study and finding solutions for our challenging transportation needs. We can and must do a better job coordinating construction activities throughout the community to ease the burden on residents, business and commuters alike. We must plan for and realize that future development will impact our transportation and schools. Framingham is a growing city; we must be deliberate and move cautiously ahead so that new growth serves us well.
As a new Mayor, I have networked with Mayors across the Commonwealth, at the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) and at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. This afforded me the opportunity hear and share best practices that I can bring to Framingham. My goal is to be as well informed as possible while cultivating relationships with municipal leaders.
My first thirty-six days have been focused on relationship building. They have been informative and inspiring. We can all agree that Framingham’s success is our common goal. Our past and recent accomplishments did not come overnight. There is a lot of work ahead of us. I am committed to collaborating with the City Council and School Committee, to move Framingham forward.
Before closing, I want to take a moment to recognize the contributions of two of Framingham’s volunteers who are no longer with us. Stephanie Mercandetti, was an instrumental member of the Planning Board. Barry Bogard who served as a Commissioner on the Parks and Recreation Department, and was a well-known figure on Framingham Cable TV. Both were terrific people who served our community with professionalism, style and the understanding that community engagement is a wonderful part of life. To their families and to their friends, I am so sorry for your loss. May they rest in peace. They will be remembered, as part of Framingham’s past and present.
Governing is not easy, but it is made possible when we all come to the table in good faith. When we take part in discussions, our people, their needs, and our city as a whole, must always be our first priority. We may disagree about some things, but we must all agree about our path to progress. As I did on this very stage, in this very hall, only thirty-six days ago, I pledge to keep the residents of Framingham as my first priority, and I will.