It's been a "whirlwind" year full of accomplishments for Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt -- he confessed with a smile that his head is often "spinning" by the end of the day -- and he's hoping to make ground on several more initiatives in 2013.
Bettencourt recalled Monday night during the city's inaugural ceremonies how it was just over a year ago that he first took the oath of office as the city's 14th mayor, "humbled by the faith and confidence" placed in him by so many Peabody residents.
"Great progress has been made, but there is much more work to be done. I am energized by the challenges ahead. I am committed to positive change," he said, delivering his mid-term address to a full crowd.
"I expect the upcoming years in Peabody to be a time of evolution, a time of revitalization, a time of challenge and a time to better position Peabody for long-term prosperity," he said.
Flowing from one topic to the next, Bettencourt outlined a number of key highlights from his first year as Mayor.
He touched on striking a four-year deal on health insurance with the city's unions, breaking ground on the redesign of Main Street, forging ahead to build a new middle school, consolidating city and school human resource offices and adopting a local child sex offender law, among other things.
He noted he vowed to make economic development a top priority of his administration -- to return to the days when Peabody was the economic engine of the North Shore -- and said that means the city needs to improve at attracting new businesses while maintaining affordability for residents.
Bettencourt said that concern was why one his first acts was to sit down with the unions and hammer out a health insurance deal that will now save the city $10 million - $15 million over four years, stabilizing and alleviating a major strain on the city's finances.
To work on business growth, he appointed a new Business and Economic Development Council and tasked the group with coming up with plans for revitalizing Centennial Industrial Park and Route 1 in addition to the downtown.
One such product of those early discussions is the job now of a city Business Liaison, which was recently approved by the City Council.
"This individual will work with new and existing Peabody business owners to help them get the permits they need quickly so they can spend more time running their business and less time at City Hall," Bettencourt said.
As for downtown, Bettencourt said, the Main Street project is a start to revitalizing the area and should be wrapped up in the spring. He said it "represents an exciting new vision for our downtown," while increasing safety for motorists and pedestrians, improving parking and leading off a "transformation" of the entire corridor.
And likewise "vital to Peabody's continued growth" is a commitment to public education, which was another main feature of Bettencourt's mayoral campaign. He said that commitment is no clearer than in the project to build a new middle school and noted that state education officials have given the city approval to submit a final design.
He also wants to push ahead on creating a new Master Plan that reflects the "realities of today's economic landscape," as opposed to the existing plan from 2002, and mentioned that visitors to City Hall now have access to free wireless Internet while Peabody taxpayers can sign up for paperless billing.
"As important as economic development is to the future of Peabody, there are less tangible criteria by which we measure our success," he said, referring to Money Magazine's recent ranking of Peabody as one of the top cities to live in 2012 and a recognition of the city's strong sense of community.
"I have always believed that 'Pride in Peabody' is much more than just a slogan and that it is our community spirit [that] defines us best. That spririt is alive in the people who call Peabody home," Bettencourt said, noting he plans to continue many of the city's annual civic and cultural events, as well as hold more volunteer city cleanup days and Veterans Day breakfasts each year.
Bettencourt also took a moment to remember state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, who died unexpectedly in November, and called on residents to continue to keep Spiliotis and her family in their thoughts and prayers.
"Of course, the city of Peabody lost a true representative of the people with the passing of Joyce Spiliotis...her absence here tonight is felt by all of us who knew her and served with her," said Bettencourt.
He also recognized Spiliotis' husband Dick Jarvis, who sat up in the balcony between family friend Bob Croce and former state Rep. John Slattery.