[The following is a transcript of Mayor Ted Bettencourt's mid-term address from Jan. 7, 2013, delivered at City Hall.]
"Reverend clergy, distinguished members of the City Council, public officials, Congressman John Tierney, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, Senator Joan Lovely, Representative Ted Speliotis, Governor's Councilor Eileen Duff, military veterans and their families, ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome.
"I would first like to thank the citizens of Peabody for the honor of serving as this city's mayor. I would like to thank my family, in particular my wife Andrea and three daughters Taylor, Allyson and Avery, for the sacrifices they make to allow me to serve the city I treasure.
"I would like to thank all department heads and staff for dedicating their professional lives to making our city a better place. I would like to thank the hundreds of volunteers that serve on boards and commissions, both today and in years past, for helping build the foundation for our past, current and future successes. I would also like to thank our elected officials from the City Council, School Committee, Peabody Municipal Lighting Commission and Library Trustees for taking on the challenges of your job. Serving as an elected official takes courage, hard work and personal sacrifice. You deserve the respect and admiration of our community. You all have mine.
"Of course, the city of Peabody lost a true representative of the people with the passing of Joyce Spiliotis last month. Her absence here tonight is felt by all of us who knew her and served with her.
"A year ago I stood before you in this beautiful Wiggin Auditorium and took the oath of office as the 14th Mayor of the city of Peabody. I said at the time that I was humbled by the faith and confidence the citizens of Peabody had placed in me and that I was truly thrilled to lead our city forward. While this year has been a whirlwind for me and my family, and I can often feel my head spinning at the end of each action-packed day, I remain deeply honored by your continued support and truly grateful for the opportunity to lead this great city in 2013.
"During my campaign for Mayor, I vowed to make economic development a top priority of my administration. I believe for Peabody to reach its full potential as the economic driver of the region's economy, we need to be more competitive in terms of attracting new business while maintaining the affordability [that] has been our city's calling card.
"That's why among my first acts as mayor was to convene the leadership of the city's 14 public employee unions to begin discussions about getting health insurance spending under control. Those negotiations resulted in a four-year agreement to transfer all active municipal employees and retirees who are subscribers to the city's health plan into the state's GIC Health Plan, effective Jan. 1. This change will save Peabody taxpayers in the range of $10-$15 million over the course of the agreement and help stabilize a key area of the city budget in both the short- and long-term. I want to thank union leadership for their professionalism and respectful advocacy during this process.
"To begin the work of revitalizing downtown Peabody, we leveraged $2 million in state and local grants to help ease Main Street traffic, improve parking and pedestrian safety, and transform the entire corridor into a more attractive place for residents and businesses alike. The project will be completed this spring and represents an exciting new vision for our downtown. I want to thank my predecessor Mayor Michael Bonfanti for his advocacy of this project during the latter stages of his administration.
"Much like downtown Peabody, the future of Centennial Park will be critical to Peabody's overall economic growth. In the early days of my administration, I convened a Business and Economic Development Council made up of local business leaders, city officials and citizens. Chief among their tasks in 2013 is to help us reinvigorate Centennial Park and reintroduce it to a broad spectrum of the business community. I am extremely grateful to have such a talented and accomplished group of men and women working to restore this critical asset.
"To further promote Peabody as a good place to do business, the City Council last month approved my request to hire a business liaison. 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. The liaison will also act a promoter/marketer/cheerleader for the city in trying to recruit new businesses to set up shop in Peabody.
"Another vital component to Peabody's continued growth is our commitment to our public schools. During my campaign for Mayor, I expressed my strong preference to build a new Higgins Middle School. The Higgins is among the largest middle schools in the northeast and our middle school program represents a critical stage of preparation for high school and beyond. Tonight I am pleased to report that a new Higgins Middle School has been approved for design by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and that our team is working hand-in-hand with the MSBA to build a facility worthy of our shared commitment to quality education and fiscal responsibility.
"Another key component of economic development is the creation of a new Master Plan for the city. Our last Master Plan was completed more than a decade ago and no longer reflects the realities of today's landscape. In crafting a new blueprint for Peabody's future, we will tap the expertise of those from private industry, academia, state and local government and everday Peabody citizens.
"As we strive to make Peabody even more attractive to individuals and families as well as to the business community, we will continue to leverage modern technology to streamline the way city government operates and make it more efficient for taxpayers.
"Last April we unveiled free Wi-Fi Internet service at City Hall. This enables those using portable devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, to connect to th Internet while attending public meetings or conducting other business. In a similar vein, since Oct. 1, Peabody residents can sign up for paperless billing for their real estate, personal property, excise and water and sewer taxes.
"We must continue to work to professionalize and streamline our city government. Streamlining government also calls for consolidation of certain municipal functions. For years the human resources duties of the city and School Department were carried out by two different individuals, despite there being significant overlap. In October, both the City Council and School Committee approved my recommendation to combine the two positions, creating greater synergy and saving taxpayers upwards of $70,000 per year in salary and benefits.
"As important as economic development is to the future of Peabody, there are less tangible criteria by which we measure our success. As you may have heard, Peabody was named among Money Magazine's Best Places to Live in 2012. And while the editors ranked cities according to all the standard criteria -- job opportunities, quality schools, recreational activities and the like, they also factored in the city's sense of community.
"As Mayor, I am committed to strengthening that sense of Peabody as a special place to live, work, go to school and raise a family -- a strong community.
"A strong community is one where people feel safe. I want to commend the City Council for unanimously adopting my recommendation to create child safety zones in Peabody which restrict the activities of convicted Level 2 and 3 child sex offenders. The zones include schools, parks, libraries and other areas where children gather and deserve added protection from sexual predators.
"A strong community is one where people come together to improve the city they love. Last year we organized two Peabody Pride cleanup efforts, which drew hundreds of volunteers from every corner of the city. In 2013 our cleanup goals are even more ambitious and we'll need even more volunteers.
"Strong communities honor those who serve and sacrifice on our behalf. In November I was proud to host the first annual Peabody Veterans Day Breakfast, which drew well over 300 veterans right here to Wiggin Auditorium. During this breakfast we honored those members of the Greatest Generation who served during World War II. Going forward we plan to honor a different group of veterans each year and make this a longstanding Peabody tradition. Once again, I would like to recognize and thank all of our distinguished veterans here tonight.
"Strong communities bring people together in the spirit of friendship and celebration. This year Peabody will be once again home to summer concerts on the Leather City Common, Fourth of July picnics, the International Festival, the holiday festival, special performances at City Hall and wonderful celebrations at the Council on Aging, just to name a few.
"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. 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.
"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 spirit is alive in the people who Peabody home. It is the spirit I am blessed to see every day as Mayor. And it is that spirit, deeply rooted in a sense of teamwork and togetherness, that will continue to propel Peabody forward to great things in the years ahead. Thank you."