There are challenges yet to come, but as we prepare for the ball to drop in Peabody Square in a few days (OK, not really), we pause to assess the rookie year for Mayor Ted Bettencourt.
From where I sit as a taxpayer, I’d sum up the Mayor’s first year performance this way:
It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been very good.
Not an A-plus, but certainly a very high B, bordering on an A-minus. Look folks, even Ted, we feel, would appreciate it if we left in some room here for growth.
So here goes … a look at what just one taxpayer, this taxpayer thinks of Year 1 of the Bettencourt Administration. These are what I feel were his three best and biggest accomplishments:
1. Passing an early challenge on healthcare
With the city stuck in neutral when it comes to revenue growth, the Mayor gets an A-plus for his leadership when it came to reaching an agreement in June with the city’s unions to enter the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Going the GIC route could end up saving the city between $10 and $15 million over the next four years.
Just months into his first term, it took guts for this rookie mayor to first draw a line in the sand, and then bring all of the city’s unions to the table to work out a smart, commonsense solution. But some of the credit also goes to the unions too. In these days when stories abound about the greediness of some union leaders, Peabody’s unions proved that collective bargaining can be a wonderful thing when neither side acts exclusively in their own self interests.
2. The Education Mayor
Bettencourt showed leadership again in the spring, getting unanimous support from both the city council and school committee on the construction of a new Higgins Middle School, as the city scraped its original plan for renovating the existing, dilapidated, sprawling facility. The new school will cost Peabody taxpayers about $45 million after state reimbursement, but it’s definitely much-needed, and for Bettencourt—a young mayor with a young family—it shows that he is intent on becoming the Education Mayor.
Getting new schools built in Peabody the past 20 years has been a huge struggle, but somehow this one seemed easy, and it came with almost universal acceptance from taxpayers. I know it wasn’t all Ted’s doing, but he deserves a lot of the credit here.
3. The Pro Business Mayor
Understanding right from the start that Peabody has a revenue problem, Bettencourt made good on a campaign promise to make the city more business friendly in an effort to expand our commercial tax base. If we’re going to get the money we need to pay existing and upcoming bills, and also improve infrastructure and schools, the burden can’t keep landing on residential taxpayers. More businesses, mean more tax dollars. So, with that in mind, Bettencourt did the following in Year 1:
- Made it known (and even cleaned house somewhat) that he wants those city departments that deal with businesses to make the process for setting up and maintaining shop a lot easier. In 2013 he is also establishing a business liaison position. to assist businesses in this regard.
- Established the Economic Development Council, which is looking at bringing business back to Peabody Square and Centennial Park.
- Got city council approval on a 1.60 tax classification for businesses, meaning businesses will only pay 1.6 times higher than the residential tax rate. In many surrounding communities it’s 1.75.
As for Year 2 …
Not that he’s taking advice from me, but if I were Ted Bettencourt I’d start leveraging some of my “political capital” in 2013, something that I feel will make him unbeatable when it comes to re-election next fall.
What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes I get the impression that the Mayor doesn’t fully realize that there is power in his popularity. We saw this during the spring when he sat on the sidelines during the special election to replace Senator Fred Berry. Meanwhile, Mayor Kim Driscoll got every Salem elected official on board behind Joan Lovely, who is now our State Senator. Suddenly, when it comes to that very influential seat, the power has shifted to Salem.
Love him or not, you have to respect how former Mayor Peter Torigian would have anointed one of the two Peabody candidates, either John Slattery or Mary Ellen Manning, and strongly insisted that every city councilor, every school committee member, light commissioner and library trustee support that candidate to ensure we didn’t lose that seat to Salem.
Ted Bettencourt has earned some tremendous “juice” in Year 1. He is popular in Peabody, and has done the job. Now, will he use that “juice” to take it to the next level, and wield the type of regional clout we saw in the past from politically powerful Mayors Nick Mavroules and Peter Torigian?
Want to let us know how you feel Mayor Bettencourt has fared in his first year? Let us know by taking our poll.