2020 Inaugural Address
2020 Inaugural Address by The Honorable Sefatia Romeo Theken, Mayor
Good Afternoon and Happy New Year everyone! I would like to thank you for coming and for once again putting your faith in me as your Mayor.
To everyone - our talented artists, poets and fishermen - our business leaders, veterans and clergy - our friends, families and citizens, welcome!
I would like to recognize some dignitaries who have joined us this afternoon:
- U.S. Senator Ed Markey;
- U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III;
- State Senator Bruce Tarr;
- State Representative Ann Margaret Ferrante; and
my good friend Lt. Governor Karyn Polito.
Lt. Governor thank you for that warm introduction.
Thank you ALL for your friendship and for your ongoing commitment to the City of Gloucester. I value our close relationships and I look forward to working together throughout the next two years to improve the quality of life in our beautiful city.
I am excited to be here with the newly elected City Council and School Committee. Congratulations on your election and thank you for your willingness to serve. Governing is hard. I know we will not always agree but we must commit ourselves to having an open, honest discussion about our challenges and our differences. If we are open and honest with each other - and respectful - then I believe we can truly move Gloucester forward together.
I would like to take a minute to recognize the outgoing members of the City Council and the School Committee. City Council President Paul Lundberg and Ward 2 Councilor Ken Hecht as well as School Committee Members Tony Gross and Michelle Sweet. Thank you all for your outstanding service. I know you will all remain active advocates for our community and I look forward to our continued work together.
I also want to extend my gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers who have served over the years on our committees, boards and commissions. I am thankful that we have so many active and caring citizens who are involved in this community. Volunteers are critical to keeping this government and this City running. We could not do it without you!
I know I certainly couldn’t do it without Mary Jane McGlennon. Mary Jane volunteers in the Mayor’s Office two days a week. She is a former Board of Directors President for the Grace Center and is someone who is involved and truly loves this community. She offers so much to the operation of my office, our city, and I am lucky to call her a dear friend. We need more people like Mary Jane.
I urge all of our residents to become engaged and informed. Volunteer. Attend public meetings or listening sessions. Write me a note or send me an email. Stop by and see me. My door, as it has been since the day I became Mayor, is always open. Every citizen in Gloucester has a seat at our table.
To the municipal leadership team led by Chief Administrative Officer Jim Destino and city staff, I sincerely thank you for your hard work and your dedication. I have said this many times before: we are a family who have each other’s backs and love this City and that is what truly matters most.
A new year always brings new challenges. My promise to this community is that my team and I will work hard to build on the momentum, progress and gains we have made in the five short years we have been here.
As stewards of City tax dollars, we are committed to working responsibly for you. Our financial position continues to get stronger. The monetary plans and policies that we have implemented have limited our debt, built up our reserves, and supported our capital planning.
As promised, we have developed a long-term plan to address the needs of our city buildings. The recommendations that we have received are now the framework for a twenty-year facilities plan that we have already begun to roll-out. In the next two years, you will see significant work being done at: the Police Station; the High School Field House; Security Upgrades at our schools; City Hall; and the Visitors Center.
We continue to look for ways to improve the City’s aging infrastructure and have been working hard in every ward of this City. Under the supervision of our Department of Public Works significant work has been done on Magnolia Pier; the Stacy Boulevard Railing Replacement; the Avis Murray Tennis Courts; the Lanes Cove Seawall - just to name a few. There is so much more to come. Completing the Trask Street sewer upgrades, road improvements that will be funded by our new cannabis industry and recreational boating opportunities at, the currently under construction, improved Harbormaster’s Office.
Late last year, with the help from the Baker-Polito Administration and our federal and local delegations we were able to secure the necessary funding to support a federal maintenance dredging project of the Annisquam River. Dredging is currently underway, which will restore the use of the river for commercial fishermen and correct the shallow channel depths that limit the ability of search and rescue vessels. The economic development and public safety implications are substantial and the project benefits will be profound.
We have made significant investments in information technology that provide more convenient, useful functions for our citizens. Viewpoint, Gloucester’s online permitting center, and SeeClickFix, our infrastructure reporting platform, have been online and available for a couple of years now. As we work to create more customer friendly tools, we are excited that we will soon launch a redesigned City website in the first quarter of this year. The new website will make navigating City government much easier.
Every decision made is to ensure we work more efficiently and effectively for you. My vision for Gloucester is centered around you - each and every one of you. It’s centered around our families and our children.
As you know, we are in the process of building a new state-of-the-art combined elementary school for Veterans and East Gloucester. The schools in our city are aging, and we now have the opportunity to give our children the tools that they can use to succeed, to build their own future, and in doing so help Gloucester thrive.
In the coming months we will continue the discussion on how this is the best decision for Gloucester residents, Gloucester parents and our wonderful community. We believe this can be done strategically and cost effectively.
I will remain an active and engaged member of the School Committee, focused on the overall improvement of our children’s education.
As most of you know Dr. Richard Safier will be retiring at the end of the school year. Dr. Safier thank you for all you have done for our schools and our children. We wish you well in retirement.
In the coming year we will work together to hire a new school superintendent. Before that process begins I want your input on what you want in our next educational leader. This is an important position. One that I envision will guide our children into the next level of learning through advancing programs like the manufacturing lab, robotics courses, STEM curriculum and expanding the Chromebook program.
We know that strong schools build strong communities, and through these initiatives we hope to lay the foundation for that strength. To make this happen we need your help. Please support a debt exclusion for a new school this coming fall. We must take advantage of this opportunity because it is responsible, smart, and necessary for today, tomorrow, and years to come. Our children and their future depend on it. What happens from this day forward is something that we can shape together.
Last year we hired our new Police Chief – Ed Conley. Our Police Department has a long history of creative problem solving. Chief Conley is a new and innovative leader who is working tirelessly to create structure and accountability in the Police Department while building trust within the community.
Gloucester, as you all know, is a compassionate and caring City. We recognize that caring for one another is everyone’s responsibility. Chief Conley has formed a new Community Impact Unit that will expand the department’s efforts around addiction, homelessness, mental health and community engagement.
To support this work we have created a new position –-- a Community Health Navigator, in the police department. This civilian position will act as an outreach agent to link substance abuse patients with health care providers, financial assistance and transportation.
I’m pleased to announce that Tito Rodriquez has been hired to fill this important role. He joins the Gloucester team with an impressive background. Welcome Tito! We know you are going to do great work. Tito will engage some of our most high-risk residents and guide them to the services they so desperately need.
You all know where I came from. Health care is my passion. I am always looking for ways to leverage opportunities for our citizens to obtain the services they need for better physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Working together with our Board of Health we have recently launched Cape Ann Seniors on the GO, an initiative to increase healthy food access and opportunities for physical activity for low income older adults in our community.
Since October, residents of all Gloucester Housing Authority’s neighborhoods have been provided free transportation, on a 16-passenger, ADA-compliant bus operated by the Cape Ann Transportation Authority, to better access healthy food and fitness locations.
We work closely and collaboratively with CATA and its new Administrator Felicia Webb. Felicia recently joined the Council on Aging Board of Directors. We know she will help identify and solve important transportation needs for all our citizens, especially seniors.
I continue to advocate for youth mental health and I have been very vocal about the need for more discussions, funding, and treatment services. This will remain a priority with our recent Strategic Prevention Framework— Partnerships for Success grant award totaling more than $1 million from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This grant will assist our Health Department in preventing substance use disorders and improving access to mental health care at the local level. Over the next two years we will work on outreach and assessment with our regional youth providers and youth councils as we look towards creating and implementing policies to ensure trauma informed services.
A strong local economy benefits us all. As a leader in the region on the blue economy, Gloucester will work with our partners - the EDIC, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and UMass Amherst’s Gloucester Marine Station - to assess how current North Shore Blue Economy areas are performing and where we should focus investment for future, sustainable growth.
Gloucester is perfectly positioned for this effort and updating our harbor plan is an important, local step in the process. Gloucester Harbor is the city’s most valuable asset, making planning for its future central to all economic and community development activity. To do that we will prioritize and explore ways to support infrastructure investment, create and retain jobs and diversify our fisheries-based economy.
The success of GMGI has opened the door to the City pursuing a life sciences cluster for marine research along our harbor. We are currently pursuing several strategies to encourage life science development including the installation of a fiber network that would create a necessary technology infrastructure.
With the collaboration and guidance of a reinvigorated EDIC we are excited about what’s ahead. We will use their new website, affiliation with MassEcon, and recent study findings related to its industrial park assessment to strategically plan moving forward.
We remain committed, like many other cities and towns, to addressing the need for affordable housing. Soon the Harbor Village project, on the site of the long-shuttered Cameron’s Restaurant, will become a reality. That will allow for 30 units of real affordable housing to Gloucester.
Earlier this year, we adopted a short-term rental community impact fee that will be used for affordable housing initiatives and projects. Additionally, we’ve revamped our Affordable Housing Trust to support the creation, preservation, and maintenance of affordable housing in the City.
The Housing Production Plan is our guide for future planning. It was recommended that we develop zoning amendments to help facilitate a variety of housing options, while also addressing affordability. We will be reviewing three proposals early this year: the expansion of the allowance of accessory dwelling units; changes to multifamily dimensional standards; amendments to Gloucester’s inclusionary housing ordinance to ensure that any units created by it will be affordable based on Gloucester specific needs. Later in the year we will revisit downtown zoning and the potential for transit oriented development surrounding the train station.
Affordable housing was an important topic for our friend, Peter Anastas, who passed away last week. I will greatly miss my meetings with him to discuss affordable housing, climate change, and all things Gloucester. Our City lost a great friend, advocate, and gentleman. My promise to him is that I will advocate for housing with the same drive he did.
Climate change and coastal vulnerability remain challenges for our community. We have taken a proactive approach to advance smart growth policies to adapt and alleviate the effects of climate change. As a MVP community we have developed an action-oriented resiliency plan. This will be our map as we implement plans to make our community better prepared.
Gloucester is entering our 10th year as a Green Community and we continue to look for ways to lower the carbon footprint of our buildings and infrastructure. Currently we are performing lighting upgrades in the middle and high school and modernizing our heating and cooling controls at the high school. We have also expanded the opportunities for electric vehicle charging throughout the community with an additional station going in at the high school this spring.
Gloucester continues to pursue projects to increase the resilience of our public infrastructure. Work is planned to protect some of our most vulnerable but critical assets including Gloucester High School, our pump stations and our sewage treatment plant. We’re facing greater challenges than ever before, but we are confident that we have the plans in place to meet them. Present planning will allow for a brighter future.
Speaking of the future, in just three short years—in 2023--we will be celebrating the City’s 400th Anniversary. We will collaborate with the Gloucester 400 team to enhance engagement and fundraising efforts for this very important celebration. That committee, driven by volunteers, needs your input, expertise and passion for our City. This will be a celebration of our people, our stories and our heritage and I encourage all of you to get involved.
On a personal note, I am grateful to my family for the support that they have shown me since I took on this job. To my husband Matthew, my Children (Carla, Lia, and Melissa) and my Sisters (Marianne, Rosaria, and Grace) and my grandchildren (AJ, Bianca, Emma, Lianna and Robbie) thank you and I love you all so much.
This was an incredibly tough year for our family because we lost my brother Anthony. He fought cancer with courage and a humanity that touched us all. I miss him every day and I know that he is watching over me. I will be forever grateful to my extended Gloucester family for all your thoughts and prayers.
As your Mayor, I am looking forward to working with our City Council, School Committee and all of you to move our beloved City forward together. We are all counting on you, the people of Gloucester, to participate in your government, to hold us accountable, and to assist us in solving the challenges that will arise.
I hope 2020 will be a happy, healthy and prosperous new year for Gloucester and for all of its citizens. I am honored to serve this City and I am humbled by the faith that you have put in me.
God bless you and God bless Gloucester. Thank you.