Here is the farewell address that Mayor Infurna delivered last night.
Tonight is bittersweet. I am not only leaving the corner office in the next week or so, but I will be retiring from my 22 years of public service.
Back in February 2018, when Mayor Dolan resigned to be the Lynnfield town administrator, the Board of Aldermen elected me as their president, and therefore I became Mayor for the remainder of Rob’s term. I would like to thank them for their vote of confidence. On the night of the inauguration, my older son, Michael, posted on Facebook, “Mom, congratulations and enjoy the ride” – and I have! I was beaming that night, and I am still beaming.
Little did I know how much I would enjoy this job. While tonight is bittersweet, I am proud of the job I have done both as mayor and my 20 years on the Board of Aldermen. Though my time as Mayor was going to be short term, I vowed that I would continue to do my best for Melrose.
Let’s go back to 1997, when this journey first began. It was the time of the Uncola – remember the 7-Up commercials or am I aging myself? With the help of my good friend Linda O, I became Gail Infurna, the un-politician for Ward 5. This is what my first flyer looked like.
I want to repeat this part: I pledge to weigh each issue and make informed decisions to make Melrose a great place to live. I hope that I have not strayed far from that message.
I remember how nervous I was when I first began knocking on doors. It took me way out of my comfort zone, but along the way I met many new friends and neighbors, like Roy and Frank, who welcomed me to talk about my vision for the ward and have been great supporters ever since.
And so it began. In 1997, I was elected alderman, as we were called then, and during my first few terms I sat next to Tony Salamanca, who was a great mentor. He taught me that tough situations often require compromise. That has been a guiding rule for me during my career as an elected official: My philosophy has always been to work with our neighbors and city officials rather than against them. And although I was a ward alderman, my decisions around the horseshoe were always guided by what’s best for the greater good of the entire community.
During my time as a member of the Board, many zoning changes were made in Ward 5 to open up underutilized areas for development. While the neighbors had many concerns about these changes, together we worked with city officials and the neighbors to make them the best projects we could.
These new developments brought more revenue and new residents to Melrose, as well as beautifying long-neglected areas. They have brought in young people as renters who then have gone on to buy homes in Melrose and they are also home to many empty-nesters who didn’t want to leave Melrose when they sold their homes. Change is inevitable, but we can shape that change to make the city better, and that is what I have always strived to do.
One area of great progress during my time as an elected official is addressing our city’s aging infrastructure. Prior to the Dolan administration, our infrastructure had been long neglected. Though not always visible our infrastructure is vitally important. During my time as an Alderman, I worked with DPW to have over 65% of the streets in Ward 5 reconstructed. When he became Mayor, Rob made addressing the infrastructure a priority, and we are in a much better place today because of that. Thank you, Mayor Dolan for your leadership and all that you did for Melrose! (Unfortunately, Rob could not be here as he called me yesterday to send his regrets but he has to appear in front of the Lynnfield Selectman.)
Besides revitalizing underdeveloped properties and upgrading the streets and utilities, we also did a major renovation of the Lincoln School. It was a great project as we blended the old Lincoln School with new construction, and it even won an award for its design. Being involved in the planning of this school was special to me, as my children attended the old Lincoln School. Later, I was involved, along with many parents, in fund-raising for new playground equipment. In fact, I have been around long enough to be involved with three new playgrounds at the Lincoln School.
I took these experiences as a ward alderman with me when I took office as Mayor in February 2018.
I was determined to continue moving the city forward. During my Mayoral transition, Mayor Dolan gave me a list of over 100 items that he thought were important. Some were new initiatives and others were ongoing.
He also built an excellent group of department heads and City staff, who have worked hard alongside me and who share the credit for all our accomplishments.
I took that list as a starting point, but I added my own items as I went along. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what we have accomplished during my term.
One of the first things I did was eliminate city health insurance coverage for members of the Board of Aldermen. This is something (as many of you know) I have felt strongly about for many years, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make this happen.
We moved forward on the Complete Streets program, and implemented the north and south bike lanes, the new roundabout on Howard Street as well as other pedestrian and bike safety measures in that neighborhood. Improvements to the area around the high school and middle school to make them safer also came from this program.
We also continued with roadway improvements throughout the city, and are now in a position to make even greater strides because of the override. Working with members of our City Council we improved pedestrian safety throughout the city with new crosswalks and flashing beacons.
We successfully rolled out the new plastic bag ban ordinance and have begun preparing the city for the new plastic straw ordinance.
Working with the Park Commission and the Department of Public Works, we have issued a request for proposals for a feasibility study as to whether we should install artificial turf at the West Knoll.
We signed a 10-year agreement with Waste Management on Route 99 that will bring $1 million in additional revenue to the city this fiscal year alone. Under the new agreement, the site will continue to generate revenue for the city while the next mayor considers the best uses of that land for the future.
We oversaw the opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary in Melrose. As part of the host agreement, they have just donated $25,000 to Follow Your Art Community Studios and $25,000 to the Friends of Memorial Hall. We also negotiated the contract for the new adult use establishment, which will open soon.
I worked with members of our municipal unions and our negotiating team to come to agreements with our city unions. Every city union is under contract until June of 2020. That is one thing the new mayor will not have to worry about right away.
In these past 22 months, I also had the privilege of hiring a new fire chief, council on aging director, emergency management director, district director of veterans services, parking clerk, animal control officer and an interim director of DPW. All have been welcomed by our staff and have continued our path of improving city services in every respect.
I worked with our excellent state delegation to secure state funding for further repairs to the Wyoming Cemetery wall, improvements to the Melrose Center for the Performing Arts at the Middle School, a study of the Memorial Hall building needs as well as repairs to the roof, and to improve signage and pedestrian traffic flow in our busy downtown. Thank you, Representative Brodeur and Senator Lewis.
We became a Housing Choice community, which recognizes that we have created a significant amount of housing units over the past five years. This means we are doing our part to address the regional crisis in housing supply, which in turn affects the price of housing. Because we are a Housing Choice community, we were eligible for a capital grant, which we used for pedestrian improvements to Cherry Street.
We launched the Capital Improvement Planning process and because of the override, we will be able to use one-time revenue to tackle this list of much needed projects.
(Gosh, no wonder I need a vacation in 2 weeks!!)
I am proud to stand before you tonight and report that Standard and Poor’s has reaffirmed the City’s AA plus bond rating and put us on the verge of a AAA bond rating in the near future. The bond rating report reached the following conclusion: “The stable outlook reflects our view of Melrose’s very strong economy and stable financial operations, which have led to strong budgetary flexibility and in a very strong cash position.
Last but not least, I am so proud of the community for passing the first override in 27 years! Proposing the override was not a step I took lightly. On the contrary, as I did so only after coming to the conclusion that we had no choice. Without an override, I feared that Melrose would no longer be a city we could be proud of. We would no longer be able to provide the services that people have become accustomed to. We would no longer be able to properly maintain our streets, our parks, and our buildings. And, most important of all, we would no longer be able to offer an excellent education to our students in the Melrose schools. I often quote Whitney Houston’s song, “The children are our future,” and I truly believe that.
When I gave my state of the city address last January, I was worried that everything we had worked so hard as a community to create would be in jeopardy. It came down to this: Without an override our funding would no longer match our community values. But this was not a decision I could make on my own. I knew I needed your help, and I knew you had to understand what the city’s needs were. Our weekly series in the newspapers and my blogs on the budget, our listening sessions, our community questionnaire, and all the feedback you gave us via e-mail, letters, and on the blog, were geared toward creating a better understanding for me and for you. Once the decision had been made to seek an override, and the question had been written, it was up to the community as to what would happen next. I’d like to give a shout out to One Melrose and thank them for the many hours they spent knocking on doors, talking to the community and getting out the vote. Their hard work, commitment and enthusiasm were a key part of the success of the override campaign. Together we did make a difference!
I don’t have 100 items for the new Mayor but here are a few items that I hope will be considered:
We need to –
- Continue the Capital Improvement Program.
- Implement the sidewalk improvements in the Hoover School neighborhood when approved by the Complete Streets Program.
- Follow the recommendations of the feasibility study on the West Knoll improvements
- We need to continue to address the aging infrastructure and pedestrian safety concerns for all.
- We need to expand our liquor laws to allow two of our existing specialty stores that sell beer and wine to carry a full range of adult beverages.
- Continue working with library staff on a plan to keep the library open on Saturdays during the summer and to continue moving forward with the renovation of the Melrose Public Library once the funds become available from the state.
- We need to fund a new position, a City social worker. It is so needed. We are currently funded for a 5 hour position but this must be increased based on what I have seen these past 22 months.
- The next Mayor will also need to work with the School Committee and the Superintendent to ensure that the Beebe School is a reflection of the needs of our community.
- And most importantly, the next mayor will need to work with our Public Safety Building Committee, our public safety officials, and our Planning Department on plans for the public safety facility that Melrose urgently needs. We had to put this process on hold because of the immediate need for an override, but we know it needs to be a priority.
Every mayor brings their own style with them. I don’t expect the new mayor to have their first request to DPW be to sanitize our doorknobs and railings because it was flu season! I don’t expect the next Mayor to work a song into any conversation—and then start singing it; And I don’t expect the new Mayor to play taps 3 times on Memorial Day, the national anthem at the start of a high school soccer game, or holiday songs for Home for the Holidays on the trumpet. We all know, there is nothing worse than a politician who toots their own horn! Yes, my mother always said I was one of a kind!
I have a laid back style, and I take pride in being a good listener. I think my nursing background prepared me well for this job. As a nurse, I had to make difficult decisions, often on short notice, and based on the facts. As a nurse and like in Dragnet, I deal with “just the facts ma’am! This goes back to what my friend, Representative Katherine Clark, said at my swearing-in: Nurses collect data and make decisions based on the facts. And as a nurse, I keep things in perspective: while our office has been busy at times, there’s no place as busy as a med/surg unit in the hospital.
It has been a pleasure to work with all of our City employees. When I first became mayor, I realized there were people in City Hall who did not know each other, often because they worked on different floors. So, one of my initiatives was to bring the city hall staff together most months for activities and community lunches. Being the social butterfly that I am, I also liked to take a walk through the building whenever I could to say hello to our staff in the different offices.
I must thank the e-team, who met with me on most Monday mornings – the information shared was so valuable. I want to thank my department heads, the City hall staff and all our City workers as they have been welcoming and so supportive. I will be forever grateful for your hard work. Your commitment to the city inspires me every day. Like the song says, “I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you.”
I also want to thank my family and friends. They have been supportive through these many years. My kids knew that when I was just running into Shaws to get a few things, that I could return over an hour later! Like I said on the day that I was sworn in – there is one part of this history that is missing but I know that Coz would also be proud and yes, in his own quiet way, he is beaming also! To my winey-girls, I value our friendship and I don’t think I missed a Friday night out with you – thank you for your support.
Early in my term, I put a framed picture of Rosa Parks in my office with the quote “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” Many times during meetings, I would look up at Rosa and be guided by what she said. I am leaving that picture on the wall for the next mayor so that they too, may be guided by her sage words.
Thank you all for coming tonight. I look forward to finding new ways to support the City that we all love.
Good night and God Bless