Overview Policy Document: My Vision for Waltham’s Future
VISION FOR THE
CITY OF WALTHAM’S FUTURE
To me, Waltham is more than just a place to live. It’s my home and my neighbors are my family. I have spent my entire life here, watching generations of my family give back through community service. This life experience has had a profound impact on me and my commitment to public service and community. I was born in Waltham and I will live here until I die, and there won’t be a day that passes that I won’t be thinking of ways to make my community even better than it already is.
So, why Mayor and why now? I see things that are broken in our local government and I want to improve them. We hear so much about the potential for Waltham, but we need to feel the tangible outcomes of that potential through new jobs, great schools, better support of our seniors, confidence of our businesses, enthusiasm of our public servants, welcoming of newcomers, and a stronger sense of local pride from every corner of every neighborhood. I believe that Waltham has all of the attributes of a world class city at our fingertips, but we need a leader with the vision and passion to tackle challenges head on and propel us forward toward solutions. There are problems to be fixed and opportunities to be seized, and I am running for mayor now to make these changes and capture these opportunities.
For more than a decade, Waltham has been reactive instead of proactive. Issues have gone unaddressed for too many years and have now snowballed into more critical, more expensive problems for the city. There are tangible examples in every area of municipal government where deferred maintenance and irresponsible decision making has led to larger bills for taxpayers. Rather than repairing broken bricks in downtown sidewalks years ago, we let them deteriorate to the point where they now require replacement at a higher cost. Rather than cleaning and repairing the Beaver Street Bridge culvert, we waited for the state to close down the bridge and we have since needed to replace the culvert altogether at a major inconvenience to residents. Rather than addressing the high school accreditation concerns when they first arose eight years ago, we waited until now and put ourselves at the state’s mercy for new high school funding. Rather than repairing and updating the police and fire stations over time, we have waited until they are dilapidated, falling apart and unhealthy, and rather than equipping our police officers and firefighters with modern technology, equipment and clothing that is commonly available in other towns, we have ignored the need putting our public safety personnel in unnecessary jeopardy. Ignoring problems does not fix them. Ignoring problems only leads to bigger problems down the road.
Under my leadership, Waltham will be the world class city it is meant to be. I will be proactive and responsive to the needs and wants of our citizens, and I will lead in a way that enables Waltham to take control of our destiny and plot our own course for the future, rather than letting the future lead us. Together we will all feel the tangible outcomes of that effort through great schools, better support of our seniors, creation of new jobs, confidence of our businesses, enthusiasm of our public servants, welcoming and support of our immigrants, heightened public engagement, and a stronger sense of local pride from every corner of every neighborhood. Success is at our fingertips, but we need a leader with the vision, energy and passion to tackle the challenges head on and propel us forward toward solutions.
This document outlines my vision for the City of Waltham and provides some context for the kind of leader that I will be for our city. It is meant to serve as an overview of my perspectives on leadership and governance, and provides some context for my vision for our city. Throughout this document you will find some of my ideas to make an immediate improvement for Waltham and others ideas to get our citizens working together with City Hall toward longer term solutions. I will follow this document with a set of more specific and detailed policy recommendations over the coming weeks and months. I am hopeful that my ideas included here and outlined in future documents will resonate with residents and trigger a healthy debate over the current state of affairs in Waltham. It’s time to be honest about where we are today and where we are headed as a community. I am excited to tackle that conversation head on, share my thoughts and ideas, and listen to your thoughts and ideas as well. This is the time for Waltham to pull together and demand more and better for ourselves, our city and for our kids.
Leadership and Vision
My plan for Waltham is centered on strong leadership, clear vision, and professional and modern management of our city. I believe that leaders provide vision and guidance, hire talented and professional managers, and then empower their management team to execute. As mayor, I will seek the best and brightest talent to fill key roles in our city, and I will ensure that the city is staffed at a responsible level to provide consistent and world class leadership on all issues. I will offer a positive and professional work environment at City Hall where we can attract and retain exceptional talent to public employment and our city employees feel supported, energized and empowered to introduce new ideas. We will work as a team to implement best practices and seek new and better ways to continually provide the best customer experience to our residents. I will empower the Personnel Director to ensure that we keep our team motivated and engaged to reduce unnecessary turnover. We will hire the best and brightest candidate for every available job, and diversify public hiring practices to ensure that our city employees are more reflective of the diverse community that we are serving. We will keep job satisfaction high by creating a professional environment where our employees are treated with respect, have opportunities for professional development and growth, and where the best interests of the public come first. The quality of public services in any government comes from the satisfaction of public employees and I will do all that can be done to ensure that both are exceptional under my administration.
I believe that leaders should seek constant improvement, learn from the experience of others, and explore new and different ways of doing things. As mayor, I will be frank about what is and is not working, and be flexible to change for the better. I do not fear innovative thinking. In fact, I embrace innovation – the very premise upon which Waltham’s rich history was built. As mayor, I will look to implement best practices in every area of government, measure progress and efficiency, and report results in a transparent way to make it easy for residents to understand how we are doing as a community and suggest new ideas for how to make our community even better.
Leadership is also about working well with others. As mayor, I will continue to value relationship building in the same way that I have throughout my career in public service. First and foremost, I will work to build a strong, respectful relationship with the City Council that is based in partnership and collaboration. Under my leadership, the Mayor’s Office will collaborate and cooperate with the City Council to serve the people of Waltham, and by working together, I am confident that we will accomplish far more than has been achievable in recent years under a more adversarial and competitive climate. Similarly, I will work with and not against the public employee unions. I can achieve fiscal responsibility and fair, respectful union negotiations simultaneously, and that is what our public employees deserve for their hard work and effort on behalf of the people of Waltham. Under my leadership, our police, teachers, firefighters and other public employees will have fair and current contracts, and I will put the political gamesmanship over contract negotiations to rest.
Community Engagement and Transparency
Waltham is full of hard working and talented residents who care so much about our great city and have so much to offer. It is a failure of City Hall to not engage the residents of Waltham in a serious way for new ideas on how to improve our city and better serve the community. As mayor, I will make community engagement a priority, and I will treat public input as a responsibility of my administration. I will work with the City Council, neighborhood groups, senior organizations, PTOs, public employee unions, immigrant and minority groups, and every other organization in Waltham to ensure that each and every stakeholder group is heard, valued and that their perspective is considered during the governing process. I will respect the time, commitment and input of citizen advisory committees, and I will not convene these committees without a purpose, agenda or real influence, which serves only to waste valuable time.
As mayor, I will prioritize neighborhood-based collaboration, especially on the topic of traffic, development, and public safety. No one knows the neighborhoods in Waltham better than the residents who live there, and I will take the time to understand those perspectives, work to address neighborhood concerns, and to seek solutions to existing challenges. I will establish a constituent services team in City Hall, like so many other cities do, where residents will always have a place to go for assistance and to share ideas.
I believe that citizens become more engaged when they have a better understanding of what is happening in their city and when they have a point of contact for questions. I believe it’s the responsibility of City Hall to make information readily available to all residents and in a way that is easily understood. A city that is known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution should do a better job of embracing technology in local government, and I will do just that to make sure our residents feel better-informed and invited to engage in whatever ways they feel comfortable, including through the internet, social media, smart phone apps, and in more traditional ways such as community meetings, by telephone or in writing. As mayor, I will work to improve the transparency of city government by making more information available online in a clear and concise way, and by providing more ways for citizens to offer feedback and suggestions. Waltham will be a stronger community when more people feel informed and engaged.
I also believe that City Hall should be working as a convener and central portal for things happening in and around Waltham that may not be driven directly by the Mayor’s Office. By doing so, we will gain a much larger perspective on what is happening among and between residents and different groups, and the city can serve to support those activities through enhanced networking, use of public facilities or by simply promoting them on the city’s website on an events calendar or in other ways. City Hall can and should be seen as a partner to Waltham residents, and under my leadership, it will be.
Focus on the Future
Governing isn’t only about today, but it’s also about tomorrow. It’s about working on parallel tracks to meet our needs today, while also anticipating and planning for the needs for our kids and grandkids in the future. In Waltham today, we are suffering from stagnation. City Hall reacts to current day challenges without any forward thinking or long range planning, and we suffer as a community for not looking ahead. The Planning Department is not equipped for the 21st Century, yet development has continued for over a decade without any direction or understanding of how each individual project impacts the city at large and the infrastructure that is serving us. Residents can feel the impact of that neglect each and every day in the traffic gridlock throughout the city. There are substantive penalties for communities that are not sufficiently prepared for the future.
Under my administration, there will be a new leadership style that values planning ahead, forecasting issues, and doing what is necessary to address them before they become critical needs. We will create long range plans with milestones and deliverables being achieved along the way. My administration will work with residents to assess how we want Waltham to look and perform in five, ten and twenty years from now, and I will start putting the building blocks in place to achieve those goals. I will reestablish a Planning Department for the city to be run by a well-qualified and experienced planner who will work with residents, businesses and other stakeholders to set land use policy for our city. Great communities are built by realizing a dream and going after it. The kind of leadership I offer will be with an eye to the future and going after the dream of becoming recognized as a world class city.
There are so many issues of importance to our city, and I look forward to engaging in an important and worthwhile discussion on those issues over the coming months. The following section addresses some of the key issues that the City of Waltham can improve upon and offers some strategies that I will deploy to make an immediate positive impact on our city.
Educational excellence is the foundation of every great community and it is an achievable goal for Waltham as well. I have the utmost respect for the talented teachers and administrators in the Waltham Public Schools, but the city’s leadership on education is insufficient and the teachers do not have the tools they need to succeed. The turnover rate for teachers and administrators is too high, creating instability in the system. The long anticipated overcrowding at our elementary schools has now ballooned into a critical problem. Despite repeated state warnings for many years about the potential failure to meet accreditation standards of the high school, the plan for a new high school facility is only just beginning.
Waltham needs a sustained and active commitment to educational excellence. We should demand a school system where the students are excelling, facilities are modern and appropriate, the diversity of our student body is both addressed and celebrated, special needs students get the support they need to achieve their highest potential, innovative teaching and programming is our competitive advantage, and music, arts and enrichment programming is abundant. I want families in Waltham to elect the public schools over private school options because of our district’s superior performance and unique offerings. I want teachers and administrators to stay in the district for the bulk of their career, getting to know families and making a long term commitment to our city. I want other districts to look to Waltham for best practices for closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, and seamless college placement and school-to-work programming. This is my goal for educational excellence in Waltham and I know it is achievable with hard work, public engagement and innovative thinking.
As mayor, I will:
- Continue to work with the school committee, superintendent, administrators and teachers, as I have as a city councilor and state representative, on efforts to build a new high school, and ensure that the overcrowding and other facilities issues are addressed in the near term and consistently addressed in the future throughout the regular course of business;
- Seek to empower the school committee to act as an independent body not driven by the mayor, as was originally intended by the city charter. The mayor is a non-voting member of the school committee, but in practice serves to drive the agenda which thwarts the productivity and independence of the committee. I will eliminate that practice and return the committee to true independence serving at the will of the voters to expressly serve the needs of our students;
- Partner with the school superintendent and others to address the consistent problem of administrator and teacher turnover throughout our school system, with the goal of improving the policies or conditions that will lead to higher rates of teacher and administrator retention;
- Focus on the unique needs of ELL students and their families and to ensure that they are able to access all of the services and supports that Waltham and its school system offer, to improve their performance and the performance of the school system at large;
- Support long range financial planning to better understand the current and future financial needs for our school system and to craft a plan to address those funding needs with fiscal discipline for taxpayers;
- Partner with area colleges to maximize the mutual benefit that can be realized when college students and their professors connect with city departments, schools and area non-profits;
- Follow the lead of nearby communities and establish an alternative high school for students with unique demands who cannot be integrated into the mainstream educational environment but still deserve and require a free and appropriate education that prepares them for the future;
- Support the proposed dual language immersion program as an opportunity to teach foreign language skills beginning at a young age, coupled with the opportunity to teach multicultural sensitivity and promote community development by bringing together students of diverse cultural ethnicity toward common objectives; and
- Formulate public-private partnerships with area companies to promote cutting edge STEM education and technology preparedness that is required of every job in the 21st
Infrastructure, Transportation & Fiscal Affairs
Maintaining reliable infrastructure is a fundamental role for city government and one that requires time and attention. Deferred maintenance costs taxpayers more money than it should and causes unnecessary inconveniences for residents. Poor planning, a two-year vacancy in the City Engineer position and an understaffed road maintenance crew has resulted in massive traffic congestion, unpainted street lines, protracted public works projects, and unnecessary confusion on the streets of Waltham. Under my leadership, the maintenance and security of public infrastructure will be a top priority. I will not ignore routine maintenance and I will not rely on the state or other governmental entities to interject when infrastructure deteriorates to the point of being unsafe. I will ensure that important roles like City Engineer and road maintenance crews are filled with qualified individuals who can get the job done. I will execute more effective and efficient management of public resources and infrastructure than has been experienced in Waltham in recent years, and I will utilize better planning and management strategies to avoid costly inconveniences resulting from bridge closures, failing sewers, overwhelming traffic congestion, and other avoidable scenarios.
Going hand in hand with infrastructure is the need for improved public transportation systems in Waltham. We have the great benefit of two commuter rail stations, but with very limited interconnectedness between residential neighborhoods and other communities in the region. We need a public transit system that delivers individuals to their final destination, and not simply between Boston and a local train station. Waltham will be a better city when people can move around freely thanks to a robust public transportation system that alleviates traffic congestion and reduces pollution by taking cars off the city streets. As mayor, I will work with local officials and the state delegation to gain maximum leverage of outside resources to improve public transportation offerings. Communities with leaders who collaborate are most successful in securing state grants and other financial resources.
And I will do a better job of ensuring that our fiscal affairs are in order. Waltham residents have the benefit of lower taxes and minimal fees but we cannot expect to thrive as a community without targeted investments in infrastructure, schools, and capital maintenance. Thanks to a robust commercial tax base, Waltham has plenty of resources that can be deployed in better ways to achieve more results for taxpayers. With a transparent budgeting policy that is clear about the outcomes of each investment, Waltham will maintain low residential taxes and residents will know where their tax dollars are going.
As mayor, I will:
- Immediately open a traffic survey for residents to report excessive and inconvenient traffic patterns and undertake a citywide traffic study with particular attention to the reported trouble spots;
- Update traffic signalization to be a more modernized, safe and convenient for residents;
- Work with residents and department heads to prepare a long range capital improvement plan and maintenance schedule;
- Leverage state grants and no and low-interest loans to fund critical infrastructure needs such a traffic improvements, sewer system repairs and upgrades, and road and bridge repair;
- Enhance public transportation connections to our commuter rail stations, between neighborhoods, our commercial and business centers, and to neighboring communities;
- Take a proactive role in regional transportation planning efforts to ensure that Waltham is actively engaged in the regional context;
- Expressly consider the issues of transportation and infrastructure during the land use planning process with a goal of alleviating neighborhood traffic concerns and improving walkability and pedestrian safety;
- Adopt a transparent budgeting system such as the state’s Open Checkbook to enable taxpayers to understand city expenditures and the outcome of each investment;
- Create an annual budgeting program whereby residents will nominate and vote on specific investments for the city, and the city will make a targeted investment in that effort as requested by taxpayers;
- Introduce transparency around the city’s bonding process to enable taxpayers to understand our bonding capacity and the implications of future bonding for certain capital expenditures;
- Maintain low residential tax rates and stable fee structure;
- Exercise a thorough audit of the Bank School to ensure that all Affordable Trust Fund monies are repaid and redirected toward the affordable housing objectives for which the Fund was intended.
The issue of sustainability is a win-win for the City of Waltham. We can save money for taxpayers while also making the city a nicer, cleaner place to live for future generations. Everything we do in our local government should be considered through the lense of sustainability, from the operation and maintenance of public buildings and public spaces, to land use planning and zoning, to procurement of vehicles and equipment, to transportation planning and traffic management, and the list goes on. Waltham is a home to some of the world’s most sustainable companies, yet the city does not participate in a robust public-private partnerships to support local sustainability efforts. As mayor, sustainability will be an important part of my agenda, as it is in every world class city in America.
As mayor, I will:
- Adopt the Green Communities Act to make Waltham eligible for important state grants and resources to supplement the local sustainability efforts;
- Reconfigure the City’s Energy Action Committee to leverage the talent and expertise of our citizens by establishing real goals and objectives for the Committee to support long range sustainability and resiliency planning with an actionable implementation plan;
- Establish public-private partnerships with cutting edge local companies to introduce energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives;
- Host an annual Waltham Sustainability Summit to engage residents and promote a more sustainable Waltham;
- Work in partnership with other municipal leaders who have implemented smart sustainability plans, such as Somerville, Boston, Cambridge and the Merrimack Valley, to provide a higher level of regional collaboration and high impact sustainability planning at no expense to the taxpayer.
There is a large demand for professional, coordinated human services delivery in the City of Waltham and I believe it is incumbent upon the City’s Health Department to lead that effort. Gone are the days where inspections are primary and singular focus of municipal health departments. This is an area where Waltham has severely lagged behind other municipalities at the detriment of our residents. We need a Health Department that leads on issues that address the full scope of modern-day health needs of our residents. We need a single point of contact for human services in city government and as mayor, I will make sure that happens.
As mayor, I will:
- Expand the role and scope of the Health Department to become the Office of Health and Social Services to oversee all of our recreation, health, senior, veteran, immigrant, nutrition, and housing services and programs, to provide coordinated and comprehensive health and social services for our residents under one roof;
- Work to support and connect the efforts of the valuable private and non-profit human services agencies helping people in Waltham, such as Neighbors Who Care, Waltham Family Schools, Waltham Partnership for Youth, and Latinos en Accion. Connecting these groups and sharing information and resources will yield a higher and better result for all organizations and the people they serve;
- Partner with public safety, human service agencies and the schools to create a targeted and comprehensive program aimed at addiction and domestic violence prevention, an issue that is plaguing our city and requires a comprehensive, cross-departmental effort;
- Support the efforts of organizations such as Waltham Fields Community Farm, who are working to provide access and education in Waltham about the nutritional value of fresh, locally grown food product, the need for sustainability and the value of open space;
- Work to enhance and streamline senior programming and to fill the gaps in programs available to seniors;
- Work with the Planning Director and City Hall to meet housing needs of our aging and returning veterans who need more affordable, attractive and accommodating housing in Waltham.
Arts, Culture & Diversity
Sometimes our differences are the very things that makes us special, and Waltham is a uniquely diverse community with deep cultural roots and a firm sense of appreciation for the arts. I do not believe that City Hall has done enough to celebrate our cultural diversity or meet the needs of our growing immigrant population. Likewise, we haven’t done enough to further our community’s passion for arts and culture. I will change that, and my administration will focus on using arts and culture as a mechanism for relationship building and community development at every level.
As mayor, I will:
- Appoint a Diversity Director within City Hall to serve as a liaison to the minority and immigrant community, and work within city government to ensure that diversity policies are prioritized throughout every department;
- Establish a Cultural Diversity Committee that will work to enhance outreach efforts to multicultural groups to promote more engagement with city government at every level, and advise my administration on ways to improve our diversity planning, programming and engagement;
- Support expanded adult ELL classes, introduce citizenship classes to Waltham, and integrate workforce development programming for young adult immigrants into the public schools to mitigate high drop-out rates;
- Celebrate Waltham’s cultural diversity throughout City Hall, all public buildings and in all public spaces;
- Promote outdoor and street-based arts and performance, and engage local artists and students to produce street art and art for public buildings;
- Establish an Arts and Culture Director in the city administration, who will be a consistent advocate for the arts in Waltham, a partner for the Waltham Arts Council, and who will also serve as a grant writer for the city to attract new financial resources to supplement non-profit and government-sponsored activities;
- Prioritize robust arts and music programming in the Waltham Public Schools to ensure that our students obtain a comprehensive educational experience that includes enrichment programs;
- Explore the opportunity to open an arts center, as was once contemplated for the former South Middle School, to provide a place for music, arts and cultural programming for Waltham residents of all ages; and
- Seek a Cultural District Designation for downtown Waltham to support enhanced cultural activities and tourism.
Waltham’s economic potential is unlimited. Our city was founded on the principles of innovation and invention, and Waltham introduced industrial efficiencies to world by making it possible to manufacture watches on an assembly line. Yet today in 2015, Waltham is known for time consuming permitting, outdated and irrelevant land use plans, and arduous, inefficient and unpredictable government processes. We need not look any further than our once thriving downtown to see the impact that this anti-business attitude has had on our city. As mayor, I will return the city to a place of innovation and invention. I believe that responsible permitting is achievable through a more professional, prompt and predictable local process. I believe that improved transparency and communication from city hall to developers and businesses will result in a higher and better result for Waltham residents. I believe that smart growth zoning and modernized planning will make our city more livable, accessible and marketable. I will ensure that the economic engine in Waltham continues to churn at our maximum potential, providing taxes, amenities, jobs and small business creation opportunities for our residents.
As mayor, I will:
- Establish an Economic Development Director position to guide policy and serve as an ombudsman for local businesses and developers;
- Establish a 21st Century Planning Office to be led by a qualified and experienced Planning Director;
- Create a Small Business Advisory Council to coordinate the interests of small businesses in Waltham and give them an opportunity to advise and support the efforts of local government;
- Streamline the city permitting process and implement policies that support prompt and predictable permitting. This does not mean that every project will be approved but it does mean that feedback and answers will be offered to applicants in a timely and respectful fashion;
- Prioritize the repair and management of the city’s defunct public sewer system, and ask the City Council to reconvene the citizen’s Inflow and Infiltration Advisory Committee to advise and assist in that effort;
- Establish an actionable downtown revitalization plan to improve parking and streetscape management, and attract higher demand retail amenities in our downtown core;
- Undertake thoughtful land use planning aimed to reduce traffic congestion, support smart growth and walkable community concepts, identify local infrastructure needs, and establish a strategy for mitigating the potential impacts of future development proposals;
- Support the innovation clusters in Waltham through a variety of public-private partnerships, such as working with existing innovation companies to promote and enhance the city’s innovation economy and STEM education, and create stronger university partnerships, such as establishing a makerspace in downtown Waltham in partnership with Brandies University.
The City of Waltham is at a crossroads. We can continue plodding along at a slow rate of progress, reacting to problems only after they become critical issues, and hoping that things work themselves out for the better. Or, we can elect to take control of our destiny and aim to be a world class city by engaging citizens, setting a thoughtful agenda, and adopting best practices that are already working in communities like ours all around the world. I will be a mayor of progress. One that embraces innovation, collaboration, best practices and forward thinking. I will bring leadership and vision back to the City of Waltham to ensure that taxpayers are getting the very best services today, and that our kids and grandkids will be getting the very best Waltham in the future.