NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 8, 2014

Mayor Ken Gray's inauguration speech


Newburyport Daily News

---- — The following is the text of Mayor Ken Gray’s inaugural speech:

Good evening and thank you all for coming. It is truly an honor, to be here, standing before you, as your new mayor.

I’d like to thank our master of ceremonies Peter Hoyt, Reverend MacPherson for providing the invocation, and of course Rosemary Werner for organizing this event … twice! Thank you Rosemary, you’ve done a wonderful job.

And congratulations to the new members of the Housing Authority, the Library Board of Trustees, the Planning Board, the School Committee and the City Council. And I’d like to thank the outgoing members for their time and efforts towards making Amesbury a better place. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Mayor Kezer for his 8 years of service to and stewardship of the community.

I’d also like to thank Mayor Costello, Mayor Hildt, Representative Costello, Senator Ives, and Mayor Holaday for being here tonight and sharing in our celebration.

And special thanks our team of dedicated volunteers who gave so generously of themselves and their front lawns … and put in countless hours during the past months of campaigning. Without you and your support we would not be here tonight … Thank you all.

And to my family, my wonderful wife Donna, my tremendous children and grandchildren who are here tonight … Thank you. We did this together.

And finally, I humbly thank the voters of Amesbury for putting their faith and trust in me, and for giving me the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

Now that the election is over it’s time to look to the future. It’s time to focus on what connects us, and to celebrate what we have in common.

And we have much to celebrate, and much in common!

Throughout my campaign I personally reached out to our citizens and engaged them so that I might understand their concerns. I knocked on hundreds of doors, and what I found is that aside from the specific things that they thought needed improving or fixing, the overwhelming majority of the people I talked with love living here, no matter whom they may have supported for any office.

As well they should. Amesbury is a wonderful community. We have an amazing history, abundant natural resources, lots of open spaces and we’re in a great location. And most important, we have a culture that our citizens prize even more so than our natural beauty and rich history.

During the campaign, I centered on three primary themes:

Addressing our high property taxes and low property values.

The need for excellent schools, and,

Bringing our community together.

Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting with department heads, business leaders and others in and outside of municipal government. And these three objectives have been the common thread of all of those many meetings.

So let’s talk about getting property taxes under control.

Our property tax and home valuation problems have been developing over many years to the point where we now find ourselves in a historically deep hole. Addressing these problems will not be easy. It will take time and effort. We will not succeed overnight, and success will require the commitment of all of us. However, we must address our property tax problems and we will begin now.

The good news is that despite our differences as a community over a variety of past, often contentious, issues, we do have an important area where we are all currently in agreement.

While we may not all agree that we have a property tax problem, every City Councilor, and both candidates for Mayor agreed during the election campaign that we need to grow our tax revenue base. Furthermore, we agreed that the best way to accomplish this is through growth of our commercial and industrial sectors. This alignment presents a rare and unique opportunity; a chance, for us to break from the past and come together as a community with a common vision of how to solve a most pressing issue.

That said, under my administration, Amesbury will be aggressive in seeking out new opportunities and bringing them to fruition. We will not wait for things to happen ... we will make things happen — and we will begin immediately.

We will target the right growth for Amesbury, cut the red tape, pursue opportunities, and win the business!

Starting today, let potential home buyers and commercial and industrial investors know that Amesbury recognizes the need to make our city as inviting and welcoming as it can be. And we will! The welcome mat is out to businesses and potential new residents.

All of this effort is aimed at economic growth that benefits all of our residents. We aim to reduce the rate of growth of our property taxes, and foster conditions that will lead to improved property values. And we will accomplish this while vigilantly safeguarding our unique history, our culture and our natural resources.

Now no discussion of economic development would be complete without mention of the Lower Millyard. The Lower Millyard in some ways represents Amesbury in a nutshell: great promise but also lots of challenges. Because of budget and time constraints, completing this project will be a great test. In spite of that, let me be clear: We will focus our efforts towards driving the Lower Millyard project to fulfill its potential as a catalyst for business and residential growth.

Let’s talk about schools.

For many residents, our school system is the most important aspect to life in Amesbury. Good schools are a must. They bring the community together through that most precious of commodities: our children. They perform the most important of functions: equipping today’s youth to succeed in whatever may be their chosen endeavors. And yes, the schools have a direct impact on our property values and as such, our financial well being. High-performing schools represent the best of what government can do for its citizens.

To that end, we must seek continuous improvement of our schools. This Administration will work with education professionals to set reasonable, achievable and measureable goals that focus on our greatest areas of need and improvement. Going forward, our collective goals will match our needs. We will set in place strategic plans that aim at addressing our most important priorities. Together, we will define what is important to us as a district. We will bring stakeholders together to agree on common sets of metrics. We will set the strategic objectives and build the system around ensuring those goals are achieved.

They may be too young to vote, but our children deserve every opportunity to succeed, and to do so in a way that their parents find both affordable and rewarding. This is a priority.

I’d like to talk a bit about process.

I believe that government exists to serve the community, not the other way around. And I will strive to make that ideal a central theme of my administration. As mayor, I will implement a new era of openness and inclusiveness. Our city will seek out ways to listen to the residents — all the residents — and always showing respect for their opinions and concerns, no matter how small.

We will improve the use of technology tools to keep people informed. Like it or not, our society moves at Internet speed. Information is demanded and must be shared in the most efficient and complete manner possible. It may be the simple matter of locating a meeting date on a town website or checking the status of an important city project.

And we will always strive for process improvement. We need constant attention on processes in order to keep costs down while maintaining or improving services. Faster, better, cheaper. These will be our goals.

So where will this lead us?

My vision is to create an improved environment for residential and business investment, leading to stabilized property taxes and resulting in additional revenue to help fund a better school system and improved city services. These interconnected objectives will, as they are achieved, bring our residents together.

After all, we have much more in common than we have separating us. We all want to live in a safe, clean environment, with emergency help available when we need it most. We all want to be healthy and happy and to provide best possible education for our children. We all want to care for those in need and we all want to live in freedom and to have the opportunity to pursue our hopes and dreams.

I recognize that all groups have their differences and we as a city are no exception. But differences in opinion or approach present the opportunity to listen, to explain, and should be considered the start of developing consensus agreement. As such we municipal workers, elected or otherwise, who are the collective face of Amesbury must always be prepared and approachable.

I say “we,” because as mayor, that starts with me. Accessibility matters. I understand that scheduling an appointment and coming to City Hall can for many be a big obstacle. My personal goal is to break down that barrier. As such, I will commit to spending at least one hour a week in various locations around Amesbury. Call it my informal office hour. I’ll publicize where I will be and invite any resident to come share their thoughts with me. Comment, congratulations, or criticism — I’ll be available, and I’ll listen.

Tonight, I call on all Amesbury’s residents, be they in the public or private sector, to submit their thoughts and ideas. As someone who spent his career in the technology sector, I know first-hand that while the vision might come from the top, how best to get there is often best understood by those who provide or use the organization’s products or services every day.

We can be the best community on the North Shore. We can make Amesbury the best place to work, to play and to live. I am excited and energized at the prospect, and I am grateful for the opportunity that you have afforded me. Thank you and may God bless Amesbury.