The following is a transcript of Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s State of the City address for 2021 given on January 14. It is printed as received from the City’s Chief Information Officer as submitted to the digital news media outlet.
FRAMINGHAM – Welcome to Framingham’s fourth State of the City address. As you can see, this year’s address is very different. I hope you enjoyed the features from previous years that we just watched. There’s a bit less pomp and circumstance this year, but no less pride and hope for our City’s future.
Usually, a great many people join us in Nevins Hall, including our state and local legislative delegation, representatives of the City Council and School Committee, City of Framingham employees and volunteers, members of the Framingham business and education communities, and of course, our residents. I thank you for being here virtually.
What. A. Year. When I stood before you last January, none of us could have imagined what was ahead. And yet, our City has faced this pandemic with grit and determination. Every single resident of Framingham has been affected. Our lives have been upended. Residents have lost businesses, and experienced INCREDIBLE hardships. Some have lost their lives. I want to recognize that we have lost 193 residents to COVID-19. 193 LIVES lost. On behalf of myself and our City, I offer heartfelt and sincere condolences to the loved ones of those who have fallen victim to the virus. We stand with you as you face the unthinkable.
I must thank those on the front line – the essential workers and first responders. WE cannot get through this pandemic without YOU. You are MY heroes and sheroes.
And for those residents who are doing everything in your power to protect your loved ones, neighbors and friends by staying home, wearing a mask, limiting gatherings, and helping your kids with remote learning, I appreciate you. Please, stay the course!
Amid the pandemic, the uncertainty, the ever-changing landscape, we had a City to run.
Tonight, I need to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the 649 employees of the City of Framingham for their dedication to us during this incredible time. Back in early March, they responded swiftly and collectively. Our resolve and creativity were tested. I am proud to say that we rose to the occasion.
We immediately began using our existing public safety plans, including the National Incident Management Systems plan. Behind the scenes, your City pivoted to address the crisis.
In addition to working our plans, we began issuing Framingham-specific data on virus cases. We opened the Emergency Operations Center at the police station seven days a week to answer questions about the pandemic. My office, along with the Health Department, School Department, and community partners, developed a trilingual food security program to support residents. We held live online events with City leaders to help our residents make sense of what was going on. We launched a comprehensive COVID-specific webpage for the City.
The Library team stepped up to operate a hotline, providing residents another resource for information. The Library and Callahan Center performed wellness check-ins with over 15,000 older adults. We also set up an Emergency Housing Assistance program to provide relief of rent, mortgage, and utility payments for households that have lost their primary income.
The spirit of collaboration for Framingham within our elected leadership was strong from the get-go. Along with members of our City Council and our state delegation, I met daily with the City’s Division Leadership. I also reached out to the Baker-Polito Administration, as well as to other Town
Managers and Mayors to strategize on how best to handle this pandemic for the City. And Framingham will continue to leverage every resource available to us until this pandemic is eradicated.
When I was sworn in as your Mayor, I made five promises to you. I’m pleased to report that we’ve made progress on all five in 2020.
PROMISE NUMBER ONE: A smooth transition to a city form of government.
Many think that promise is complete. The truth is that our City is still in its infancy. Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, we followed through on the goal set forth by the Charter and succeeded in launching the City’s first long-term strategic plan.
The plan is intended to guide Framingham’s overall approach to its resources, needs, and assets. It is a LIVING document that we will continue to refine based on community feedback.
Another focus for transitioning to a city form of government is to ensure that the City’s financial foundation is strong.
2020 threw us some curveballs when it came to our budget, so we problem-solved and improvised. We anticipated that financial resources would be vastly different. State Aid would not be what was initially proposed, local revenue would be less and economic restrictions would reduce utility revenue.
We also understood that the changing economy would directly impact taxpayers, so increasing taxes was a hardship we HAD to avoid. We buckled up and reduced spending on core services. I believe we made good fiscal decisions to allow our City to thrive.
When all was said and done, Municipal budgets have been cut 5-20%. We have fewer City employees trying to maintain the services our community is used to receiving.
Even with all of these challenges, the City maintained its excellent credit rating. Our City is fiscally stable.
In addition, the value of property across the City is still trending upwards. Total taxable property value increased by 7% and is now $11.2 billion dollars. Despite the hardship of 2020, Framingham remains extremely valuable and viable.
PROMISE NUMBER TWO: Push for excellence in education and schools.
The pandemic has impacted everyone, but our City’s students and their families have been some of those most greatly affected.
In March of 2020, Framingham’s students abruptly left the classroom. Later, our remote learning journey began. To ensure equitable access, the School Department has distributed over 9,000 Chromebooks and has set up nearly 900 Wi-Fi hotspots since the beginning of the pandemic.
School Superintendent Dr. Tremblay is leading our district during this unrivaled time while balancing student and staff safety. His thoughtful leadership is apparent in decisions that always put our children at the forefront.
While remote learning is not ideal, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently recognized Framingham as a state leader in remote learning.
I want to take a moment to give a shout out to our school staff and teachers. All of us who are teachers are accustomed to working with our students in the classroom, connecting with them and helping them grow. You have been asked to do business differently, to pivot and pivot again. Your determination has been an inspiration — I acknowledge how challenging this has been. I appreciate your commitment and thank you for your flexibility.
PROMISE NUMBER THREE: Invigorate our economy with planned growth and balanced development.
As would be expected during a pandemic, our progress in this area moved a little slower than we anticipated a year ago. Here’s how we supported business.
With the looming uncertainty, we realized that we needed to shore up our current businesses. We purposefully chose to spend more time stabilizing established businesses than attracting new ones. The Planning and Community Development division started an Emergency Small Business Grant
Program to help cover wages, rent, and other fixed costs.
We quickly made changes in policies and practices for things like outdoor dining and temporary parking for takeout.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of 2020, the City’s business base continued to grow. Some of the new businesses include:
• CRISPR, a Biotech firm
• Freida B’s Skating Apparel
• Lifebox Foods
• Burn Bootcamp
And both Michael’s craft store and Fran’s Flowers moved from Natick to Framingham.
We also added new restaurants such as:
• Framingham Station
• Kona Ice food Truck
• Heart City Health Cafe
We saw the reopening of the strip Mall on Concord Street that suffered a fire a couple of years ago, and successfully negotiated the soon-to-be expansion of Whole Foods on Route Nine.
PROMISE NUMBER FOUR: Preserve our assets, resources, and quality of life.
At my inauguration, I spoke about cleaning up the blight in Framingham. I am happy to report that we have made significant progress.
Mt. Wayte Plaza is now home to The Buckley, which is modern, commuter-accessible housing and will soon have a new restaurant.
If you haven’t driven by Nobscot Plaza in a while, I encourage you to do so. The Chapel has been moved and is in the process of being refurbished. Construction of the new CVS and intersection enhancements are underway. The $3.4 million dollar MassWorks grant, awarded late in 2019, allows
us to re-establish a vibrant neighborhood village center.
Our assets include the City’s outstanding Police and Fire Departments.
In November, I appointed Lester Baker as the new Chief of Police. Chief Baker is the first African American Police Chief in the history of Framingham. He is in tune with our community, well-versed in policing, and seeks to find solutions that are consistent, fair and equitable.
One of his first actions was to complete the removal of the Department from Civil Service. It was a multi-year process that involved both the patrol and superior officers’ unions and our legislative delegation. Framingham can now attract and recruit a more diverse pool of candidates, creating a workforce that is reflective of the people we serve.
This has been a challenging year for police departments across the country because of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
In response, I issued a joint Executive Order with previous Police Chief Steven Trask which highlighted common-sense reforms around the use of force. I also declared racism a public health crisis in the City of Framingham. We must be deliberate in how we address bias, discrimination, equity, and racial justice in the City. We have work to do!
The Framingham Fire Department responded to more than 13,000 calls for service last year.
Following the retirement of Fire Chief Joe Hicks, I appointed Michael Dutcher to the helm. Chief Dutcher has an impressive 23-year history with the Fire Department, and is now also serving as our Emergency Management Director.
Sadly, we lost one of our own in 2020. Deputy Chief Bradford Smith passed away in April. My heart goes out to his family and brothers and sisters in the Fire Service.
Another asset in Framingham is our Health Department. I could have spent nearly the entire speech tonight talking about what the Health Department and the Medical Reserve Corps have done for the City during this time.
Health Director Dr. Sam Wong and his team guided us through the most uncertain parts of this pandemic. From outreach to testing to contact tracing, his team has demonstrated what it is to manage through a crisis. Thank you for your dedication and hard work. I ask you to join me in supporting the continued efforts of the Health Department under the leadership of Assistant Director Alexandra DePalo.
Our quality of life is clearly affected by the Environment.
I am pleased to say that Framingham was awarded a competitive $200,000 dollar Green Communities Grant to fund eight energy conservation measures. We also won a United States Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Award.
We are taking strategic action to address the environmental injustices in our community, including the General Chemical site. Due to the City’s diligent negotiation efforts, four dilapidated buildings owned by General Chemical on Leland Street were FINALLY demolished.
The Mary Dennison Park project is in the last stages of remediation design. The newly renovated park will have a combination of neighborhood amenities including a new playground and fitness area.
PROMISE NUMBER FIVE: Invest in our people. This is the MAGIC needed to make all of this possible.
Volunteers are vital to the success of Framingham. In 2020, we made significant progress in diversification of our Boards and Commissions.
The Charter instructs us to have these Boards and Commissions better reflect our community. By making strategic nominations, I have ensured that the City’s Boards and Commissions are now the most diverse they have ever been. This mighty group of volunteers includes representation from all
nine districts. Volunteers on these Boards and Commissions speak 16 languages, and have varied racial identities and cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, approximately 40% of these volunteers are serving Framingham for the very first time.
I must pause to honor a long-time volunteer we lost just a few weeks ago. Karen Foran Dempsey’s commitment to Framingham was evident. She was a staunch advocate for disability civil rights. Her commendable leadership on the Disability Commission and School Committee left an indelible impression on many and Framingham will not be the same without her. My thoughts are with her family.
Continuing our investment in our people, I have appointed Dr. Maritsa Barros as the first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the City. She is awaiting final approval from the City Council. Dr. Barros is ready to hit the ground running to address the needs of all residents of Framingham, including our older adults, veterans, immigrants, and people of all races, gender identities, and abilities.
I’d like to quote a letter from Dr. Esta Montano that weighs in on the necessity of this position. Dr. Montano is a resident who has been doing work in race, culture, language, identity and equity for 25 years, and was a member of the hiring committee. She said, quote: “Given our dire situation as a nation at the moment, which filters into every aspect of life in our City, we need an individual who is top notch and can spearhead this work. Framingham must be able to welcome and affirm any and all who seek to reside here. I follow all of the Facebook pages that address Framingham issues, and it is quite obvious that there is intolerance, bigotry and hate galore. This position is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have.’” Unquote.
I could not agree more with Dr. Montano’s statement.
Now… let’s look forward with courage.
2020 showed us where we had some weaknesses, including in the area of basic human needs. So many of our residents have a tenuous connection to secure housing, food and other support services. These needs transcend socio-economic boundaries . No matter what zip code you reside in, you have a neighbor in need. To address this, I intend to dramatically improve the City’s efforts to CONNECT PEOPLE TO SERVICES, AND SERVICES TO PEOPLE.
It is my hope to build an Office of Neighborhood Services and Resiliency. This office will ensure that residents who NEED support, HAVE support.
As the Mayor of Framingham, I am a part of a national bipartisan network of Mayors who are looking at ways to collectively preserve our planet.
I am happy to say that in Framingham, we are well underway in establishing our very first Sustainability Committee. This Committee will work with our staff to determine the first steps toward the City becoming net carbon neutral by 2050.
In November, the voters passed the Community Preservation Act. Among other things, this allows us to think creatively about recreational opportunities and open spaces. I’m looking forward to working with our soon-to-be formed Committee volunteers and the City Council to see how we will use these
funds to improve Framingham.
I took this job in the spirit of trying to do the best for EVERY person in Framingham. I strive to do that each day.
Like me, our elected officials on the City Council and School Committee are passionate about Framingham. However, my relationship with some of the elected members can occasionally be rocky.
As Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
I strongly believe that WE CAN DO BETTER. We need to strengthen our resolve to have a community that is vibrant and thriving. We can only do this if we pledge to come together and genuinely partner with each other.
I invite my fellow elected leaders to make this commitment alongside me. If we work together with this as our underlying principle, the sky is the limit for Framingham. It will take courage to find common ground, but I am confident that we CAN and WILL succeed.
How will we do this? Well, let me tell you how I am going to start. First, I will address the need for better communication with the City Council and School Committee by inviting them to topic-specific round-tables to brainstorm action plans for ideas that could benefit our beloved City.
For example: Our residents have been sequestered in their homes during the pandemic.
How can we help them feel less lonely? – LET’S FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS TOGETHER
We want to invigorate the arts in our City? – LET’S FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS TOGETHER
We want to see 20 new businesses open in Framingham? – LET’S FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS TOGETHER
THE – SKY – IS – THE – LIMIT!
We have had a year of uncertainty, but there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.
Framingham, I know that if we work together, we will come out of this stronger than ever. I ask you to have the courage and the grit that we are known for to stay in this with me. I have confidence that we can persevere. We will heal. I know this time has been hard, but you are not alone – our City
is not alone.
Be BOLD and BRAVE:
Wear your mask.
Protect your neighbors.
Stay physically distant from each other.
We can’t YET let our guard down against this virus.
Let us focus on leading the way in doing what is right, what is just, what is kind. And let us do it together. We ARE better together. Please… STAY SAFE.