CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Seventeen months of negotiations come to a head next week when unionized Chicopee teachers vote on a new contract.
Education was no small part of Mayor Richard Kos’ State of the City Address Wednesday night at Chicopee City Hall.
The President of the Chicopee Teachers Union told 22News teachers have been working without a contract since last July. Chuck Clark said the deal worked out between the teachers union and the school committee includes a pay raise, but also of primary importance, it will allow teachers more time to teach.
“For anybody who’s thinking about being teacher, they do it because they want to be involved with children. And when we vote ‘yes’ to this contract, it means that the teachers of Chicopee will have more time to spend with their students. And everybody wins,” said Charles Clark, President of the Chicopee Education Association.
Clark said all of Chicopee’s 700 teachers will vote on the contract proposal Monday afternoon at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. He said it’s a 3-year deal that includes pay-raises retroactive to this year, and for the next two school years.
STATE OF OUR CITY 2015
Good evening and welcome…
Vice President Vieau, Vice-Chair Wojcik, members of our City Council, School Committee, State delegation, all elected officials, and most importantly – residents of the City of Chicopee.
It is my honor and privilege to stand here before you this evening to present to you the State of Our City.
Last year when I took office, I promised to work to make Chicopee better. Tonight I am pleased to report to you that — together — WE have made Chicopee better.
I’m also here to thank many people….because I know that we are now on the right path – now moving forward – because of the help and commitment of our dedicated city employees, of many elected officials, and of the other committed residents who have stepped forward to make things better.
There are many ways to describe what is special about our City and its residents. I thought about which distinct memory I can share with you tonight – as I look back before looking forward.
I have one particular recollection that comes to mind.
One day last fall, I sat with a group of 4th and 5th grade students at Streiber School on their Buddy Bench. A bench where kids who are having a tough day can go and sit, and to share that bench and be comforted by their fellow students. It was the students who – on their own – raised the money to buy this bench, actually 2, simply because they care. There are few things that I find as humbling and inspiring as kids helping kids.
That certainly wasn’t the first time in the past year that I was humbled by acts of compassion by our residents nor was it the last time I was inspired by their generosity of spirit.
Perseverance, coupled with acts of kindness, helped to build Chicopee and these things are today helping us once again as we rebuild it.
In the past year, I did many things that I had done when I was Mayor the first time. I cut ribbons and shook hands. I chaired meetings and signed orders and proclamations. I traveled to Boston and to Washington to garner support from our state and federal leaders. And I spoke with seniors about their concerns – as well as young people about their hopes. Safety and security, and having a promising future were steady themes.
I saw that perseverance and kindness– in both young and old alike, and I know first-hand how important it is for us to strive to be better.
When I came into office, there were many things not working, and for those that were, they were not working well. Departments were hardly talking, let alone working together. The focus was not to “make Chicopee better.”
After many discussions with our City Council it became clear — if we did not act, our City would face consequences.
And so we acted quickly and decisively. And one year later, though the weather outside remains a challenge – the worst of the City’s storm is over.
With nearly one third of the senior management positions to be filled – some were vacant and some became open through attrition and retirement, we needed to hire highly experienced, qualified professionals for the City. And we did.
They have brought new and creative leadership. The transition was seamless, has injected new energy, new ideas, and a new collaboration among departments.
Let me share just a few examples…..
I hired Raisa Riggott as our Human Resource Director. I am so pleased, that having been originally passed over in the search that took place four years ago; she reapplied for that position. Raisa brings to us over 18 years of experience in municipal government and will ensure that our City complies with federal and state mandated regulations and that we have a competent, motivated workforce to meet the needs of our residents.
We brought on board Vanessa Oquendo, a 18 year municipal government veteran who also had previously applied, to lead our Information Technology Department — a department that has surely been in the news this past year.
We needed vast improvements in our information technology – ranging from data storage to increasing the capacity and efficiencies of our systems. So much of what we needed in terms of experience – she has done. The many professional contacts that will help us bridge the gaps – she already has. Vanessa will help us safeguard our information for today – and for tomorrow……for my administration – and future administrations.
I appointed a new Police Chief – the result of being directed by the Civil Service Commission to appoint a Chief based upon, and in compliance with, Civil Service rules and regulations – and that’s exactly how it was done!
Chief Jebb is with us tonight and I applaud him – as well as the 6 new officers – all of whom are military veterans and some of the most qualified new officers I have ever appointed.
I am proud of the transparency that now exists within the Police Department. Real transparency is more than just a Facebook post. This transparency includes a newly implemented practice of publishing daily police logs, informing residents of events in their neighborhoods, so all can know what’s going on in their community.
We have embraced the true meaning of community policing by reinstituting bike patrols. That snow out there will melt – someday – I hope — and you will see the bike patrols again.
Our new GIS Department will assist in redistricting police routes and will identify “hot areas”, so that we can maximize our police responsiveness. We upgraded outdated police computers and software, and we are NOW prepared to pursue the Massachusetts Police Accreditation for our department. An accreditation that is a rigorous process that promotes best practices, upholds accountability, and will help the department align and adhere to the highest performance standards.
My pledge to the public is that together with the City Council, we will continue to maintain a police department that is second to none.
Our Emergency Management Department has been refocused. We have a new Director and utilize the assistance of an experienced Emergency Management Consultant – all at less than half the previous cost.
Fire Chief Burkott is also with us tonight and I must acknowledge him as he has announced his future retirement intentions. I thank the Chief for his efforts in supplementing the emergency management department for any known deficiencies over the years, and I thank him and his department for their outstanding commitment to public safety.
Crime is down. Not by much — but through the commitment of our public safety officials — progress was made during this past year. With our continued efforts and focus — we — you and I — will live in a safer city.
I acknowledge our State Delegation and the many efforts they made on behalf of Chicopee. I especially thank Representative Wagner, the dean of our Chicopee delegation for his tireless commitment to our City and thank him for his efforts.
Our meetings last year with state officials allowed us to illustrate the flawed approach of the emergency assistance program that housed homeless families in our motels for years. We communicated those problems and our frustrations, for far too many families have been forced to live in a motel room for months, let alone years, without direction. This has begun to change.
This past summer, there were over 219 families living in the motels– now, there are 59 families. There were 250 school aged children, now there are 68. They were being housed in 3 motels. Now, there are only 2 motels.
We plan to continue working with our delegation — along with Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito — to end this program as the sole solution, as it is unfair to both the impacted families as well as our community.
With the assistance of our delegation, we worked with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to identify the true renovation costs of the Old Chicopee High School, and we will continue to closely monitor the project, ensuring that it is done correctly, without cutting corners, and in a way that will benefit Chicopee students for generations to come.
We continue to struggle with challenges. One such issue is how to fund the furnishings and programs of our newly built Senior Center – it is a new building that has few resources. And many citizens are unhappy with our cable, so am I. Our options are few – and I have not signed a new contact.
But — I am extremely proud of the relationship that I have built with our City Council. We know that working together is the best path to take to make a better Chicopee. They have been great partners in our drive to improve the City that we love so dearly.
Last year, for the first time most can remember – every single Mayoral order passed with Council approval.
Those orders and subsequent approvals were not rubber stamped. I have discussed multiple issues with every Council member – multiple issues – multiple times – and sometimes daily. I welcomed those calls and will continue to welcome those discussions. They have led to a better understanding of the issues – and of each other. I think it is fair to say that we trust each other – and that is good for us… and it is better for our City!
For that support and partnership, I thank them.
Many feel that government moves too slowly or that it fails to work for the people it represents, and I know that President Moreau and our City Council share these same concerns.
Together, we have committed to address the problems this City faces, and to meet them head on.
Just last October, we were faced with many significant infrastructure issues – leaky school roofs….antiquated police and fire vehicles….and swimming pools that couldn’t hold water.
We moved forward making the difficult choice of raising an additional $3 million so that school roofs could be repaired and security could be improved, that police patrol cars and fire apparatus could be ordered, and that money would be available to begin the process of repairing or replacing outdated city pools.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I truly believe those words – the time is always right to do what is right.
We did what was right.
These conditions didn’t happen overnight and future infrastructure and capital needs still remain; however, they are being addressed, as we move this City forward. The areas that were broken are now being fixed.
As I have said time and time again, Chicopee is a special place filled with special people, and a great example occurred this past August when we began the first ever Crowdfunding campaign in our City. The purpose: to rebuild a park. And that is exactly what we did.
With the help of a KaBoom grant, a non-profit organization geared towards encouraging children to get outside and play, we were able to replace and rebuild the playground at Nash Park with new equipment that gives the children of Willimansett – and future generations of the children of Chicopee – a safe and exciting place to play.
Many helped — not only to fund the project — but to actually help build the playground. Young and old alike came out to ensure this project’s success.
We have some of those volunteers with us tonight. There are no better examples of the multigenerational support within our City than that of the volunteers I would like to acknowledge today. Representing the Chicopee Comp Football team – Sean Buxton, Ricardo Cruz and Francisco Rodriguez. And the recipient of the Charles Tracy Veterans Award, Harvey Lafleur. With Harvey’s permission, I can tell you he is 92 years young. I extend thanks to each of you and those you represent — from a grateful and appreciative City.
That commitment, that sense of community, is precisely what makes Chicopee special.
And it is not limited to one area within our City.
• We have funded improvements to Wisniowski Park here in the Center.
• We have welcomed back the Kielbasa Festival and are looking forward to a second successful event this May.
• We have continued and improved the Christmas Tree Lighting and Downtown Halloween celebrations.
But – it is not all parties and play.
We are working hard to get people to come to our downtown – both during the day and at night.
We want them – you – to come downtown to visit our businesses.
And when they – you – come downtime, you will find free public Wi-Fi – or “Chi-Fi” as we have named it. And that’s not a coffee or a tea, but the name given to the free public wireless internet. In partnership with Mass IT – we become one of the first cities in Massachusetts to partner with the Mass Office of Information Technology. “Chi-Fi” will be available – for free, for all, downtown.
And when they – you – come downtown, you will have more places to park! We have supported the Munich Haus owner in the recent purchase of the former, long abandoned, Ferris parking lot on Center Street. That investment will result in over 50 additional parking spaces downtown– as well as more jobs!
And there will be even more parking spaces for the public’s use, as an acquisition by the City, approved by City Council, of the property located on Front Street – just up from City Hall – should come online later this year.
Though the dreams of Cabotville development continue, we cannot wait for unlikely possibilities. So I’m pleased to tell you about a success that will be real.
A leading and highly successful housing developer is currently under contract to purchase and develop the former Lyman Mill property on lower Front Street, for the purpose of developing it into 50 market rate live/work loft apartments. Real loft residences in our downtown.
And our goal is that this is just the beginning.
While we work to improve our downtown, we must focus on struggling neighborhoods within our City as well. Many of these neighborhoods have multi-family homes owned by absentee landlords who have no vested interest in our community.
We must make owners part of the social fabric of the neighborhoods – so that our neighborhoods become their neighborhoods. If a landlord lives at a property which they own, they are more likely to keep that property clean and hold tenants responsible for their behavior. That house is now their home.
We have created the Owner Occupied Multifamily Grant Program to encourage landlords to buy and live in the multi-family homes they purchase. This will improve those neighborhoods, one multi-family house at a time. I thank Chicopee Savings Bank and the Polish National Credit Union, for their efforts and ongoing support of this upcoming initiative.
In addition, there are properties across this City that need to be cleaned up regardless of the neighborhood in which they are. We have reactivated our Problem Property Committee that consists of department heads, and elected officials, and the Law Department, to help streamline the process of getting those properties that are in disarray, cleaned up, and to hold neglectful property owners accountable. We’ve hired a Hearing Officer to assess and collect fines and we have assigned an Attorney from the Law Department to pursue legal action, when necessary. Together we are sending a message, “Be a good neighbor and follow the rules. If you don’t, there will be consequences.”
And there are successes in our neighborhoods. Just look at one neighborhood school: Barry Elementary, which has been nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for their success in closing the Achievement Gap. Tonight I would like to welcome and recognize Vice Principal Rachael Williams and teachers Katie Gunning and Theresa Cafalo who are representing Barry School. We publicly salute them, along with the parents and students of Barry, for their efforts, their dedication and hard work, and for all that they represent. And a shout out to Lambert Lavoie and Stefanik Schools as well for their Level One achievement. Congratulations and job well done!
But the success of these schools is, unfortunately, not the norm. Half of all of our students are below achievement standards in math and science. Our high schools have the 41st worst graduation rate in all of the state – and still more than 11 percent of our students drop out. Obviously, more – much more – needs to be done.
We will continue to explore programs that will benefit our youth. This past year, we began a partnership with the World is Our Classroom organization. This organization enhances the math and science education of all 5th grade students in Chicopee, as they experience a real world environment, all at no cost to the School Department.
We will continue to partner with the Regional Employment Board to develop more ways that offer career opportunities for our students.
We have some of the best facilities in Western Mass and excellent teachers in our school system. But we need to do more. There may be other organizations with which we can collaborate to build a better educational system. There may be new ways to teach, new and advanced technology to acquire, and innovative practices to explore. We need to embrace what is available to us – what can be available to us – for our kids. And for their kids.
The role that Westover can play for our educational initiatives needs to be further explored.
That means that we continue to work closely with Westover Air Reserve Base. One of our biggest economic drivers can also be our partner as we work to attract new business and industries. However, these jobs and initiatives, both public and private, need an air base that is thriving.
I welcome Colonel Lupinski here tonight – and, together, with Congressman Neal — we will continue to reinforce to Washington how important Westover is — not only to our community….but to our region.
While working with our State delegation, we will utilize $1 million in state funding to help us remove the dilapidated former military housing off James Street. We will secure an investment in solar power, which will generate cost saving benefits for our City residents as well as the Air Reserve Base.
And the State’s investment continues with a $5 million commitment by the Commonwealth to support the Research and Development partnership program at Westover that will fund UMass Amherst and create a National Aeronautics, Research, Development, and Training Center right here in Chicopee.
With the help of UMass graduate students we have learned there are new and better ways to improve that business corridor known as “Memorial Drive.”
It was the arrival of Home Depot and Walmart that awoke the Memorial Drive commercial district more than 12 years ago – and we will continue to nurture that business environment.
We welcomed Pet Smart’s announcement this week that they are coming to Chicopee. We realize that jobs at Chic Filet, Buffalo Wild Wings, as well as those from Tri-State Roofing, Cenveo Envelope, and other businesses, bring true value to our city
But we need to do more. And we will.
We will continue to look at how we do business in Chicopee to make sure that we are doing all that we can, so that you can do business – better – in Chicopee.
We are currently exploring the re-organization of the Planning Department and Community Development. We may merge Community Development into the existing Planning Department, resulting in having conservation and natural resources, long range planning, urban design, land use, regulatory administration and community development functions all in one shop.
We are studying the possibilities of combining the Building Department with Code Compliance Departments, which will have a positive impact upon our City and quality of life issues on a daily basis.
Improved service delivery, collaboration and cost savings may be just some of the benefits that are achieved.
Both of these options are new ways to make Chicopee better. Increasing efficiencies. Improving effectiveness. For the City – for our residents – for our businesses – and for future businesses.
I know that I alone do not have all the answers. Input from all is welcomed.
To that end, more “Mornings with the Mayor” will take place, and the newly established on-line Mayor’s Chat will continue – all to include you.
We will also use traditional media outlets to communicate– such as television and newspapers – as well as social media, including the city’s Facebook page. Our Everbridge telephone system will update you on City emergencies and other important community news. I will also continue my televised Mayoral briefings.
We are now in the process of scheduling neighborhood meetings throughout the City and I welcome all to come.
Many exciting things are happening and I look forward to this upcoming year, confident that this new foundation we have built together will yield a better Chicopee.
For as we fix what doesn’t work well, we will also be working on developing new and innovative initiatives. Some examples include:
• A One Card ID system for all students that can be used in our schools, libraries, and parks throughout the City.
• A newly designed website to promote the City and better communicate our services to our residents and businesses.
• A bookmobile for our library system to provide outreach to more of the City’s children – and perhaps, their parents.
• Installing GPS in DPW and police vehicles to enhance safety and increase responsiveness.
Because of all of this – and more – I am pleased to report to you that the State of our City is strong.
By working together, all of this – and more – can be accomplished – for a better Chicopee.
And that’s what it is all about – a better Chicopee.
Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the great City of Chicopee.