SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 26, 2013

Board asks to name street after Liacos

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Come January, City Councilor Jim Liacos will be retired and gone from public life. But if the Peabody School Committee gets its way, he won’t be forgotten.

Acting on a motion by member Dave McGeney, the board voted unanimously Tuesday to request that one of the streets slated to be constructed around the new Higgins Middle School be called Liacos Way. The motion proved popular enough that Mayor Ted Bettencourt insisted on adding his vote, and in a break with the usual procedure, every member was allowed to second the motion.

“He’s brutally honest and a man of his word, and he didn’t have an agenda,” the mayor said of Liacos in a later interview. “He’s been an adviser to me since I’ve been mayor. ... And he’s the last guy in the world who would ask for something like this.” But, Bettencourt added, it is appropriate to recognize his 34 years in public service and his contributions to the city’s schools.

The request now goes to City Council. The street, according to the mayor, is likely to be a bus or parent drop-off route. He acknowledged a small possibility that the street might not be constructed, as the entire Higgins project “is still being tweaked.”

“Having a street named after you is pretty cool,” said Liacos, who added that it came as a surprise. “I had no clue.”

On hearing of McGeney’s presentation, he added, “It was very humbling.”

He wondered just what the procedure would be if the proposal wins support in the council — will there be a ceremony? “This is a first for me,” he said.

Liacos, 61, served 20 years on the School Committee and 14 years on the City Council. As near as observers can make out, that makes him the longest-serving elected official in Peabody’s history. But it wasn’t longevity that McGeney sought to honor.

“I don’t think it matters how long you serve, he said. “It’s what did you do in those years?”

In a letter to the board, McGeney noted that Liacos had a hand in bringing about “free full-day kindergarten, full-time nurses at every school and the construction of two new elementary schools. As a city councilor, he was supportive of construction of a new Higgins Middle School.

Liacos also supported the effort to build a new Peabody High School a decade or so ago, when the state was contributing 66 percent to such projects. The effort failed, and the current school was renovated instead, a move that even some who favored renovation now consider a mistake.

His dedication to education wasn’t accidental. Liacos worked as a teacher, first at Essex Aggie and then at North Shore Community College.

McGeney noted as much in his letter, writing, “Perhaps Jim Liacos’ greatest contribution ... is the time he spent as a mentor to many of his junior colleagues.” He was “a natural teacher.”

City Councilor Mike Garabedian, who served on the school board with Liacos, recalled that it was he and Liacos who first lured McGeney into running for the board. With all the work Liacos has put in, the councilor said, “He should get a highway named after him. I’m all for it. Jim has given back to the community. ... He’s just a solid guy.”

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin, another former school board member, declined to comment, saying she first wanted to research the street-naming process and discuss the matter with Liacos.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.