By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt marked his first full year in office with a State of the City address listing a host of accomplishments. Tops on his list were negotiations that put city workers on the more economical state GIC health plan and the renovation of Main Street.
A crowd, including many veterans, police and firefighters, interrupted Bettencourt’s remarks several times with loud applause.
“This year has been a whirlwind for me and my family,” he said, as wife Andrea and their three young daughters looked on. “I can often feel my head spinning at the end of each action-packed day.” He then went off his prepared remarks to smile and add, “Which is true.”
Citing a commitment he made as a candidate, the mayor pointed to ongoing efforts to boost business in the city. Toward that end, he has targeted Centennial Park by naming a group to deal with it. “Chief among their tasks in 2013 is to help reinvigorate Centennial Park and reintroduce it to a broad spectrum of the business community.”
He continued, “To further promote Peabody as a good place to do business, the City Council last month approved my request to hire a business liaison.” Whoever takes the post is expected to “act as a promoter/marketer and cheerleader for the city in trying to recruit new business.”
The applause began when the mayor, who is also chairman of the School Committee, said, “Tonight, I am pleased to report that a new Higgins Middle School has been approved for design by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.” Bettencourt has been a strong supporter of replacing the aging Higgins.
Applause grew when he said cheerfully, “As you may have heard — anybody who knows me is probably tired of hearing me talk about this — but Peabody was named among Money Magazine’s best places to live in 2012.” The city’s sense of community, he added, had a lot to do with that.
The crowd next indicated its approval for the adoption of a bylaw proposed by the mayor that restricts sex offenders from areas where children play.
“The zones include schools, parks, libraries and other areas where children gather and deserve added protection from sexual predators,” Bettencourt said.
Finally, he was once again interrupted with applause as he noted, “I was proud to host the first annual Peabody Veterans Day Breakfast, which drew well over 300 veterans right here to Wiggin Auditorium.”
The mayor demonstrated his embrace of modern technology by pointing out that he’d introduced paperless billing for city services and Wi-Fi Internet at City Hall. He seeks to streamline government and to that end has already combined the two positions of personnel director for the schools and City Hall into one, held by a single person.
Finally, he pledged to pursue a new master plan for Peabody’s future. “Our last master plan was completed more than a decade ago and no longer reflects the realities of today’s landscape.”
He concluded, “I am energized by the challenges ahead. I am committed to positive change. ... I have always believed that ‘Pride in Peabody’ is more than just a slogan and that it is our community spirit which defines us best.”
Bettencourt began his remarks by saluting some of the elected officials in attendance, they included Congressman John Tierney, newly elected state Sen. Joan Lovely, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, state Rep. Ted Speliotis and newly elected Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff. He also asked onlookers to keep state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis “and her family in our thoughts.” Spiliotis died in November.
“We’re thrilled to have her husband here today, Dick Jarvis,” the mayor said.
Further, Bettencourt gave credit to former Mayor Michael Bonfanti for getting the Main Street project started.
The City Council began the ceremony by awarding its presidency, which is alternated among the members, to Tom Gould.
Commenting later on the mayor’s speech, Gould said, “I thought (the mayor) hit all his marks. ... He knows where he want to take the city, and we’re ready to go there.”
The Peabody High School band provided rousing music from the auditorium balcony, and the high school chorale sang a moving version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”