SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

June 8, 2012

Nelson Benton: Frank talk from mayors

There was some frank talk Wednesday as municipal chief executives gathered at the Peabody Marriott for the North Shore Chamber of Commerce's annual "state of the region" program.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday was in a particularly good mood. Voters in her city the previous day had approved three debt exclusion overrides to fund $71.5 million in school and other construction projects.

While most of the money will be used for school improvements, Holaday said, the secret was including $6.5 million to fund construction of a new senior/community center on the site of one of the elementary schools that is being replaced. Since the most likely override opponents are "white, middle-aged men" and senior citizens, she noted, override advocates were wise to include something for them.

Meanwhile, in response to a question, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk was only too happy to hail the results of the previous day's recall election in Wisconsin. There, Gov. Scott Walker was able to hold onto his seat despite a furious campaign by public employee unions to replace him.

"The deck is so stacked against you as CEO of a city," Kirk noted. Within the past week, she'd had to take the drastic step of replacing her deputy fire chief — the in-house favorite — following an alleged Memorial Day protest of her decision to pick someone from outside the department as the next chief.

In the same vein, Amesbury's Thatcher Kezer thanked the Legislature for standing up to the public employee unions here and passing a municipal health reform bill that finally "tipped the balance of leverage in favor of management." The bill has allowed cities and towns to cut the amount they pay for employee health insurance, saving them, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, $117 million in the first year alone.

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