, Salem, MA

March 21, 2013

Letter: Praise for Ryan, Driscoll

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

After reading the March 15 article titled “Senior center plan gets OK,” I write today to commend Mayor Kim Driscoll, Council President Jerry Ryan and those councilors who voted to approve the financing proposal for a planned community/senior center at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets, to be part of a $30 million commercial development at that long-neglected site. Their vote to advance this project means that almost 40 years after this need was first identified, Salem’s seniors will finally move out of the antiquated and worn-down building on Broad Street and have a new facility to serve their needs.

I spoke in favor of this project at the public hearing on March 13, even before Ryan’s amendments were proposed and included. Each of his amendments improves this plan, and one in particular fixes a problem that has vexed me and many others since Driscoll reorganized city government in 2006. As part of her reorganization plan, the full-time Council on Aging director was replaced by a director of park, recreation and community services who would oversee the Council on Aging and other aspects of that newly created department, which would encompass the COA.

As a member of the board of directors of the Council on Aging at that time, I and others vigorously protested that move, arguing that the Council on Aging needed its own full-time director to oversee the recreational, social services and nutritional needs specific to our city’s seniors. While Doug Bollen, ably assisted by Bill Woolley, did a wonderful job and dispelled many of my doubts, it is far from clear that a future director would have been able to put in the hard work and perform as admirably as he did. Ryan’s amendment to restore a full-time COA director rectifies this situation and hopefully future budgets retain this valuable position.

The other two amendments negotiated by Ryan and Driscoll also have merit and are welcome additions. Requiring the developer to begin work within a year adds a degree of certainty to a project many have grown to believe will never happen. I also agree with the “hold harmless” agreement protecting the city should anyone be injured by toxic waste at the site. While I tend to believe the assertions of the mayor and developer of the site that proper testing has been done and that the site can be built on safely, it never hurts to have this legal protection in place.

Again, I am glad to read the council could come to a consensus and move this project forward. As council president, Jerry Ryan did what so many talented councilors before him were unable to do. Recognizing the possibility of such a valuable project not coming to fruition, rather than simply voting against the project as he did in 2009, he worked with the mayor to amend the bond proposal to the point where he and his colleagues could vote for it. This is the kind of working toward compromise that the residents and businesses of Salem need from our elected officials.

James R. Willis Jr.