By Chelsea Record Staff
From the euphoria of burgeoning economic development activity to the despair of a deadly year in the city’s neighborhoods, there has been plenty of news coverage of the good and bad in Chelsea this past year. If ever there has been a man with a plan, City Manager Jay Ash has been busy orchestrating much of what has happened in Chelsea. As he prepares to accentuate the positive and try to manage through the negative, Ash says Chelsea remains well poised to accomplish both.
“Violence, here and elsewhere, has to concern everyone. We’re failing as a society in addressing drugs, youth violence and guns,” asserted Ash. “Despite that and in no way minimizing the loss that some have experienced, there were many good things that happened in Chelsea during the year.
“We can cheer those successes, look at what we can do better on the failures, and redouble our efforts to promote a better year in 2011.”
Ash says that drug activity appears to be the cause of increased violence and at the root of much else, including car breaks and house robberies. As a result, he has been strategizing with area mayors and police chiefs, and has coordinated meetings with State officials to attempt to enhance local and statewide efforts and derive a better action plan to address the drug problem.
“Not all of our violence was drug related, but far too much of it was. If you ask me what one thing I wish we could better control, it would be the drugs. Our police and others, including our community partners, are doing many good things. More needs to happen, and I’m pressing for that more to happen sooner, before it is too late,” stressed Ash.
The more Ash is calling for includes a regional task force on drugs and additional support for prevention, intervention, enforcement, prosecution, incarceration and re-entry strategies. For local implementation, Ash has been conducting a review of two decades worth of studies and programs designed to combat drugs and violence. He expects the two pronged approach of regional and local emphasis to be presented to the City Council in January. At least one councillor who has been advising Ash on the approach believes it will be the next best step to enhancing public safety locally.
“We’ve been able to maintain elevated policing levels during a terrible financial crisis, in large part because we know that public safety is the most important thing we do,” said City Council President Leo Robinson. “As a result, our arrests are going to be way up for 2010. Of course, that’s a mixed blessing, so getting at the root of the crime is what the City Manager’s plan will try to help us do.”
The pursuit of his public safety strategy is one of several items on Ash’s to-do list for 2011. Other items include adoption and implementation of parking and trash plans, formalization of an energy and environment strategy, advancement of a pedestrian safety initiative and continued work on economic development. Regarding the latter, Ash says the City’s economic development success will continue to help it balance budgets, create new from old and further build upon the region’s most impressive development record.
“If you think about it, during recessionary times when much of the country’s economy was contracting, we were enjoying successes, like opening the AJ Wright, breaking ground on the residential housing at Webster Block, securing a commitment for a new hotel in the urban renewal district and winning the FBI regional headquarters bid,” reminded Ash.
“At this time next year, if we do everything we need to do, we could have the hotel, FBI building and perhaps a major residential development under construction, all along Route 1. That’ll say volumes about what we’re accomplishing here, and, yet, it’ll only reflect a portion of what’s transforming our community,” he added, while also referencing new stores and restaurants to be open at the Mystic Mall and the completion of several other housing developments.
In addition to building buildings and creating strategies like the 10-point, 48-item plan for a cleaner community, Ash said some other accomplishments, particularly in the area of finance, are noteworthy in 2010 and needing of replication in 2011.
“Everything builds off of our budget stability. To gain and maintain that stability, we need the City Council and City Administration on the same page, which has happened, and, this past year, we’ve especially needed our legislative delegation to come up big for us, which they did,” advised Ash.
To hear Ash tell it, the City Council and his financial team continued to take steps to balance the City’s budget, preserve rainy day funds, secure a favorable audit and maintain the City’s highest credit rating ever. Meanwhile, Representatives Eugene O’Flaherty and Kathi-Anne Reinstein and Senator Sal DiDomenico worked Beacon Hill to deliver on additional budget security, despite local aid cuts. In Washington, Congressman Michael Capuano and Senator John Kerry helped the City secure several critical grants, including funding to preserve firefighting levels, buy new pieces of equipment and pay for the rehabilitation of the Mill Hill Fire Station on Broadway, which will begin this upcoming spring.
“Many are kind to recognize me for the City’s accomplishments, but there’s an entire team at work that’s really winning the day for Chelsea. I’m fortunate to be part of that team of councillors, legislators and City staff who remain committed to advancing a City agenda that is achieving so very much,” reported Ash.
Ash also went out of his way to recognize the contributions of other stakeholders, including residents serving on boards and commissions and the many community based organizations working with him on a variety of local issues.
“We’re pretty fortunate here. Yes, we have our problems, but we have so many quality people and organizations working tirelessly to try to resolve them. In the meantime, some pretty spectacular things are taking place in Chelsea, and 2011 promises to be an even better year,” concluded Ash.