City Manager Jay Ash said his formal good-bye as the leader of the City of Chelsea on Monday night in a heartfelt speech before the Council that was peppered with praise for others, and of course a few jokes, and summed up the 18 years he has spent in City Hall.
Ash will be sworn in today, Jan. 8, as the new secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED). After serving as a legislative aide at the State House, Ash spent four years as the city planner and the last 14 years as the city manager.
“Once from Chelsea, always from Chelsea; Once a friend, always a friend,” he said at the conclusion of his speech, noting that Chelsea will always be his hometown and he will certainly be back from time to time.
Ash started off his farewell message with his patented humor, saying the speech would be broadcast on C-SPAN, or “maybe Comedy Central, we’ll see.”
Looking up at the clock in the Council Chambers that – instead of having numbers – has the letters ‘BOOST CHELSEA,’ Ash said the greatest thing he would take away from City Hall is having improved the City’s reputation internally, statewide and nationally.
“The bad old days of Chelsea are long gone,” he said. “They’re further and further in our rearview mirrors…The greatest thing I’ll take away from this is the reputation of our City has changed. There was a time when the reputation of Chelsea was very negative. I looked forward to getting out of Chelsea as a kid and starting a new life away from here…That was 30 years ago and we are no longer the joke people thought we were, but we’re the answer to a lot of questions.”
Ash listed off several accomplishments, including new hotels, a much improved school system, a public safety situation that is improving and the creation of 10 new public parks.
“We’ve been able to do 33 major projects in 1.8 square miles,” he said. “Doing 33 major projects like that is remarkable.”
Ash also spent a good deal of time praising the City Council – saying they deserve far more praise in the community than they get.
“There are people in the community who think you don’t do anything but appoint people like me,” he said. “I’m disappointed you don’t receive the praise you deserve here for what you do…You’re ready to put aside your agendas for the best of the City. You deserve so much credit for continuously putting your egos in check. None of you marched into the city manager’s office every day demanding what other elected officials in other communities – or here years ago did – and that’s a privilege.”
He joked that he often remembers fondly with Council Clerk Paul Casino that the old Chelsea Board of Aldermen “had public meetings in the parking lot to engage in a fist fight.”
Ash also credited the City’s growing partnerships with local non-profits and what he often calls “stakeholders.” He said he learned at the 1998 All-American City awards in Alabama (Chelsea’s first All-America City award) that the new way for a City to succeed is to have partnerships with numerous stakeholders in order to have more diverse views and more people invested in the community. At the time, he said, Chelsea did not really have that kind of partnership in place. However, he said he has spent the better part of several years cultivating a group of stakeholders to help acknowledge and address issues facing the City.
“They’re leadership and support has meant so much to what we accomplished,” he said.
Ash also said his farewell speech and departure from Chelsea City government isn’t something he has looked forward to, as it has always been his dream job. He said it has always been his mission to improve the City, and to show the young men who used to make fun of his hometown when he was in college, that it was not a place to be ashamed of.
“This is a night I haven’t been looking forward to because I’ve had the greatest job in the world for the past 14 years,” he said. “To be the leader of this great community and working with you and building on the things already happening in Chelsea has been a dream come true.”
His speech was followed by vigorous applause, and he finished the event by going around and personally shaking the hands of each city councillor on the board.