Salem Mayoral Candidate Forum Transcript - October 18, 2021
On October 18, 2021, the Salem News and The Frederick E. Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University hosted a Salem Mayoral Candidate Forum, at the Sophia Gordon Center at Salem State University. A panel of current Salem State University students questioned candidates for the mayoral position: incumbent Salem Mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, and challenger, Ward 7 City Councillor, Stephen Dibble.
Salem 4 All has produced the following complete transcript of the forum, below. We have attempted to capture every word, and present it here without analysis. Due to some technical difficulties in the audio at the event and the video recording, as well as occasionally due to crowd noise or moments of mumbling by the candidates or muffled voices of the student panelists, some words or phrases were inaudible. In those rare instances, we have indicated that in the transcript, with parentheses and a question mark. Great care was taken to create this transcript, however due to the nature of how it was created, it is of course, subject to human error. We apologize (and welcome corrections) for any misspellings or missed names.
To watch the video recording, produced by SATV, as you read the transcript, click this link.
It is our hope that this transcript will be a helpful resource, and we encourage you to use our "Request a Fact Check" form to suggest any specific claims or statements made within the forum.
Dibble: First off, I want to thank Salem State and the students and for all of you coming out here today. This is a good thing. This is our first debate. I had hoped we would have had a debate before the primary but that did not happen. So, many of you know me. I recognize some of you in this room. My name is Steve Dibble. Before graduating here at Salem State, I did an internship with the Salem Planning Department. I worked for the three previous mayors, who trusted me to deliver for 14 years combined. I rose through the ranks from College Intern to a Senior Planner for the city. At the request of the last two mayors, I met with the department heads every week for about 9 years. I was not a department head, but I met with them and the mayors encouraged me to ask questions and to work and solve (planning?) issues and bring them together in an open and collaborative way. The opposite happens now with my friend Kim Driscoll. Kim needs to control, needs to (assert?) power, and we need to do things her way without anybody asking any questions. I could not believe it when I became a City Councillor 6 years ago and how things have changed. After being one of her biggest supporters and voting for her many times, I feel as though she’s lost her way. She doesn’t listen to Salem residents any longer, but she listens to big money out of Boston, and I can no longer support her, and that’s the reason why I’m stepping up to run for mayor. Many of you know me. Many of you have trusted me over the last (40?) years. Coaching youth sports, teaching over 1,000 children how to play chess in my free chess club, 25 years as a Boy Scout leader (or in chess club?), Salem High School athletic booster, (inaudible…) Salem’s hiking trails for the last 4 decades, working on Salem Harbor pollution with Salem Sound Coastwatch for 11,12 years, volunteering with SAFE on Climate Change and gas leaks. I’m committed to Salem. I’m committed to stop the bad development that endangers our historic city, overcrowding the city, to preserve the historical and architectural attributes of the City of Salem, to (stabilize?) our schools and to stop the revolving door of losing teachers and losing principals to micromanaging, to address our stressed infrastructure, to better serve all constituents, to cultivate better paying jobs and business opportunities for all (these students?) and everybody in Salem. To address the future of Salem thoughtfully whereby the needs of Salem is put first and the residents are put first. Now, I’m not a career politician, and I’m not an accomplished debater. That’s not my strength. I am a person of integrity, inclusiveness, and I believe in open communication. I envision a path of progress for Salem, that includes all its residents and preserves Salem’s uniqueness.
Driscoll: Hi Folks, I’m Mayor Kim Driscoll, and I am so thrilled to be with you, especially here at my alma mater. As someone who knew and worked with Senator Fred Berry, he’d be tickled pink to know that we’re all here, exchanging ideas at a forum sponsored under his name, and I am pretty sure he’d want to know where we are all going out for drinks afterward as well. He was a pretty exciting guy. Look, I’m running for re-election because I care deeply about the city and about making a positive difference in the daily lives of the people who live, work and go to school here, who I have been so honored to be able to represent. (Audio cut out for several seconds…) … tremendous pride in our community. My mom was from Trinidad. My dad is originally from Lynn. He was a career Navy officer. We moved around a lot as a kid, which meant I got to live in a lot of different communities. But when I came to Salem State, where I met my husband, where I fell in love with him and fell in love with our city, I really felt like I finally had a hometown. The city was livable, it was exciting to be in a place where people adopted you. You didn’t have to have grown up here to feel right at home. We’re so proud to be able to raise our family in this community. When I first took office, I think it’s fair to say that Salem was experiencing more challenges than opportunities. The city was facing a multimillion dollar budget deficit, and a local economy in decline. At that time, when I first ran for office, I made the commitment to be a strong mayor for positive change, and today I am really proud of the progress that we’ve made, working together. We replaced much of the petty political games of the past with a local government based on professionalism and transparency. We’ve strived to rebuild our finances and currently have the highest bond rating in our city’s history, strong reserves, and a much improved local economy. We needed all of those tools and more as we came together as a community to tackle COVID, the worst pandemic we’ve seen in 100 years. I’m grateful for our many residents, small business owners, city and school employees, health care professionals and front line workers who went above and beyond to keep each other safe and healthy. We know that COVID exacerbated the challenges that exist in our community. Now, more than ever, we need forward thinking leadership to help us navigate what I hope will soon be a post-pandemic recovery. We’re not quite there yet. One of the reasons I’m so excited to be running for re-election is the opportunity to (work on?) these issues, from housing to transportation, to climate change and equity. We’re going to have some resources coming from the state and federal government, an opportunity to not only make sure that we recover, but that we thrive. I believe in Salem. I know we can do more on the affordable housing front, tackle transportation challenges, continue to improve our schools, and help mitigate climate change and build a more equitable future for all of our community members. I’m passionate about Salem’s future, excited to keep working as Mayor, (I hope all of you as residents of our community?) will give me the privilege of working with, for and alongside you for another term. Thanks for being here. Thanks for (inaudible during applause).
Question: (Question completely inaudible or possibly muted? From context clues, our best guess is something like, “What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Salem?”):
Driscoll: (First few words inaudible?)… the biggest challenge we face in Salem is housing, and affordable housing in particular. I was fortunate to be able to come to Salem as a student and to be able to continue to live here. I think one of the things that attracted myself and my husband to want to raise our family here is the diversity of people who live here, it’s truly a strength for us. My kids went to school with other kids who had two moms or two dads, they spoke different languages, may have celebrated different cultures from different religions, different income levels. It makes our community livable, but that is in jeopardy, due to fast rising real estate prices. It’s really hard to pour coffee or pour beer for a living and afford a place to live in our community, and it’s happened almost overnight. We are a victim in some ways of our own success and a victim of a really strong real estate market, which means we’re gonna have to dig deeper. The character of our community for nearly 400 years, we’ve had sea captains mansions around the corner from tenement houses. We’ve been a place that, me as a young adult, getting married, could afford to buy a home, our first home, two-family, just a stone’s throw from Salem State University. It’s really hard to do that these days. We’ve got housing prices that if you own a home its great you’re building a better nest egg, but if you’re someone who is trying to get into the housing market either as an owner or a renter, it’s a real struggle, and that has the impact of changing the character of our community. I don’t want to live in a place that is homogeneous, and only for affluent people. We want Salem to be livable, like we have been for 400 years, and that means we need to dig deeper and be more aggressive to tackle our community affordable housing needs.
Dibble: Well, there’s two big issues: our Salem Public Schools are suffering, and we’re overcrowding the city with more and more and more luxury apartments. So, Kim chose to spoke about housing, so I’ll do the same. We’ve just built thousands of units of, and there’s many many more on the way, thousands of luxury apartments that Salem residents simply can’t afford. We need truly affordable housing, we need senior housing, and we need higher paying jobs, and we’re not delivering. So, housing, crowding the downtown, which is, that’s ok, but on First Street behind Shaws, on Franklin Street, on Mason Street, Canal Street, Loring Avenue, Grove Street, all around the Salem, the mayor wanted 1,425 units of luxury housing at Shetland, and that’s our job, that’s our future there, we need to hold onto those jobs. For years she wanted thousands of units of luxury apartments at the power plant. Well, I put out a video that showed, oh, over 10,000 people watched it on Facebook, and we talked about overcrowding the city and offshore wind turbines that we could do with the property. Well, recently, about three months ago, the mayor flipped, 180 degrees, now she’s in favor of offshore wind turbines there, and the luxury apartment village has kind of gone away, at least for now, till after the election, maybe. But putting housing at Salem High School, behind Horace Mann School, behind the high school, taking away the athletic fields there is just wrong. 159 units of luxury apartments proposed at Lee Fort Terrace on top of senior housing. Doesn’t make any sense. There’s people there that are 90 years old, 107 year old woman, two blind people gonna displace them all then build 50 new units of senior housing, replace 50 for 50, but 159 units of luxury apartments on top? We can do so much better. The mayor called me an obstructionist. I was one of the deciding votes. Four councillors voted against putting, it was a total of 500 units of luxury apartments – 180 out front and 320 out back and I said no to changing that zoning. It was not in fitting with the neighborhood. The neighbors were upset about it. The neighbors would accept business there, or some senior housing, but the mayor wanted and having the planning department work on her behalf and on behalf of the developers put in 180 units. I said no, and it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen there, and what happened is Tropical Products is going to move across the street now, all those jobs are going to stay in Salem, huge taxes are building 4 times as big, and 123 new jobs. That’s planning!
Question: “This question was asked anonymously: Salem strives to be a city of peace and a community that welcomes diversity and strives for equity and inclusion. What have you done in your political career to lean on these ideals, and what will you do as mayor in 2022 and beyond?”:
Dibble: Good question, and important question. Well, I’ve been open and inclusive my entire life, welcoming people. Salem, for hundreds of years, has been open and inclusive. We have wonderful cultural neighborhoods around the city – Italian area, Polish area, Russian people moving to Salem, Albanians, on and on… Salem has been open and inclusive for a long time until recently, where the mayor keeps saying we are open and inclusive but yet walls are being put up around the city. It’s unacceptable. We have a Black population that has been ignored a little bit in Salem where we have a Black Picnic at the Willows and the mayor, I can’t understand, it has been going on for about 280 years and she almost squashed the program. It’s unacceptable. That group of volunteers challenged the mayor and I to a debate and the mayor refused to have the debate with the group before the primary. So we can do so much better in Salem, there’s more things that we can do, across the board. Every city and town can do better, but to put up walls, to alienate the Hispanic crowd in Salem, the population of Salem, to not allow the Muslim population to have a seat at the table, the Race Equity Task Force. She, they’ve asked 20 times at least, the mayor has denied or just ignored them, on and on. It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable what’s going on. We can do so much better in Salem.
Driscoll: Thank you. I really (am proud? Or find?) that Salem is a welcoming community and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past several years to demonstrate that. We’ve passed a landmark non-discrimination ordinance, fully LGBTQ inclusive. We’ve established the North Shore Pride Parade and we host that every single year – proud (to be?) doing that. We’ve consistently scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Municipally Quality Index. I think it shows we’ve cultivated a welcoming and inclusive environment. This past year, in light of the George Floyd tragedy, we did form a Race Equity Task Force. We put together a broad cross section of community members, including many of the young people who led demonstrations in our city, who are aching for change, who recognize the inequities that exist within systems, that predate them. We put together this cross-section of individuals and came up with our initial report, our Race Equity Task Force report, that recommended a number of things, including the hiring of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position, the ability to bring on body cameras within our police department, a number of benchmarks that we hope to use going forward. My opponent voted to cut the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director post from the budget. He did not support the body cameras in the police department. His tactics by limiting development in our community, including the moratorium on any new development happening in Salem, and continually voting against every opportunity for more affordable housing policies, including Inclusionary Zoning ordinances that, a proven smart growth zoning tool, three times voting against the accessory dwelling unit ordinance, the last time being one that would be 100% affordable – every new in-law apartment created would ensure that it was be rented at 30% below market values. That is not welcoming and inclusive. That is creating an environment where people who are here, are able to keep people who want to get here, out. That’s not the values of Salem. It’s not consistent with the administration. It’s not consistent with what people in our community want. We’re going to continue to be a welcoming and inclusive community, and that means we’re not afraid to hold up a mirror and be self-reflective, at the areas we need to improve – whether it’s equity within police and fire departments. When I first started, we had no Spanish speaking officers in our fire department and very little in our police department. We now have community wide goals, I’ve increased those numbers dramatically. We are a welcoming community because we are intentional about it. Not because we choose to focus on what we haven’t done, but we choose to focus on making sure our community is reflective of our entire profile, and that people in our community feel seen, respected, and heard. When we all do better, we harness the power of our community for greatness. That’s what we’re going to continue to do over the next four years.
Question: “Mayor Driscoll, This question was submitted by a student at Salem State, who asks, ‘Salem is an internationally popular destination because of its rich history. Is there anything more we can do as a community to make it more safe and inclusive for everyone during these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic?’”:
Driscoll: Thanks so much for that question, and we’re certainly a very popular destination this month! We’ve seen some of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had in an October season, after last year obviously needing to tell people not to come. It just wasn’t safe. What a difference a year makes. A year ago, we didn’t have a vaccine. We certainly had mask mandates in place, both indoors and outdoors. We were telling people not to come to our city because the nooks and crannies in Salem – all the history that people come to see, frankly 12 months out of the year, but most assuredly in October, it just wasn’t safe. Over that last year with COVID, we’ve done a number of things to try to make our community safe, open and strong. That includes, right now in October, we’re one of the few communities on the North Shore that still has a mask mandate indoors. Knowing how many people are traveling here – still – from around the country, we want to make sure that we are not only keeping residents safe, but particularly our front line workers who are at these events and activities, these functions, every single weekend and opportunity they’re happening. We’ve put in place a testing mandate for anyone attending any large-scale event – 100 people or more you’re required to have a negative test prior to gaining entry. We think that’s an important component, because we know all of our under 12 population has not been vaccinated yet – they’re not eligible for the vaccine. Some of the work I’m most proud of over the last year to keep our community safe – I think that’s what your question was referring to with respect to COVID – has to do with the number of testing opportunities we’ve had in our community. We’ve partnered with the State. We have testing in Salem right now, 7 days a week – 2 partnerships with the State’s ‘Stop the Spread’ testing, and one rapid test. Those are extra steps and precautions that we’ve taken to ensure that our visitors and most assuredly the people who live here are safe, and when we first started this pandemic, on this journey, which we’re all learning our way through, we were vital in terms of working with our small business community. One, to provide PPE at a time that it wasn’t readily available, to ensure that we could pivot, and protect our small business owner who were so concerned, not only about their public health of themselves and their staff, but their public wealth. We went from having a 3% unemployment rate to an 18% unemployment rate. By working together, checking on seniors – Salem Together – that program, we had 500 volunteers working in earnest to make sure we were doing wellness checks, providing meals, our food pantry quadrupled. I’m so proud of the resilience of our community, and we did that in concert with our Board of Health, ensuring as we went through this journey over this last year that we were allowing science to lead the way, and putting ourselves on the road for a positive trajectory once we are out of this pandemic.
Dibble: Well, absolutely, I think we need to follow the science, across the board. Back when COVID first hit, we all needed masks, but people could not find them. You could not buy them anywhere. I immediately took action, and with the help of many of our neighbors, they started sewing face masks – washable, cloth face masks, and we delivered. I immediately began delivering masks 7 days a week to over 6,000 homes in Salem, to try and keep everyone safe. That was done the first instance of when COVID first hit. We took action immediately. 6,000 homes. Also, with my good friend over here, Domingo Dominguez, City Councillor, working as a team, we handed out some 7,000 small jugs of free hand sanitizer to Salem residents, businesses, churches, schools, non-profits, anyone who wanted one got one. This administration has flipped back and forth. Politically, not following the science. To cancel Memorial Day parade, and tell veterans to stay home. Do not come and pay your respects to the cemetery. But I was there. I was at the cemetery, like I have been every year out of respect. Well, three days later under the same exact COVID rules, Kim openly bragged at the Pride day, raising the flag at Riley Plaza, saying and waving her hands, ‘we invited you and everybody attended. It’s one of the biggest events we ever had.’ The COVID rules are the same. Hardly anybody wearing a mask at the Pride day. I’ve attended the Pride day. I’ve marched in the parade out of respect for everybody, every year I’ve been a councillor. Well, you can’t have it both ways. The same week – tell the Veterans to stay home – where’s the science? We’re not following it. So, when we look at things like this, you know we have, um, I’ve attended both events like I said, but Kim puts up walls. She’s used the Black population. She’s ignored Salem United, on and on. She’s called the residents of the Willows elitist. She posted on her Facebook page, if you want a single family home, you’re a racist. Mayor Usovich, met with – the previous mayor, Mayor Usovich, met with religious leaders… oh! (crowd noise)... Mayor Usovich met with religious leaders and Kim Driscoll decided she said she was going to do the same but instead she locked the door and kept them out. This is in their words.
Question: “Councillor Dibble, This question comes from (Yule Hanson?) a Salem State student. Please address how climate change will affect the City of Salem, and what will you do to combat the problem for the city?”:
Dibble: Well, this is the serious thing. I’m a huge environmentalist. I was one of the first houses to have solar panels on my roof. I later put up mini-split units. We need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to go electric, basically, and be smarter about these things. I think everybody in this room will agree with this. So, offshore wind turbines. The mayor has put this in the back burner, trying to do luxury apartments down there for years, and we’re behind the 8-ball. Offshore wind turbines would work. They’d be 8-20 miles offshore. We would not notice them from the land here in Salem. I’ve been speaking on offshore wind turbines for 5 years now as a Councillor. It’s needed. Well, the mayor flipped 180 degrees a couple of weeks ago… a couple… two or three months ago. My three sons graduated from Salem High School, and my oldest graduated from Mass Maritime Academy and he’s presently off the shore, off the Atlantic seaboard, exploring the ocean floor for future offshore wind turbines there. Salem is so far behind. We’re years behind, in letting it happen here. If we were to build offshore wind turbines here with a good leader, we would bring cheaper electricity here to Salem and to the North Shore, like what Block Island, Rhode Island did where every resident of Block Island – there are 5 offshore wind turbines – every resident of Block Island has free electricity, and every resident of the state of Rhode Island has a reduced electric bill. With good leadership, we would already be working at the power plant property for offshore wind turbines. I’ll take action on that immediately.
Driscoll: Thanks so much for that question. I think Salem has really been a leader in the efforts to ensure that we think about a more sustainable future for our community. We’re one of the initial Green Communities designated so much in Massachusetts which brought us a solar coach, gave us opportunity to invest in things like municipal aggregation. We have 100% renewable electricity that’s provided to all our residents. We’re able to purchase all the street lights in Salem and convert them to LED thereby not only driving down the costs for the city but creating more efficient product, a more efficient way to deliver electricity in those areas. We adopted the stretch code earlier than we had to which required greater efficiencies in any building going on in Salem, and most recently we’ve worked with the City of Beverly and teamed up on a Resilient Together climate action plan, something we are so proud of. We now have a very long ‘to do’ list – our two communities are similar in demographics, similar in our carbon footprint. Two of the biggest contributing factors to our carbon footprint are buildings – commercial buildings, residential buildings, all of which are typically served by electricity born out of greenhouse… born out of fossil fuels, which deliver greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation. So on that front we’ve really worked hard to try to provide alternative ways of getting around as a means to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Salem Skipper, a public ride share shuttle service, has provided over 21,000 rides. We’ve invested in things like bikes, and infrastructure, and bike share programs and car share programs to give people another way to get around outside of a car. We know that’s going to be so critical for tackling long term sustainability within our community. We’ve invested in greenspaces like our signature parks initiative, a 16 million dollar project that will improve five of our, you know, most favorite parks, used by everybody, city wide parks, something my opponent voted against. Investing in green spaces – places where you make memories – incredible places that were invested by our forefathers hundreds of years ago – some of these facilities like the Forest River Pool park, Palmer Cove, Salem Willows… we’re able to make investments in those spaces because we’ve done a good job managing finances but it’s with an eye toward managing a more resilient future. Many of those places are waterfront. We’ve been able to recapture development in those areas that happens for recreation to move them away from where we know flooding’s going to be continuing. Moving forward, we’re excited about the ‘to do’ list, and we’ve created a fully staffed resilient and sustainability division in our city for the first time, an additional quarter of a million dollar investment in our budget to position us to take advantage of grants and to move forward on our ‘to do’ list, to reduce, uh, to increase efficiencies within our community around the electricity that we use as a city and that all of us use in our community. There is a lot of work to do and we’re excited to get on it.
Question: “Mayor Driscoll, this is a question that I (the panelist) submitted. Vineyard Wind and Crowley Maritime have proposed a partnership with the City of Salem to develop a wind farm at the Salem Harbor Station. How will this positively and negatively impact the City of Salem, the tax rate, and job creation if the plan is approved?”:
Driscoll: Thank you so much for this question cause I think it gives me a real chance to correct the record and put some facts in play (in regard?) to offshore wind. The offshore wind industry in Massachusetts was born initially down in New Bedford, with New Bedford, a fishing industry, trying to take advantage of the opportunity for us to, as a Commonwealth, embrace offshore wind. And it’s been moving pretty slowly. Nothing to do with New Bedford. Frankly it was about the Federal Government not necessarily exercising that authority. We always knew we had an opportunity to do a lot at Salem Harbor, both Crowley, the largest port operator in the country and Offshore Wind, who’s been the pioneer in offshore wind, not only in the Netherlands, but here in Massachusetts have teamed up, with the City, a partnership that we are a part of, down next to the powerplant site, where there are 44 acres of vacant land, adjacent to a federal channel, with natural deep water and an ability to position ourselves to be an offshore wind hub in the North Shore. So, we’d have the South Coast in New Bedford, the North Shore here in Salem. How’d that come about? Contrary to what Councillor Dibble has indicated, that we’ve had nothing to do with it – it just was something we were delaying; in fact, it was very much the creation of the Salem Harbor Port Authority – legislation that we filed to ensure that we had a working waterfront (mind?). It’s a designated port area. There is no housing that can be permitted in that area, regardless of what the owners – it’s not a publicly owned site – private owners may have wanted to initially consider. From the Salem Harbor Port Authority earlier this year in March worked with the owners of that property and said, “Look, we don’t want housing on that site. We want to explore a working waterfront. We want to take a real run at renewable opportunities.” We encouraged, cajoled and pushed for requests for expressions of interest in March. It went out and came back at half a dozen operators came forward and said, “Hey we think we can think about this as an offshore wind hub.” What made the difference? President Biden being in office, and saying “We’re going to push forward with offshore wind.” There was no market a year before, all of a sudden we had a lot of suitors, and within a very short period of time we put together a coalition. No one person does this alone. But the mayor – myself as mayor, our harbor port authority, working in concert with our municipal harbor plan experts, including all of our environmentalists. Let’s hear it for SAFE, a locally based organization that’s been at this for a while. We now (stand to have?) a major investment in our community to the tune of upwards of $150 Million dollars. With port infrastructure, jobs, long term tax revenues for Salem and frankly a whole new industry for our community and our region. This is a game changer. I’m excited to be a part of it, and I consider myself to be a leader in this effort, not something that I just stumbled upon it, and I’m grateful for all the partnerships and collaborations yet to come. They’re going to make this a real home run for our community (and [Crowd noise]??).
Dibble: Well that sounds good but keep in mind that the mayor flipped on this three months ago. It’s almost unacceptable, having the planning department (Seth Cottrell?) who is a very brilliant planner, in our Salem Planning Department, having squashing his ideas of pushing offshore wind turbine, I’ve talking for him for years about this, and to have the Planning Department work on behalf of developers building more and more luxury apartments all around the city, including at our power plant property, where we are looking at a whole village – they wouldn’t say how many units, but in my estimate it was 3,000-4,000 units of luxury apartments that the Salem Planning Department was pushing up until three months ago. It makes no sense. We are far behind New Bedford and Fall River on this whole offshore wind turbine exercise. Salem could have owned that property, had control of it, have offshore wind turbines that would create clean energy, and it should have already been up and running and in concert with that have green jobs down there – higher paying jobs, education – marine education, and research happening there, possibly some small boat building. We could do so much with that property, and it’s just not happening right now. Salem could have owned that property, Mayor, and we didn’t. Under your leadership, we failed. But we turned it around in a hurry. Hopefully, it’s not too late, because what she’s saying now is really good for Salem and it’s really good for our environment. But it’s, uh, hopefully it’s not too late. If the money goes down to Fall River and New Bedford, well, it’s going to happen down there. Eventually, we’ll see it off the shore up this way but it’s going to take a while. And we’re way behind. It’s really too bad. But not just on the power plant. We’re behind on a lot of things. We’re pushing more and more luxury apartments next to our wetlands in our flood plain areas. We’re going to be in trouble soon with climate change, with the water raising, sea level rising. Why are we building right in our flood plains, all around the city? Overcrowding the whole city with more and more luxury apartments is not helping Salem. In fact, it’s significantly hurting the City of Salem.
Question: Councillor Dibble, there’s been a national rise in discrimination and violence against the Transgender community in the United States. It was not until 2020 that the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects Transgender people from discrimination in employment. In what ways have you supported and advocated for the Transgender Community within Salem, Massachusetts, and in what ways do you plan to strengthen that work as Mayor?”:
Dibble: You know I had the same question when I was out walking door to door. I’ve knocked on several thousand houses throughout the city. I’m hearing from countless residents about our poor performing schools and about overcrowding the city. Hopefully we’re going to get to a question about the schools as well. But with regard to transgender, we need to respect everyone, we need to help people, we need to be openminded, we need to welcome and be truly inclusive to assist everybody, no matter if it’s a transgender issue or an access. For many years I was the handicapped coordinator for the city. Um… what we’re doing right now, it’s just wrong. We’re focusing on a lot of issues throughout the city – important issues – but we’re not focused on the issues that Salem people really care about. Overcrowding the city and all the negative attributes that come with that – the traffic, the water pipes breaking because we’re putting too much pressure on the pipes, traffic all over the city, but our schools are failing as well. Hopefully, we get to a question about our schools because so many people in Salem want to discuss that.
Driscoll: Yeah, thank you so much for that question. As I said earlier, I’m really proud of the fact that early on in our efforts to ensure that everybody feels welcome and inclused in Salem (that’s just to say?), No other community has a history like ours. In 1692, we turned on other people in our community because they were different, they were others, and I think it created an ethos in our city that we are welcoming, but we need to act upon that. So, that fully LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination ordinance was important because of the “T”. There weren’t a lot of communities that were recognizing transgender rights. That ordinance did so. We’ve gone on to certainly change pronouns – change gender specific pronouns in our local laws – just most recently. That’s an important indication that we’re a place where everyone is welcome. We support our transgender youth in our schools. We have gender neutral bathrooms, in most of our public buildings and all of our schools. The Mayors for Equality – I was a key leader in Massachusetts in that effort when we had that awful question just a few years ago on the ballot. Thankfully we prevailed. I was a key leader in that effort. We need to continually be reminding each other of the importance of respecting the values of other people in our community. I think that’s indicative of who we are in Salem but we need to not just talk the talk and walk the walk, and I’m proud to be a community leader that celebrates our inclusity, our diversity, particularly around our transgender youth and families within our community, who have been harmed and injured in the past. So we need to stand up and make sure we’re speaking for them. They are – all of our youth – need to be feeling respected, and that’s what standing up for transgender rights is about, so I’m proud to be a part of that effort.
Question: “There’s been a lot of talk about mistrust in the government. How do you plan to help rebuild that trust?”:
Driscoll: Yeah, I think, thankfully, a local government, where we all know each other, right? Where we are neighbors and friends, for the most part, probably is the government that has the most trust involved. There’s no place to hide, right? We see each other at church, we see each other around youth soccer sidelines, we run into each other in grocery stores, so from my perspective, local government is really a leader in this effort to build trust, but we still need to make sure that people understand what we’re doing within our local government. It’s been a tough time with COVID – there’s information coming at you from all different places. Key and core to how I believe you need to manage local government is ensuring that there’s access and civic engagement. We’re proud not just to have the Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts, but also something called the Sunshine Ordinance. I’m really disappointed, frankly, at State Government, that we don’t have an Open Meeting Law, that all of us adopt budgets, post meetings and have agendas. We don’t vote on anything without anybody knowing about it. That law doesn’t exactly exist at the State level. So, for me, building trust is about transparency, openness and engagement. In our city, we are an engaged community. We can’t open an envelope without people showing up for that, and that’s a good thing. I’ve worked in communities that haven’t been so engaged, and that’s when things can fall – that’s when the wheels can fall off the bus. So, for us building trust, first and foremost, is about communication, having open engagement, having dialog, and building, coalition buildings. The Councillor and I disagree on a lot of things. A lot of what he said, I have strong differences of opinion, and I don’t think they’re factual, at all. But, we do build coalitions and consensus. 90% of the things that have been proposed in local government get adopted. We vote on budgets every year. That signature parks initiative. That accessory dwelling unit ordinance. There’s – most of the things that happen that are good in our community – a new ferry service, things that didn’t exist previously are here, because we engage with each other. We build coalitions, not just with those of us in government, but folks who are outside of government to try to get to a good part. We are all, ultimately, playing for the same team. There’s not Democrats and Republicans at the local level. There’s no Democratic pothole, right? Everything’s just got to get done. And I really pride myself as a leader in making sure that we’re operating in a way that’s open, that’s engaging, that’s civically minded, and that’s building coalitions and consensus. And that’s why we’ve been so successful. That’s why our economy, as we come back from COVID is on the upswing. That’s why people want to invest in Salem. They know what the rules are. They understand it, and that’s about being open and transparent with individuals who live here.
Dibble: You know, after 16 years, I just think it’s been way too long. When you look at trust, we want a mayor that is a role model for our children. We want a mayor that is open, and truly open and transparent. We want a mayor that we can trust, to deliver to Salem residents. That’s not happening now. It is not happening now. It’s not happening. What’s happening here is we’re looking at a lot of control. We’re looking at a lot of lack of trust. The mayor, in her desire to control everything, has put herself on the Port Authority. She’s put herself on the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. She had the governor put herself on the Housing Authority. She’s on – She’s Chair of the School Committee, which is by charter, but she also has control of the City Council. And, I’m probably forgetting one or two more boards that she might serve on. But if you cross her, if you ask questions when you’re a volunteer, on any board or commission, she’s going to replace you. If you’re an employee and you’re working for her, and you cross her, you’re probably going to get fired. [Crowd noise “Not true! Not true!”] It’s absolutely true. It’s absolutely true. I don’t appreciate the heckling at all. I’ve been here, I’ve been in Salem for a long, long time – 42 years. People trust me. Ok? Trust me on a lot of fronts. I’ve been a City Councillor for 6 years, and I’m amazed at what I’m seeing. I worked for the three previous mayors. They hired good people, and allowed them to do the jobs. This mayor has done the opposite. She’s like a puppeteer, controlling people. When we had COVID happening, we had emergency meetings with the City Council. We wanted to hear from the Health Agent, instead, we heard 55 minutes in one meeting from the mayor about COVID, which is brand new, and we heard 90 seconds from the Health Agent. I’m not going to tell the engineers, and the planners, and the principals at schools and on and on, how to do their jobs. I’m going to lead them, yes, but I’m not going to micromanage and lose their respect, and cause them to quit. We have 8 schools in Salem. We’ve lost almost 2 dozen principals in Salem. We just lost another one the other day. They’re micromanaged. They’re creative people. I’m going to empower our leaders, our department heads, I’m going to empower our principals and our teachers, and allow them to do their jobs.
Question: “Councillor Dibble, this next question is from Salem State student, Ashley Hayes. How do you plan on better serving the homeless population of Salem once in office? Is there anything you are doing right now to help provide resources, such as affordable housing projects?”:
Dibble: Well, it’s a great question. We’re clearly not doing enough because the homeless population in Salem just keeps on growing and growing. I was close to being homeless. My dad walked away from our family when I was about two-and-a-half years old. My mom raised four children, later got married and had a fifth child, and got divorced again. So, we were very close to being homeless, ok? And, my heart goes out to these people. I have delivered coats to them. I’ve delivered winter clothes to them, almost every year, for the last… 14 years or so. And I’ve noticed the homeless – I have become friends with a few – the homeless population has significantly increased, and we’re not really helping them at all. You have other cities and towns that are directing their homeless here. I’ve talked to homeless and they’ve admitted that, yes, they say, “go to Salem, we have more services.” Well, it’s not… we’re just not doing a good job. We need to help these people with addictions, with whatever the problems are, and get them off the street. It’s just wrong, to have people panhandling along cars, almost getting hit, going in between cars. It’s dangerous. One of my nephews is a maintenance guy for the National Park Service. He’s picking up hypodermic needs with these thin gloves. It’s unacceptable. We can do so much better here in Salem. We need to reach out and help them, and truly help them, and not pay them lip service, because if you notice, the last 16 years, the homeless population has soared here in Salem. Everybody has to agree with that.
Driscoll: Thanks for that question. We do have a homeless population in Salem. We’ve had one for a number of decades in our community, and we have vulnerable members of our community who for a myriad of reasons – certainly, substance use, mental health challenges, education deficits, trauma - contribute to why people find themselves in this really vulnerable population. I am proud of the work that we’ve done as part of our Homeless Coalition, with some great partners – Lifebridge in Salem, who operates our shelter here locally. Over the last year and a half, we ended up setting up a day center at Lifebridge, right next door to make sure that we had a lower threshold for people that needed a place to come in, get out of whatever the weather conditions were, that we could begin to develop trust and relationships, to hopefully provide additional services. We do have a number of services in our community. We’re proud of that. We want our vulnerable members of Salem to have services available to them, and I’m not just talking about food. We partner with the North Shore Community Health Center to provide medical care, to make sure that we’re providing access for folks who are ready to take that step, to make a transition either to additional substance use services that they may need or just regular medications that folks need. We are a compassionate community, and I’ve been proud to be part of the effort to ensure that we are thinking about our high-risk population. We have a Community Impact Unit that works closely with Lifebridge, with public health nurses. We have outreach providers to try and develop relationships and ensure that we’re thinking about what are the services that we can deliver that people need when they need them? Most assuredly, it’s housing. This is a housing crisis, and Housing First is a proven model – that if you can give folks a home, a roof over their head, they stand the best chance, with some wraparound services, of staying in a stable housing environment. On Boston Street, working with Harborlight, we’ve created 26 units of housing for formerly homeless individuals, with wraparound services. We’ve done the same thing in partnership with the North Shore CDC, for young adults aging out of foster care – another group that continually can find themselves in homeless circumstances, and we’re going to continue to find ways to connect with that community. During COVID, we set up a regional quarantine site for all of our homeless population to ensure that they had a safe environment in which to be in, and I’m really proud of the effort with North Shore Community Health Center and Lifebridge to ensure that the majority, if not all of our homeless population have been vaccinated, access to testing, making sure that we’re taking care of their most vulnerable needs and trying to make connections. For some folks, we do have a chronic homeless population. They don’t necessarily want the services that we have. And that’s why that day center is critical, and we’re going to continue to push forward in doing everything we can to meet the needs of that vulnerable population as well.
Question: “Mayor Driscoll, this question was submitted by Thomas Furey, SSU Alumnus, and former City Councillor-at-Large. What is the difference between Smart Development, and Overdevelopment?”:
Driscoll: Yeah, thank you so much for that question. I feel like much of the development that we’ve had in Salem over the last several years has exactly been Smart Development, which means you’re trying to focus on areas that are already existing infrastructure systems where they exist, whether that’s utilities, and transportation. Think about Salem. Many of you live here – I can see the faces. Many of our development has been old industrials sites that used to be something else… the old Salem Suede, the old Flynntan, the former GTE Sylvania… these were leftover vestiges of industrial uses in our community that have been vacant for decades, not providing any contributing resources to our community, and in fact, were actually public health threats. Through transformation and smart growth development, many of them are located within walking distance to the train station, or access to other public transit, we’ve seen those properties transform into primarily housing, but also some mixed use. We like the idea of ‘15 minutes neighborhoods’ – so you can have commercial use tied into residential use. We just had Secretary Keneally in town. He was touring what we call our ‘local action units.’ That was Salem Suede, Brix – the former Washington Street District Courthouse – and Essex Apartments, on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall – it used to be Eastern Bank, the Trust Offices above Eastern Bank. We took the time to look there. Those were all private developments, all of which have 10% affordable housing, that we didn’t contribute to at all as a community, that was developed primarily by the private sector. Sometimes there’s a little bit of State subsidy, but they’re going to be serving people in our community – one ownership project, two rental projects. I looked at the tax revenues. Those three properties combined paid us about $100,000 in taxes – not very much, in their dilapidated state. Redeveloped, the estimated tax is $1.1 Million dollars. A one million dollar increase from 3 properties. Why is that important, and why is that smart? Because every dollar that we can collect in new growth means that is less that we have to hit taxpayers over the head to pay for services we rely on, like public safety, public works, schools, and other government services. Smart growth means you’re looking to grow in a way that limits the overall impact, existing infrastructure built out 8 square miles, close to train stations. We meet that definition. Accessory dwelling units meets that definition – existing infrastructure. Overtaxing our utilities couldn’t be further from the truth. When we lost the coal fired power plant, they were using millions of gallons of potable water every year, if not every week. We’re doing it right. We’ve got boards and commissions. It’s not easy to develop in Salem. We have quality development happening that’s also smart because it’s tied to where we have access to existing utilities, infrastructure, transit, and the like. I’m proud of that development. It’s going to serve us well for many more years.
Dibble: Well, sometimes we need to disagree. Smart development. Smart development versus overdevelopment, I think your question was. There is a big, big difference. Smart development is putting planning and thought into the direction of the city to protect our zoning, to adjust zoning as needed, but not to willy-nilly change things for each developer. Spot zoning – it should not happen at all. We’ve talked a little bit about housing, but when you look at rents that are $3,000… $3,200 a month, plus utilities, that’s not helping Salem. When we look at all the additional cars on the road – thousands more cars, the gridlock traffic that we’re seeing, and it’s getting worse and worse, that’s not helping Salem. That’s not smart growth. What we’re doing is building more and more and more luxury apartments that Salem residents cannot afford. It’s wrong. We’re not building anything affordable; we’re not building any senior housing; we’re not creating higher paying jobs for our employees. In fact we’re losing job opportunities in Salem. I touched upon Tropical Products, and I voted yes for the 180 units out front and the 320 units out back of luxury apartments on Highland Avenue, at the old Highland Gardens. We would have had housing there forever, and Tropical Products would have moved out of Salem. Instead, they’re moving across the street, keeping all those jobs here, keeping the higher paying taxes here, building a building about three to four times the size, and 123 new jobs. That’s planning! That’s planning. Well, Mass Municipal says that for every $1.00 that we take in on residential, we spend $1.78 in services, so only building housing – luxury apartments, doesn’t matter – but only building housing is a bad financial investment. We need housing, but financially it’s bad. Our scale is out of whack. We’re building more and more housing but business opportunities are going down. We need to bring that back so that we’re balancing more and more businesses with the housing that we truly need: affordable housing, and senior housing. And, we’re really not building much at all, Mayor.
Question: “What three initiatives, taken by the current Superintendent and School Committee, would you like to continue, and how will you support them as Mayor?”:
Dibble: Well, this is the number one question that we’re hearing over and over again. Besides the housing and traffic, and overcrowding the city, we’re hearing schools when we’re going door to door. People are leaving Salem and our schools. When the mayor took office 16 years ago, we held onto, just 1% of the students left Salem Public Schools… either moving out of the city or going to a private school or going to some other public school outside of the district… 1%, so we almost held onto all of them. The last three years in a row from today, it’s been on average 25% of the families are taking their children out of Salem Public School. Ask her why! Our schools are underperforming. We’re losing principals. We’re not empowering our teachers. We’re just not doing a good job across the board. Our schools are seriously hurting. The State – the DESE rankings – have us incredibly low, incredibly low across the board. The grade 8 MCAS, for instance, on Math we are at 86% “not meeting expectations”, but the State averages 67%. These are not my numbers – you can look them up. So, we’re underperforming everywhere. Grade 8 MCAS in English – 69% “not meeting expectations”… that’s unacceptable! The State averages is much better: 59%. We’re falling behind. Right now, we have a COVID problem, where our children are falling further behind. I’m proposing to take some of that COVID education monies and bring in and hire, and bring in some retired teachers, and additional paras into the classroom – kindergarten through third grade. What are these children going to look like in 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade, when preparing for college? I think they’re falling way behind. Actually many teachers have told me they are so far behind. Not just in Salem – it’s all across the world. But we can do so much better here than bringing in some help immediately, and help these children bring them past, not up to where they should be without COVID, but bring them past if COVID never exists – on the education level. We should empower our teachers and empower them to do their jobs – that’s not happening here in Salem. Teachers – the morale of teachers incredibly low – in fact the morale at Salem City Hall, people are excited up there that I might be coming back to work with them. [Crowd noise] No! Heckling is, stop. It’s actually time for a change. Thank you. Thank you.
Driscoll: Yeah, thank you. I’m actually really proud of the work that’s underway in our schools. I’m fortunate enough to chair the School Committee which means we’re in position to set policy and make sure our schools have resources. I’m proud of the investments we’ve been able to make in schools. A lot of the dollars that we’ve been able to recapture through some really strong financial practices are going back into reinvesting in education. I think what we have happening in our community is really headed in the right direction. If you look at what’s happening with our Superintendent, our school community, I see nothing, when I talk to parents, but positive trajectories and positive feelings about their experiences in Salem Public Schools. The issues you stated, Councillor, couldn’t be further from the truth. The number of principals that have changed, that have turned over – 6 out of 11 principals either grew up in Salem or currently live in Salem. 9 out of 11 current principals were promoted within the system, having served as teachers or assistant principals. Principal retention last year was better than the State average. When you look at what performance looks like: 5 out of 8 schools made substantial progress on their accountability targets. What we saw in increase between 2018 and 2019 in third-grade reading, a key benchmark that we look at because we know that proves success in school later on in life. This whole “churning”… your numbers are 100% inaccurate. 100%. There’s no 25% churn rate. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Parents are choosing to enter our schools. We have higher number of kids in schools this year than we had two years ago. Our population is going up, and when I speak with parents, here’s what they’re excited about: our early Pre-k program… 80 kids, for free, four-year-olds, high quality offerings, to get a better start on school. We want to continue to expand it. That’s where some of our federal resources are going. Our early college program… providing students who are seniors with 12 credits! Those of our Salem State students. Before they come through the door of any college or university they’re attending, they get 12 credits under their belt, thanks to a partnership with this institution [Salem State University]. Owen Guarino is down at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Before he walked through the door for day 1, he’s got 12 credits of school. Hampton employee has two four-year-old students who are engaged in pre-k, coming home with a high quality experience, and know that they’re going to be better positioned. That’s good for our families, as we come out of this pandemic. Our parents are excited about schools, and our teacher’s union just talked about the new contract we have, which is the best teacher’s union contract in the State of Massachusetts. And lastly, and lastly because this is pretty important, just last week, Marta Garcia, who was named Educator of the Year, Teacher of the Year in Massachusetts, right here in Salem. That’s indicative of the hard-working teachers in our school system. My kids went to Salem Public Schools. I’m proud of what we’re doing in our schools, and when you talk poorly about our schools, you are discrediting the amazing work that everybody does, every single day to ensure that every child in Salem walks into a building with an opportunity to thrive and succeed, whether they were read to since birth, or whether they came from a traumatic situation. That’s what’s happening in Salem Public Schools.
Question: “Mayor Driscoll, this question is asked from (inaudible?) at Salem State University. How will you ensure Salem State students are represented and included when making decisions that will impact them?”:
Driscoll: Uh huh. Great question. Thank you so much. Did everybody hear the question? How will we ensure that Salem State students are represented as we’re making decisions that will impact them? We’d love to better unlock the black box of Salem State students to engage in our community. I will tell you, like Steve, I had an internship in the Planning Department in Salem, and that provided me an incredible opportunity to see what’s happening in local government and really ignited a passion for the level of local government that really impacts you the most – educates your kids, keeps your community safe, invests in those really high quality spaces where you make memories. We’d love to make sure that Salem State students are part of the environment when we’re making decisions. Whether it’s about parking right outside on Loring Avenue, climate change, a number of the items that we’re working on in our ‘to do’ list, thinking about ways – when I went to Salem State, you could hustle all Summer and make enough money to pay your tuition – I know that’s no longer the case. How can we put Salem State students involved in local government? This is the hardest hiring environment that we’ve ever had. We’d love to ignite that passion that I had when I was a Senior, with other students here to get them involved in local government, whether it’s directly in Planning or other fields, or ways that we can ensure that their voices are being incorporated into our thinking about the growth of our community. In 2026, we’re going to be 400, so students that are here at Salem State and the growth of this campus, we’d love that input. You’re only – you’re sometimes only here for a short time, but like Councillor Dibble and myself, a lot of Salem State students tend to fall in love with Salem and stay here as well. Ways that we can do that, we’d be open to, whether it’s on campus or the School of Civic Engagement. Having our own channel, I’d love to meet with a Student Advisory Group on a regular basis so I can see how to harness the power of the students and the staff. We do have a lot of staff who serve on boards and commissions, but we’d love to even add more, and I look forward to working on that over the next few years to try and figure out how we can better utilize student voice in making our city a better place.
Dibble: Well, you know, it’s funny. Four years ago, I sat in the audience and watched Kim Driscoll debate Paul Prevey, and the same thing’s happening again. Waving papers in the air, waving hands in the air… four years ago the mayor waved some papers in the air like a cheerleader and said, “I don’t care what the Boston Globe says about our schools. I don’t care. We have great schools. We have great teachers. Our kids are learning, and they’re doing great.” Well, everybody bought that, and we voted her back in. In fact, I voted her back in. Well, not this year. It’s not happening, because three months after she did that cheerleading thing about our schools, our schools have continued to go downhill over the last four years, but three months after that speech, that she made that she empowered everybody in the audience, the State says, “We’re going to close the Bowditch School.” I met with the mayor, saying, “Mayor, we need to retain the Bowditch School. I want to keep Horace Mann School in Ward 7.” Well, the mayor said to me directly, not a private meeting, she’ll probably admit this. She said, “Steve, we have to change the Bowditch name or the State’s going to take over that school.” There was a list of about 11 or 12 teachers at the Bowditch School who were asking for help for about three years and they admitted that their request at the school committee meeting, their request had been ignored. Well, Salem State students, I’ve been the Ward 7 City Councillor for 6 years now. I’ve met with hundreds of students at their campus to talk about issues that they have, and address their issues, to work with them on whatever the issues are. A lot of issues were on parking – lack of parking. I designed a parking lot at Salem State Central Campus – all to scale. I presented it to Patricia Meservey, the President, and now John Keenan, the new President, is saying “Steve, when we need that parking, we’re going to build your plan.” And several other things that I’ve done to help Salem State students to get by and to enjoy their experience here in Salem and in Salem State. I meet with students. I met with many students today, last week, on and on. I will bring back the internships that both Mayor Driscoll and myself had, years ago, and I stayed for 14 years in the Planning Department. But I will also bring back Summer job opportunities for high school kids and college kids, where it might be their first jobs, where they’ll be able to mow the grass that’s growing crazily, we’re hiring private contractors to mow grass but it’s not being mowed. We’ll work with, instead of privatizing our school bus drivers, privatizing our mowers, on and on, I’ll be empowered to encourage our police departments, our fire departments, on and on, and they will have my support and we will get things done together. What’s happening now is just simply wrong. We should bring in the youth, college students, let them be the supervisors for younger people to help the whole city and provide better services to the City of Salem, and supplement our excellent city workers.
Question: “Councillor Dibble, this question was submitted by Dr. Megan Murphy, Assistant Professor of Childhood Education and Care. What are your views about possible COVID vaccine mandates for Salem Public Schools, once the vaccine is approved for use in children under 12?”:
Dibble: Well, that’s a good question. I think that we need to… follow the science. I’m talking about masks and other things, a lot of what Kim Driscoll has done, I’ve supported. And, um, what we need to do is let parents be parents, and decide what’s best for their children. So, a required vaccination, for COVID? Where the numbers in Salem are incredibly low right now? I believe there’s only 9 patients at Salem Hospital. So, to… to require vaccines… Am I vaccinated? Absolutely. I have my ‘Get out of jail free card’ in my wallet, that shows that I’ve been vaccinated. Have I worn masks? Yes. Have I handed out hand sanitizers to thousands of people? Yes. But to jump into a family situation and dictate to the parents, when this is a relatively new thing - the vaccines haven’t been proven yet. They haven’t been around long enough – and require that children be vaccinated? I think it’s wrong. Because COVID is pretty low right now. Again, 9 people at Salem Hospital. The numbers are incredibly low, right now. But yet, look at everybody, wearing a mask here in Salem. I think it’s important, but… mask is one thing, but vaccine, requiring vaccines? I don’t agree with that. But perhaps, I will change that opinion after, if COVID comes back more and back next year and the year after, and vaccines have been proven, then yes. Let’s require it. But let’s make sure that they’re safe, first.
Driscoll: Thank you. Thank you for that question. Just, in the simplest form, yes, I would definitely be open to a vaccine mandate, not only for our youngest members of our community, but frankly for city employees, for State employees, for the number of individuals who are already requiring that mandate, and I’ll tell you why, particularly with regard to schools. Right now, vaccines, we have eligible school aged population of 12 and over, who are eligible to take the vaccine. And in Salem, we still have fairly large gaps of students and young adults who are not vaccinated. We also know that right now, obviously, everyone under 12 cannot be vaccinated. We are seeing disruptions in school due to the fact that COVID is still occurring. While, thankfully, our community numbers are low, and thankfully, because so many people are vaccinated, we’re not seeing high hospitalization rates, it does still cause disruptions in our school. Just last week two classrooms at Witchcraft Heights were closed. Kids had to go virtual. It throws everybody in a game of Ring Around the Rosie, trying to figure out how we can educate our kids. We know that when we are in and out of school what it did, what it did to our youth and adolescents… not just ours, nationwide research. Higher incidents of kids who were depressed. Higher incidents of kids who were inflicting self-harm. Higher incidents of kids who were considering suicide. We want our kids in person. We know that’s the best educational opportunity for them and unless everybody is vaccinated we continue to have disruptive education occurring in our community. We are seriously going to have to look at it. Obviously, the vaccine hasn’t even been authorized for that population and speaking with Dr. Dave Roberts and other experts, they tell us that these vaccines are safe, and it is the only answer to getting us out of this continual in and out of school disruptions which we know are not good for our young people. We get vaccinated requirements for lots of other things to go to school. We require physicals. We know what it’s like it terms of keeping kids healthy. And if this is an important consideration that will keep our kids in school, and we absolutely need to consider it.
Question: “Mayor Driscoll, this question is anonymous. Over the last several years, our city’s deficit in the retirement account has grown from $86 Million to $144 Million. This has and continues to place additional burden on the budget and tax payers. What plans do you have to increase revenue streams so that this burden can be satisfied?”:
Driscoll: Thank you for that question. So, just so folks understand, we pay into a pension system – anybody who is a municipal employee – and over the last several decades, that system was underfunded. If you went back – and it, part of that was State law – we weren’t taking enough money out of city employees – I’m going back, many many years, and now people are retired, they’re living longer, we’re paying for health insurance, and so there are deficits with respect to how much we as a city have to contribute into what we call the Pension Fund. The reason I know this is because when I became mayor, the retirement system was being run individually by the handful of folks who were on the retirement board. We were investing our own money, which is not something I’d recommend retirement boards do unless they have some sort of specific expertise. We lost $4 Million Dollars by investing in China, in an investment that didn’t work out and at that point the State was also putting forward legislation for cities and towns that had pension obligations that, where they were so underfunded that they were not going to be fully funded, by a State guideline. We – I ended up appointing myself to the retirement board – and said we need to clean this up. We joined what’s called PRIM or PRIT – it’s part of the State pension system – one of the highest performing pension systems, statewide. We have adjusted our calculations going forward, so that we’re being more mindful of what you’re actually going to return for our actuarial tables, and we are on track to be fully funded by – I believe it’s 2033 – don’t quote me… it’s well under the State law requiring it, and we have really transformed our retirement board from a place that was doing things on their own, and probably not doing things as well as they needed to. Now we’re fully in compliance with moving that number forward. We invest annually, almost $1 Million dollars, in retirement pension costs. Almost 85 cents of every dollar the retirement board spends is city money. Most of that is sins of the past, when we used to have what we called “5 percenters” – 5% of your salary went to retirement, and then you lived forever and we paid for your health insurance! It didn’t exactly pay for itself. That system has been righted. We take out more of a percentage. We’re on track. We’re well managed cause we’re part of this PRIM system and we have turned the corner. We are still subject to market forces. In 2007/2008, that real downturn in the stock market did have an impact, not just on Salem but on every pension fund there is, and it’s something we have to constantly be watching, and that’s why we adjust those calculations, actuarial tables, to make sure that we’re in a position to continue to properly account for our pensioners and also make sure we’re doing it in a way that is cognizant of budget impacts. I should point out, just for clarification I’m not on that board any more.
Dibble: Well, that’s one board that she’s not on, but she’s on like 6 others.
Driscoll: I care, a lot!
Dibble: We all care a lot. We all care a lot, but we can allow the professionals to go do their jobs. I think your numbers were $86 million and $144 Million, I think that’s a little bit lower? I think the deficit is bigger than that. So the question might be some old information there. That deficit has grown significantly, and when the State comes knocking, the next mayor of Salem is going to have a huge problem in getting that bill paid. It’s grown from $86 Million to $144 Million but it’s higher than that now. We’re spending way too much money here in Salem. We’re just recklessly spending money, across the board. The swimming pool, for instance, right down the street. That started off with $3 to $4 million dollars. I voted in favor of that. And then it immediately jumped to $5 to $7 Million dollars. $5 to $6 Million then $7 to $8 Million dollars, then $9 to $10 Million dollars, then $11 to $12, $13 to $14 Million dollars, and its about $15 Million dollars now or so. I don’t even know what it is now, but it’s $12 or $13 Million dollars more than it was when I voted for it. The Blue Bikes that we have right now. I voted for Zagster three and a half years ago to come in – about $30,000 dollars, and the first year we got about $12,000 back from the profit from the rental of those bikes. And the second year, we would have made that money all back and then we would have been ahead of the game. So that was a good program for people to rent bikes, but now we have a new program called Blue Bikes, and it’s $550,000 dollars of your tax money going to – not just Salem tax money, there’s other public monies thrown in there as well, from the University, from the Hospital, etc. – but $550,000 dollars is being handed to a private company to run these rental bikes in Salem and none of the profit comes back to Salem. That’s unacceptable! $550,000 dollars. I want a gift from the city of half a million dollars so I can run some sort of company and not have to give anything back. That’s crazy. What we have right now is an opportunity to do something. Let’s talk about WitchCoin. I’ve been saving this. But I’ll expose it here tonight. One thing my team and I have been looking at is a modern way of raising revenues, and I’ve saved this announcement tonight for the students at Salem State. Exploring launching a cryptocurrency for Salem. We can call it “WitchCoin”. Who here has crypto? Raise your hand if you have crypto? Alright. Awesome! Well, that’s really good. Miami has launched such an event, called MiamiCoin, and they’ve raised over $7 Million Dollars to help their city in just a few months. San Francisco is about to do the same thing. London is doing it. As a globally known city, Salem could be also very successful at doing this. I don’t think Beverly, Peabody and other towns could do it, but Salem could. Revenue is not rigid like bonds, we could use it in many different ways including paying down the deficit and working to really repair our schools and do what’s right for our children. It has no (debt?), no minimal cost. Everyone can participate, including retail investors. Funds can be used to improve our schools and our whole city! There are some very interesting things we can do, so let’s learn more about it, and if you’d like, go to my website and you can learn about this idea more and other ideas I have for the city of Salem. Again, I’m not the polished politician for the last 16 years. A lot of people in this room trust me, and they have trusted me for years and years. This is an idea that we should explore – WitchCoin – and bring millions of dollars into Salem to truly help Salem.
Question: “Councillor Dibble, this question is from Salem resident George (Mello?). New Ideas and fresh perspectives can keep a democracy vibrant and evolving in a positive direction. Is it time for Salem to support a two-term limit for mayor and four term limit for City Councillors?”:
Dibble: You know, I am a huge fan of term limits. That’s going to be one of the first things I do after we work to repair our housing situation here and to repair our school system. I will work with the City Council and collaborate a way to implement an 8 year term limit maximum for the city of Salem. The four previous mayors that were friends of mine – Mayor Usovicz, 8 years; Mayor Harrington, 8 years; Mayor Salvo, 6 years; Mayor Levesque was 10 years. They all four were friends of mine. I worked for three of them. They, at the end of the term – roughly 8 years, on average – I’d say, for all of them. That is the average! 8 years. So, 8 years, I think you get a little bit stale after 8 years. I think the Mayor changed about 6 or 8 years ago, and she stopped listening to Salem people, so this might be a good example of term limits that are needed, right here in Salem. When I, I worked hard to get Kim Driscoll elected… really hard, with a lot of people in this audience, but after being on the City Council, I just see what’s going on and how Salem is being hurt so this is a perfect example of the need for term limits. I think it should be 8 years and I will work to implement that. With regard to the City Councillors, I think it’s the same, you know. I think, with the Mayor’s position, it should go back to a two year term. That’s what all the previous mayors had and it made them accountable. It got sidewalks fixed around the city. It got trees planted. It made the mayor accountable. So, term limits is a great question. Yes!
Driscoll: I think we do have term limits. Every four years, we come before the voters. We share ideas. We have an exchange, and we ask people to stand up and support us either again, or vote for somebody new. You know, in my opinion, the transformation of Salem into a vibrant and thriving community took a real partnership at many levels. This debate has been, my opponent has pointed a lot of fingers at me, has said a lot of untruths, too many to really go through and count, but it’s not necessarily indicative of what happens in local government. For things to be successful, for any community, any program or project that you’re working on in government, it takes coalition building. It takes partnership. When I first came to office we made a conscious effort to broaden opportunities for residents to get involved. We opened up boards and commissions. I appoint people to boards and commissions that I’ve never met before, but they are talented, and they want to add to the talent pool in our community. We have neighborhood improvement advisory committees. They meet. We have other civic engagement initiatives. We want feedback. The level of resident input and the commitment to listening to residents continues to this day, and it’s helped me with our business community. We’re eager to work as coalitions, and our institutional partners as well, State and Federal elected officials. I feel like we have a strong partnership in Salem. When communities do well, it’s because people are (rowing?) together. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have disagreements. There’s plenty of things that Councillors and my administration don’t see eye to eye on. But we find a way to push through those things and move our city forward. We work in collaboration with our State legislative delegation, both Paul Tucker and Joan Lovely, our Congressman, our Governor. We have a strong partnership with the Baker/Polito administration. Before that, I had a strong partnership with Deval Patrick and his administration. Because it takes partnership to get things done. So, term limits? From my perspective, you always have the authority. The City Council always has the authority. I can’t spend one penny. I can’t pass one law in this community without the majority support of our representative legislative body. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. We are a thriving community and we are doing well, because we set goals, we follow, we work… we plan the work, and then we work the plan. And that’s our key to success, so I’m not a supporter of term limits. I am a supporter of coalition building and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole term in office, and that’s what I intend to continue to keep doing over the next 4 years. (inaudible?).
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