It was a night of informative recap for several Boston City Councilors as spoke at the Ward 20 Democratic Committee Thursday evening at the West Roxbury Pub & Restaurant.
District 6 Councilor Matt O'Malley, District 5 Councilor Rob Consalvo and At-Large Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo presented their accomplishments for the year and intentions for the rest of their terms. Although they had personal agendas to review, it was clear that many of their their initiatives complimented each other.
At-Large Councilors John Connolly and Stephen Murphy were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
For O’Malley, who was elected to his position in November special election, he spoke about his big picture concerns.
“I view the role of councilor as really two fold to focus on the big picture quality of life issues – education, public safety and building a thriving local economy,” said O’Malley.
Two days after O’Malley was sworn in he formed a snow committee for West Roxbury. Humorously, he claimed the move was ambitious, unaware of the heavy snow that was on the way. However, the initiative has been a success. He said some Boston Public School students are involved with the snow committee, and he helped develop a master database for senior citizens to call and have people shovel their snow.
“When I was growing up, I’d wake up during every snowstorm and see that they cancelled school. My eyes would turn into dollar signs,” said O’Malley. “I saw it as a great entrepreneurial effort to knock on the doors of my elderly neighborhood.”
Ayanna Pressley was on the same page. “It may be getting warmer, but it will snow again,” said Pressley.
Although there is no set date at this time, Pressley is working on scheduling a hearing that would investigate creative ways to remove snow, cost saving measures and ways to make sure schools and businesses stay opened without compromising safety.
The city budget and businesses being able to access capital were another major concern for the councilors.
Consalvo called the upcoming budget potentially one of the most devastating budgets in city history. Highlighting that cuts and tough decisions will have to be made, he called upon the community to be prepared to compromise for the common good of this city. “At the end of the day, I think we’ll pass a clean and fair budget that’s respectful and encompasses everyone’s concerns."
O’Malley stated then when he was running for office, he talked about money for more teachers, lower class sizes and special programs, but at the end of the day “we have to face reality.”
Reality came back in December when the School Committee voted to close nine school buildings, including the Agassiz in Jamaica Plain, and merge eight schools into four. The West Roxbury Education Complex's four schools will be downsized into two with the Brook Farm Academy merging with Media Communications Technology High School and the Urban Science Academy combining with Parkway Academy of Technology and Health.
Consalvo said the budget is slated to go public in late June.
The capital budget was of even more concern to Consalvo with focus on how Boston can leverage its strong bond rating to deliver capital money to our neighborhoods and businesses.
“During tough financial times, we need to be investing in our public infrastructure and neighborhoods, even if we have to cut back in areas of our operating budget.”
Consalvo’s statement tied in with Pressley’s arts initiative to develop cultural districts in the city. A firm believer in arts in education, she emphasized how this was a great opportunity to ensure that Boston does everything to support the arts community and develops a pipeline for the creative economy.
Economically, she said it is a step towards improving the Boston brand.
“People can dismiss the arts as warm and fuzzy stuff, but we have a moral imperative to preserve and promote the arts for our very civility, history and culture,” said Pressley. “There’s an economic benefit as well."
Drawing attention to investments in neighborhoods, Arroyo brought up investing tax dollars and doing more business with banks that give back to the community they serve. He hopes to achieve this through his “Invest in Boston” ordinance.
“We have $1 billion of your tax dollars in banks and we ask what the rate of return is and if in a state of emergency, can we access capital,” said Arroyo. “You know what we need to ask too? How much investing do you do in Boston? Do you lend to small businesses? Are you part of preventing foreclosures in Boston?”
John McCay, a West Roxbury resident, attended the meeting and was happy to be informed. “There’s so much that happens in this city that you’re bound to miss some things,” said McCay. “It’s nice to see the camaraderie among the councilors.”