The following transcript includes excerpts from our live chat with Mayor Kimberley Driscoll. Selections have been edited in an order that makes questions and answers more readable. Text has not be changed except for grammatical and/or spelling errors.
To read the original June 7 chat, click here.
Salem Public Schools
Reader Comment from Klassy Salem: Mayor Driscoll, at a recent city council meeting, Dr. Lucas, of the Board of Health, talked about a new practice in medicine that encourages doctors who mess up to apologize. She then commented that she’d heard no such apology regarding our failing school system. Should someone apologize? Who? Why haven’t they?
Mayor Driscoll: Hi Klassy, Thanks for your question. I hope you know how much everyone in and around our school system (including teachers, administrators, parents, school committee members and students) are working to improve our schools. We are not happy about the recent Level 4 designation at Bentley and have approached school turnaround plans in a comprehensive, school wide manner. Please know that we have very good things going on in our schools and through the current process hope to continue and improve. We also have things to work on and we are focused on doing just that. I appreciate your involvement and presence at several meetings on this issue.
Reader Comment from Katie Casiglia: Along those lines, once our schools improve (I'm optimistic), what will be done to ensure that we don't end up in a similar predicament in the future? What will be done to assess the continual progress of our system and, most importantly, the administrators once the DESE is no longer as intimately involved?
Mayor Driscoll: Hi Katie, Thanks for this question. The key to our school turnaround efforts will be to make sustainable changes that will be maintained regardless of who is Superintendent, Mayor, School Commmittee, etc. Many of the items we are focused on, like more time on learning; using data more effectively to guide instruction; stronger professional development for our staff, and setting high expectations should be in place regardless of who is in charge. In addition, our plans will require annual measurable goals so that DESE, parents, staff, can see where we are achieving success and where we need to work harder. As difficult as this process has been to date, ultimately I feel like our schools will be much improved and much more accountable. I'm very excited about what the future holds for Salem Public Schools!
Comment from Guest Reader: Mayor Driscoll when is the transfer station problem going to be put to bed?
Mayor Driscoll: I hope soon. As you may know, the city owned Transfer Station on Swampscott Road has been cited by DEP and requires clean up and remediation. The estimated cost to undertake this work is $1.4m. We have solicited interest from potential redevelopers to clean up and use this parcel. We have only received interest from other transfer station operators that will clean up the site and operate it going forward, in exchange for the city selling the parcel. We hope to bring this issue before the City Council for a vote soon. I would prefer not to have to spend city resources to clean up this site. If sold, we could also collect tax reveunes from the property going forward.
Comment from Reader Ernie: My car has been broken into twice in the Museum Place Public Garage in the last 8 months. Now I find the cost of parking there annually has gone up from $500/year to $702/year. How can this be possible/justified? What is the city doing about security? How can taxpaying local residents be asked to pay a 40 percent increase during these difficult times, yet not know if their car will be safe in our public garages?
Mayor Driscoll: Hi Ernie, I'm sorry about your car being broken into. Unfortunately, we have seen a wave of car breaks happening in Salem (and other North Shore communities). In fact, the Police Department just put out a public service announcement reminding residents to lock their vehicles and keep valuables out of site. In the last two dozen reported car breaks, every single occurrence involved items being stolen from an unlocked car. The Police Department have arrested individuals for break-ins in the South Harbor garage, and several neighborhood car breaks. As for the garage, we do have security that regularly patrols both the Museum Place Garage and the South Harbor Garage. This is augmented by Salem Police Department foot and car patrols. Cameras have been installed at the entrances of both municipal garages. As for annual rates going up, this is part of the City's comprehensive parking program and while some fees have increased, others have gone down. Our overall goal is to free up parking spaces downtown for use by patrons and others.
Derby Street/South River
Comment from Reader Matt: Are there any proposals for development/redevelopment along Derby Street and the South River? The corridor is the missing connector between the waterfront and the remainder of downtown. Some well designed, mixed use development similar to that found along Congress Street in Portsmouth (NH), would make the corridor very attractive, not to mention continue the South River Harborwalk to both sides. Such an opportunity!
Mayor Driscoll: Hi Matt, I agree that the parcels along the South River are a critical link between the downtown and the waterfront. That is one of the reasons we worked hard to obtain state grants for the South River Walkway. There are no current proposals for the parcels you mentioned, but I know the property owners are interested in the type of uses you laid out. Our hope would be to continue the walkway and see vibrant mixed-use development that allows for activity along the street line and the water's edge. I'd love to get a Fire Water concept going in the South River and have regular programming in the area. We do have free concerts happening on Sunday afternoons and I hope that can be the start of regular activity taking place in this corridor that links downtown, Lower Lafayette (LOLA District) and the waterfront.
Reader Comment from Americus Bell: Is there any movement on the anticipated National Grid project regarding placing the lines under/along the harbor vs. tearing up our streets for years? Thanks!
Mayor Driscoll: At this point, National Grid is still expected to move forward, but they have not finalized plans or proceeded with permitting as of yet. We are, of course, very concerned about impacts associated with this project and will be doing everything we can to minimize disruption.
Vision for Salem
Comment from Reader Joan: Is focusing on Salem's public image/reputation a priority particularly in regard to promoting Salem as place that people should consider settling down in?
Mayor Driscoll: Hi Joan, As a tourist destination, Salem does spend a portion of our hotel/motel tax revenues to promote and market the City. We also work with organizations like Salem Mainstreets to promote our downtown to residents and visitors alike. We have seen tremendous residential growth, in our downtown particularly, and view that as a very positive development. We are proud of the quality of life that Salem offers as a city that is rich in history and cultural amenities, and certainly that factors in to our promotion and marketing.
Mayor Driscoll: I want to thank Salem Patch (and the readers that joined in) for allowing me to participate in my first live chat! I feel very fortunate to be Mayor of Salem. We live in a special place with an amazing history and terrifc assets, including an active and alive citizenry! I enjoy very much the opportunity to serve Salem and working together I hope we can continue to make our community an even better place to live, work, visit and raise a family.