Mayoral Candidates Float Ideas, Talk Sustainability At Forum

Mayoral Candidates Float Ideas, Talk Sustainability At Forum

Mike Carraggi, Melrose Patch Staff, Aug 23, 2019

MELROSE, MA — All five mayoral candidates addressed the public in the same forum for the first time Tuesday night, talking about energy and sustainability issues in front of some 175 people at Melrose High School.

Jackie Lavender Bird, State Rep. Paul Brodeur and Aldermen-at-Large Mike Zwirko, Monica Medeiros and Manisha Bewtra took part in the forums, which was put on by groups that make up Sustainable Melrose. It's the second of three opportunities candidates will have to speak in such a setting; four of the candidates spoke at a Democratic City Committee forum in June and all five are invited to a forum put on by MMTV in September.

Moderator Jacob Stern posed five questions to the candidates, who each had two minutes to respond. The candidates were each given a 30-second closing statement.

"All of the candidates showed their intent to make sustainability a priority, although they certainly varied on how much of a priority it will be in their administration," Jeana McNeil, a member of the Melrose and one of the people planning the forum, told Patch.

"I appreciated that both Aldermen Bewtra and Zwirko made it clear they would lead the community in the right direction on sustainability, even if that means taking on thorny issues like revenue. I also liked that Jackie Lavender Bird and Rep. Brodeur spoke about integrating sustainability into City Hall with new roles and regular engagement with groups like the Sustainable Melrose Coalition."

Editor's note: This is part of Patch's ongoing mayoral coverage ahead of the preliminary election. This report is just one person's account of the forum. You can watch the full mayoral forum on MMTV here and individual statements here. Take the time to educate yourself on the candidates before the preliminary.

As is the case in such forums, there was some vague filler and some direct proposals. Some of bolder ideas were:

  • Zwirko said the city needs to produce less trash by looking at curbside composting, but that "we need to go even further and we need to compost food-waste at all of our schools."

  • Brodeur said too many people get in their car by themselves just to go to places like Oak Grove. He mentioned a "mini-carpool situation" but did not elaborate. He also mentioned looking at a senior citizen property tax exemption to sustain affordability.

  • Medeiros fired off a few ideas at the end of a question about making Melrose a safer, more walkable and bikeable place. Among them were potentially offering a shuttle during busy times and looking at building a safe route adjacent to the Oak Grove train tracks

  • Bewtra also flew through some ideas when asked about how to reduce waste generation, with mandatory recycling among them. "Changing behavior is probably the hardest thing to do," she said.

  • Bird, talking about cutting down on traffic, referenced the city taking back the Beebe School and allowing people to choose their neighborhood school as their first option.

The final question was about whether the candidates would support the Community Preservation Act, a property tax surcharge which has to be approved by voters and which the state would partially match. It helps fund open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreation projects.

Bewtra and Zwirko both supported the CPA, while acknowledging it could lead to difficult conversations in the wake of this year's override. Both called not having the CPA in place a "missed opportunity."

"If you're afraid of having difficult conversations or if you're afraid to lead on questions ... about whether our community is going to move forward or preserve itself, then I don't think you're leading," Zwirko said.

Neither Medeiros nor Bird supported the CPA.

Bird touted her understanding of the budget and the city's "immense" borrowing capacity as ways Melrose can still fund projects that the CPA would.

"Melrose is just several months out of a very difficult decision to pass an operational override," she said. "I'm not ready to go back to the community to ask for an additional tax increase for the Community Preservation Act when the state is now only matching 13 cents on the dollar."

Medeiros said projects could be decided by the voters on a case-by-case basis.

"If we think it's going to be used to really protect open space, I think most likely it's going to be the people with the loudest voices who are going to get the money in that fund first, and that's probably going to be for buildings for public safety," she said.

Brodeur said he doesn't support the CPA currently, but "over the long term we really need to consider the CPA as an important part of our planning going forward." He said fiscal management of the money freed up via the override should be a focus.

There was talk of giving Sustainable Melrose a seat at the table, to varying degrees.

Bewtra, who said her time as a city planner lent itself to a lot of thought about smart growth, said her mayorship would see a Sustainable Melrose summit in early 2020, which would help give the city's climate action plan and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 goal "some teeth." It would also give action items to each of the groups in Sustainable Melrose, anchored by leadership at City Hall.

"I want to see is us have the political courage to go beyond the things that we know are our conveniences as consumers and leading those initiatives from City Hall," she said.

Bird said Sustainable Melrose should have a "direct line to" the mayor's office and said there would be quarterly meetings.

Medeiros advocated for bringing the discussions further into the neighborhoods with community meetings, reaching those who may not be educated on environmental impacts

"We have to meet people where they are, which means in many cases they're not necessarily going to be even in this room," she said.

There was discussion about the DPW director position, which Mayor Gail Infurna recently filled in an interim capacity after taking some heat for seeking a permanent hire before the end of her term.

"We have a huge opportunity for the next mayor coming in to name a DPW director who can fill the role with sustainability as being one of the core pillars of that job," Bird said.

Brodeur, who this week received an endorsement from the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said he was disappointed the job description for the DPW position didn't include anything about climate change or adaptability.

"We can't miss any opportunity to move forward," he said. 

Bird also mentioned the need to fill the role of recycling coordinator, which has fallen by the wayside due to what she said was budget issues.

Zwirko said the position had been budgeted for, but that leadership in City Hall didn't commit to filling the position after the recycling coordinator left last year.

The Vespa-riding Zwirko appeared most in his element. Touting his time at "the greenest college in America" — College of the Atlantic — he pitched himself as a problem solver who knows which problems to solve because he experiences them daily as a T rider and foot-trafficker.

"You want a mayor who knows what it's like to bike and walk throughout the city and know where some of the trouble spots are," he said.

Zwirko, who said in Monday night's Board of Aldermen meeting that it's past time to have to be urging people to stop using plastic straws, indicated his top priority would be sustainability.

"When we're talking about green technologies and sustainability, it has to be the first question asked in everything that we do," Zwirko said.

Mike Zwirko
Sustainability: It's all about the Green

Sustainability is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and it seems to encompass everything: the food we eat (sustainably farmed!), the vehicles we drive (electric!) and even our clothing (recycled!). This is a good thing as we need to be more mindful of the impact we have on our environment in every way. However, a lot gets lost when we use the term "Sustainability" because it has become so ubiquitous; we no longer know what it means.

Climate change is real. It is proven. July of 2019 was the hottest July ever recorded on the planet. Our oceans are warming, weather is becoming considerably more erratic and damaging and our sea levels are rising. In addition, the human population continues to rise and so does our impact on the environment through what we eat, what we throw away and consume.

Over the past 10 years, sustainability has grown from individuals seeking to reduce their impact on the environment, to Fortune 500 companies looking to improve their bottom line. Municipalities, too, are doing the same. Especially in New England where our buildings and infrastructure are aged, there has been tons of investment into green technologies, materials and energy sources. Why is it so popular? Because it is all about the green. Money, that is.

Making Melrose a leader in sustainability efforts isn't a feel good enterprise; it makes fiscal sense! We are routinely asked to do more with less, but being sustainable actually allows us to stretch tax dollars further or reduce costs. Here is a perfect example: In a couple of years we will begin negotiations on our trash contract. The company we contract with bills us per ton of trash taken away. One of the largest items in our trash is food waste. It also weighs a lot and thus, costs us a lot of money to be hauled away and ultimately incinerated. So, why not bring composting to the curbside? It will lower our tonnage and our trash costs. And, we will prevent it from being incinerated and polluting our air and watersheds. It's a win-win!

Single use plastic is the new focus. It is a product that does not breakdown and it is everywhere in our oceans and our landfills. In the old mantra of green practices: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, the most important of those three is "reduce." Here in Melrose, we need to focus more on reduction. The best way to do this is to give people access to alternatives. If we put public drinking fountains at every park, we can begin a public outreach campaign to encourage residents to bring reusable water bottles to the parks during athletic, community, and other events. Take away the perceived need for a case of single-use plastic water bottles by providing access to a high quality source at no cost. Less plastic, more water. Another win-win!

Sustainability doesn't need to be thought of as some earthy crunchy lifestyle imposition on everyone. On top of it being the right thing to do, it also makes fiscal sense! What is the downside to reducing our carbon footprint by having an efficiently run municipal building that uses less energy and saves taxpayer money? Exactly, there isn't any. As someone who is responsible for appropriating tax payer dollars and critiquing our budget, I have a fiduciary duty to spend our tax dollars wisely. Spending our money on green cars, building products, operations, and infrastructure isn't just the right approach; it should be the only approach. We are running out of time and we need to be more aggressive in this area. By saving money on green technologies, we help combat climate change. Now that's a win-win!

Posted on Melrose Patch

Mike Zwirko
Mike Zwirko Lays Out Issues In Campaign Kickoff

Alderman At-Large Mike Zwirko officially launched his campaign to become the next Mayor of Melrose on Tuesday.

Melrose Patch
By Mike Carraggi, Patch Staff
Jun 7, 2019 5:35 pm ET

The following was submitted by Mike Zwirko for Mayor:

Alderman At-Large Mike Zwirko officially launched his campaign to become the next Mayor of Melrose on Tuesday, June 4th. Over 100 supporters filled the Great Room at Jack Flats Apartments to celebrate the kickoff. Zwirko delivered a rousing speech that emphasized the opportunity that the upcoming mayoral election provides for the city.

"We don't have to settle for the way it has always been and hope that things change," said Zwirko. "Instead, lets drive that change on our terms and demand it. More of the same is not a path towards prosperity, it is stagnant and our future can't afford it."

Zwirko laid out a future for Melrose centered around policy initiatives for economic development, sustainability, and education. "As Mayor, one of my first actions will be to hire an Economic Development Director (EDD) to work in our Office of Planning and Community Development," promised Zwirko. "The role of an EDD can work to bring in new businesses and even help support our Chamber of Commerce with new community events."

Zwirko also emphasized the importance on fighting climate change on a local level. "My administration will partner with the Melrose Energy Commission so we create a formal green plan intended to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050." The expiration of the trash contract in two years provides an opportunity to introduce sustainability into garbage collection. In order to do so, Zwirko said, "We will bring composting to the curbside, focus on reduction of waste and expand our recycling efforts."

Zwirko concluded by addressing what he views as the most important issue in the election: education. Noting that the mayor sits on the school committee, Zwirko called for updating school curriculum to emphasize interdisciplinary learning in order to prepare students for adult life. He also proposed hiring of an Inclusion and Diversity Director that covers all levels of Melrose Public Schools to ensure that this city remains true to its motto, "One Community Open to All."

Zwirko offered other policy proposals, but concluded on what establishes him apart from other candidates in the race. "My vision for Melrose goes beyond statements. I am putting forth real proposals that I intend to employ. That is what you should demand from your next Mayor: someone with a vision beyond the term itself."

Zwirko offered many other proposals that laid out his vision for Melrose, but the event was not entirely about policy itself - it kicked off with a heartfelt introduction by Zwirko's former Melrose Alliance Against Violence mentee, Adam Liebermann, who said, "Mike helped make Melrose better for me and that's why I'm confident he can make Melrose better for all of us as well."

If you are interested in learning more about mayoral candidate Mike Zwirko or want to get in touch with the campaign, visit www.zwirko.com.


Mike Zwirko
Letter to MassHousing on the Swains Pond 40B Development Proposal

April 30, 2019

Mr. Gregory Watson
Manager, Comprehensive Permit Programs
MassHousing
Attention: MH ID No. 1015
One Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108

Mr. Watson,

We, Scott Forbes and Michael Zwirko, are elected Aldermen in the City of Melrose, MA. One of us serves as a City-wide Alderman and the other for Ward 7, which is the section of the City where the MassHousing ID No. 1015 is being proposed. We are submitting this letter as a formal comment response to the Site Approval Application Notification the City of Melrose received on March 18, 2019. The applicants have named this proposed project the “Swains Pond Development” and I will refer to it as such in this comment response letter. As outlined in this letter, the Swains Pond Development (“SPD”) is unsuitable as proposed for its density, public health, environmental and safety concerns and should be rejected for eligibility by MassHousing.

As detailed in the materials attached with SPD’s application, and stated in the “Evidence of Prior Contact with the City of Melrose” section of the Development Summary, one of the developers, Mr. Sean Szekely, outlined the historical timeline of discussions with the City of Melrose regarding the SPD. However, discussions with the City of Melrose had occurred much earlier than detailed by Mr. Szekely. In fact, when he purchased the land from the New Hampshire entity that acquired the land in auction a number of years ago, City officials were upfront and clear about the issues with development on that parcel of land. Although the Planning Board approved a 9-unit subdivision plan in the late 1990s, the subdivision was never constructed due to the difficulties related to the land, primarily wetlands and the topography, and the resulting financial implications. 

Mr. Szekley has experience with the requirements of the City of Melrose when he took over the development of the 8 unit subdivision off of Dexter Road. He was aware of these requirements when he purchased the property off of Swains Pond Avenue and the conversations had with City of Melrose officials regarding the expectations for development of the subdivision. The property is simply too difficult and thus too costly to develop, and Mr. Szekely knows these facts. 

When Mr. Szekely purchased the Dexter Road property in 2016, he was fully aware of slope protections and environmental concerns the City had raised. These same concerns are paramount with the proposed SPD. The City of Melrose Office of Planning and Community Development stated at the time that the “Planning Staff supports this 8-lot subdivision...At eight lots, the length of the road is reduced substantially and many of the more significant areas of sloped terrain are left untouched.” The new plan reduced blasting by approximately 90 percent and the amount of the proposed disturbance to sloped areas was decreased from 21,740 square feet to approximately 1,630 square feet. 

As you can read from the above, the slope disturbances and blasting reductions are precisely why the City went to Land Court in the first place. The proposed SPD is on property directly abutting the Dexter Road development and Mr. Szekely knows the environmental, slope protection and topographical issues in developing this tract of land. The slope and blasting concerns will be compounded with the proposed SPD. Since 2016, Mr. Szekely has been acutely aware of the City’s concerns and he has continually not acted in good faith with City officials or the residents of this neighborhood. It is clear that his intention has always been to maximize development in this section of Melrose with wanton disregard for the residents and the environment. His proposal for a 40B development is simply to procure a profit in expediency rather than look for alternatives that could be mutually beneficial.

In addition to the many development impact issues of this parcel of land, to say that this plan is akin to “smart growth” policies and practices is laughable. Over the past decade, the City of Melrose has created new enhanced zoning areas ripe for Smart Growth developments and has seen many successful projects. The SPD is much further from any true public transportation locations in Melrose. Citing one bus line stop and further stating the the MBTA Orange Line is nearly two miles away cannot declare this project to be “Smart.” In no way is it explained or detailed how the SPD will reduce dependence on private automobiles. The truth is, given the location of this site in a remote and rural area of Melrose, it will create a large automobile demand.

The environmental impacts alone are so large that it should be grounds for its rejection. The SPD application states that there is a wetland on the site. In addition to that wetland, there are numerous wildlife that will be severely impacted and their habitats forever destroyed. Within 800 feet of this development are three areas that are either designated as conservation land or parkland. The applicant counters these environmental impacts by stating the site will be professionally landscaped. Landscaping is not natural nor does it allow for animal habitats. Further, the applicant addresses the wetland issues by stating they will “protect wetlands by adhering to DEP stormwater management standards.” In Mr. Szekely’s development and construction of the Dexter Road property, he has already had to appear in front of the Melrose Conservation Commission to address issues with discharges into wetlands. For him to claim he will be able to adhere to DEP stormwater management standards requires more significant inquiry from MassHousing. 

In conclusion, we urge MassHousing to reject this application so it will allow for the City of Melrose and Mr. Szekely to continue discussions on this parcel of land, as there are many items to address. MassHousing’s goals - as outlined on your “missions & values” section of your website - state to “confront the housing challenges facing the Commonwealth to improve the lives of its people” and, offer “innovation and agility in the delivery of responsible lending products, housing opportunities and services.” Your values are stated as “Integrity, Excellence, Collaboration, Respect, Accountability, Service.” In being true to your missions & values, we ask that the SPD be rejected to allow Melrose the autonomy to improve the lives of our people, be responsible with housing opportunities and further collaborate. The impacts to the environment, the collateral damage from blasting, the strain on existing infrastructure in this location all should give MassHousing pause. Melrose has been a leader in creating ways to develop in thoughtful ways. We are not opposed to growth. We are so in this location as it strains credulity as to why this is seen as “Smart” and even appropriate. As Mr. Szekely’s timeline in his application details, it is clear that this project development has been in haste. A project of this magnitude, with all of its impacts, requires more conversation. Allow the City to have these conversations so that costly litigation, time, resources and energy can be spared.

With sincere regards, 

Michael Zwirko
Alderman-at-Large, City of Melrose
100 Derby Road
Melrose, MA 02176
(781) 662-1966
MZwirko@cityofmelrose.org 

Scott Forbes
Ward 7 Alderman, City of Melrose
41 Mystic Avenue
Melrose, MA 02176
(978) 873-0916 
SForbes@cityofmelrose.org 

Sent via email and USPS Mail

Mike Zwirko
Zwirko Announces Melrose Mayoral Run

Alderman-at-Large Michael Zwirko announced his intention to run for Mayor on Tuesday, April 16. Below is his statement:

“After talking to many of my friends and neighbors here in Melrose, I have decided to pull papers on May 1st and run for the opportunity to be your next Mayor. Earlier this month, we saw our community take giant steps forward when it successfully passed the override. Serving on the Board of Aldermen for the last several years has taught me an awful lot about where Melrose wants to go and about the aspirations of our residents. Melrose will require a Mayor that embraces the leap of faith taken by the voters who made a financial commitment to address our fiscal challenges. I will be a Mayor who respects that trust and will not squander the opportunity this override has given us. The voters have huge expectations here, and that means we need a Mayor with the courage to be disruptive to existing paradigms and prioritize investment in the areas that sustainably improve the quality of our life.

For the first time in 18 years, the people of Melrose will be choosing a completely new candidate for Mayor. Because the list of needs are many, the old way of doing things just won’t work anymore. The next Mayor must be a hands-on Mayor. Where policy and practice meet. The next Mayor must have a determined work ethic, be dynamic, energetic, and agile. Have the ability to offer contemporary solutions by disrupting the old mind-set and the willingness to approach government differently. More of the same is not going to be a pathway to prosperity.

In a small community like Melrose, communication is essential to its success. Enhancing how our government interacts with its residents will be a key component of my campaign. Communication cannot be a one-way street, and it cannot always be top-down. There are a lot of caring people in Melrose who have insight and skills to offer. Let’s tap that potential. As Mayor, I will support initiatives that encourage ideas and promote conversations. I know that strong leadership, vision, and direction, combined with the energy of all of Melrose is what is required to put our future back in focus. Results are what I’m after; conversations often lead to better results.

Our school enrollment continues to grow and that will be a challenge over the next Mayoral term. Being able to address this while offering quality education and stimulating learning environments will not be easy, but it must be adaptive. The override helps in this regard as it supports restoring positions and eventually new space. Still, existing spaces will need to be repurposed and shifting of administrators may be considered in the future. But this is the next stage, and that will only be successful with input from stakeholders: Parents, students, administrators, elected officials and residents. We must open up these discussions and be inclusive in order to find the best path.

Education is a mainstay. But this isn’t just an opportunity to maintain good schools - it’s an opportunity to make them better. The next Mayor will confront a list of many needs. Let’s ask new questions when we consider those needs: How many people does it benefit? Is this something that makes Melrose more desirable? Does it create new opportunities for economic development? Is there a better way to do this? These questions must be asked and accountability established. We can become a more attractive place for growing families to live and still become economically viable - it will require a Mayor with creativity and sustained initiative to ensure that these goals are not mutually exclusive.

I look forward to continuing conversations with my neighbors in Melrose over the next five months. This will be a campaign of we, not me. I want to hear from you and build our vision for our community together. In fact, why not start today? Email me: Mike@Zwirko.com, visit my website at www.zwirko.com or call me: 781-662-1966, and let’s talk about how we can build a stronger city, because tomorrow matters for Melrose.”

Mike Zwirko