Last October, Councilor Tom Ciulla introduced a resolution which would have eliminated the three parking spots at City Hall reserved for Councilors. The resolution would ultimately fail unanimously, but the spirit of it, which is “how do we make City Hall more accessible to the residents?” should live on.
It should be clear that Councilor Ciulla’s resolution was less about parking spaces and more about making sure the taxpayers of Methuen have fair and reasonable access to their government and the services it provides – an area we should always be striving to improve. But how?
Currently, the solution offering the greatest potential solutions is extending the hours of City Hall.
Methuen City Hall is open Monday-Thursday 8am-4:30pm and Friday 8am-12pm. The glaring reality with these business hours is that many residents are working during these times, placing an undue burden on someone who needs to take care of business at City Hall. While Councilor. Ciulla’s solution was not a good fit, there is a solution which would potentially solve both accessibility issues.
For one night a week, City Hall should be opened later.
This solution to several problems may seem like a drastic step, where in reality it is a common practice in city and town halls across the Commonwealth. When looking into the statistics, we should shy away from simply looking next door to neighboring municipalities and instead looking across the state for cities/towns with similar populations. This should provide a more actuate picture since they are all serving similar amounts of people. Arlington (pop. 42,844), Medford (pop. 56,173), Peabody (pop. 1,251), Salem (pop. 41,340) and Taunton (pop. 55,874), to name a few, all have one day a week where the City/Town Hall is open until 7 or 7:30pm. While an extra two and a half hours once a week may not seem like a lot, it provides an opportunity for residents to take care of business with the city after they get off work.
While it is beneficial to study other municipalities and their operations, we do not have to copy their policies word for word. In Methuen’s case, I would favor an alteration which would keep the customer service office open until a later hour, while the remainder of City Hall would continue to operate under current hours. Since the Customer Service Office (part of the department of the City Clerk) is where a majority of the public’s business is done, keeping this office open later would address the current need without affecting any other departments. This would be a less drastic step than changing the entire building’s schedule, and would eliminate many logistical and contractual conflicts that would arise from changing hours of operation. There are certain sacrifices that would have to be made if a change like this were to happen, and it does need to be further explored, but anything that would benefit the community at-large should be seriously considered.
Like so many other cities and towns in the Commonwealth have done, we must take steps to make Methuen government more open and available to serve the needs of the public.
A change like this will undoubtedly not come easily or quickly and will not ultimately be determined by the Council. However, since change often begins with discussion, it is a discussion worth having. Despite Councilor Ciulla’s resolution being soundly defeated, there is a desire among the Council to make City Hall more accessible to the citizens of Methuen. Looking into this common sense, common practice approach would be a step in the right direction.
Daniel Grayton is currently serving as a Councilor at-Large in the City of Methuen. He can be reached at DanielGrayton@gmail.com