By: Methuen Mayor Neil Perry
This is the first column I’ve written since being elected Mayor of Methuen.
I must admit, these first five months have been a wild ride. Who could have predicted that 2020 would be like this? But I’m an eternal optimist, so I believe things are getting and will continue to get better. I intend to use this column each month to discuss a wide variety of topics and set the record straight. As always, I welcome your feedback and even disagreement – respectfully, of course. So, without delay……
During my campaign, I promised the residents independent department audits – starting with the Methuen Police Department, to address resident concerns and to ensure our police department uses best practices in management and operations. I am fulfilling that promise.
Recently much has been stated, and rather emotionally, about this audit. To ensure an inclusive and open process, I made sure the City Council’s Public Safety Committee joined me in sending out a Request for Proposal (RFP), reviewing the responses, and interviewing the two finalist firms. We all went to great lengths to ensure bias or pre-existing relationships would not compromise the integrity of the report. Together we selected CNA Corp.
When I scheduled a kickoff meeting with the members of the CNA team, I invited Councilor Simard (in his role as the Chair of the Public Safety Committee) and Chief Solomon as head of the department.
A heated exchange at City Council and threats to cancel the funding followed, which surprised and disappointed me. I am a veteran of many thousands of audits – internal, external, state and federal agencies and even internationally – and this kickoff meeting was consistent in practice and process with all others in my experience. It was held to discuss how to get going, especially in the face of Covid and accompanying travel restrictions. The meeting went off without a hitch. We discussed, without bias, if and when we could get started, what the timing would be on bringing in a team from out of state, and who would be the point of contact. I want the people of Methuen to be confident that I am taking full responsibility for this process, and therefore I personally will be the point of contact for the audit team.
The Methuen Police Department audit is designed to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, and restore the public trust in both the department and our government. While this is the first audit, it won’t be the last, funds permitting. My FY21 budget will include funds for additional audits.
This police audit will be the unbiased and unvarnished truth, and the citizens of Methuen will get real results. That’s transparency. That is my commitment now, as it always has been. I have asked Ed Flynn, head of the audit team, to attend the council meeting on Tuesday, June 9. I hope you get the chance to watch. After hearing from Mr. Flynn, I know you will agree with Councilor Simard and me: we picked the right team to do the audit.
While I continue to focus on the necessary day-to-day business of the city and move forward the audit and budget, I have to note that we find ourselves in particularly remarkable circumstances. Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, but we are at this very moment at a critical time in the history of our country. Intolerance on many issues appears to be at an all-time high. Mask versus no mask. Phased reopening versus complete and full reopening. Red versus Blue. All these topics, important though they may be fall far below what should be discussed most importantly and openly: the issue of bias and race in this country.
For the record, I’m a firm believer in the right of every man, woman, and child of any race, creed etc. to equal and fair treatment: “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. We can and we must do better to listen to one another, and improve upon the experiences of those who are negatively impacted by discrimination.
Racial bias is wrong, and impedes the progress and development of our country. I strongly believe this is the greatest country on earth – but it can even be better. The right of any citizen to peacefully protest injustice is essential to that progress. We must listen to one another, we must have open minds, we must have respectful discourse and act with tolerance.
Over 60 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. I could not agree more. Here in Methuen, I am going to set up public forums on the topic of race and bias and I welcome you to add your voice to these discussions. I want as many citizens involved in the discussion as possible. These are not easy discussions, and they can’t, in my humble opinion, be given due attention within social media threads. If we want to make impactful change, we need thoughtful discussion and meaningful plans of action, and I’m committed to making sure that happens in Methuen. If you’d like to be involved, please reach out to my office at City Hall, at 978-983-8505.
On this issue and all others, I recognize that the citizens of Methuen deserve the best representation available to them from their elected officials, and they deserve the truth – the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Stole that last gem from Dragnet. Sometimes it’s hard to fully understand everything that is happening, why it’s happening, and all the aspects related to it. We live in a world that wants immediate answers, and social media is seen as the quick fix. I get that. But partial truths, filtered on social media or in local newspapers do not get us to the level of understanding needed. That’s why I continue having regular open and honest conversations with residents, both in person and on my regular TV/Facebook/Podcast live appearances with Tom Duggan (first Thursday of every month) and on MCTV (airing live every Wednesday & Thursday at 5pm).
When necessary, I will set the record straight, and I need to do that on one issue today. Several city council meetings ago, I announced that Methuen would face a revenue shortfall in FY 21 of some $6-7M. A local paper headlined the next day that Methuen had a budget deficit of $6M and from there, the social media pundits opined regarding the mismanagement, greed and corruption that resulted in it; only, one thing was left out – there is no deficit. Methuen is predicting a revenue shortfall – as are the other 350 cities and towns across the Commonwealth – because state revenue to the city will not be as much as originally forecast due to the effect of Coronavirus.
This is not a mismanagement issue. Not a corruption issue. Not even a Methuen issue. The residents asked me to deliver fiscal responsibility, and I am proud that despite all of the challenges, I have worked with department heads across the city to ensure that Methuen will finish FY20 in the black. We have done the hard work to be fiscally responsible, and reporting or commenting otherwise hurts our city and its residents.
The lesson: fact check before you react, to any article or information – especially on social media. As I stated in my inaugural and stand by it – seek first to understand. My commitment to you, the citizens of Methuen, is to always do the right thing. Always. You may not agree with some of my decisions, and that is your right, but I’m happy to have any citizen come and talk to me – face to face, anytime. I work for you.
In closing, know that though the days are long and the tasks are many, I love and truly appreciate being your mayor. I am spending much of each day working hard on the budget, and will be fully transparent with what we propose. If you want to know how you can help, please reach out to Congresswoman Trahan and Senators Warren and Markey and let them know how important it is for your city to be able to use the CARES Act funding towards revenue shortfall – because right now it cannot be.
I love my hometown, and I’m working each and every day to make it better for all of us. If you have an idea, or a topic you’d like to discuss, or you’d like to see in a future column, I’d love to talk to you. So reach out and call my office or, as things start to re-open, make an appointment and come by for a chat. In the meantime, stay safe, and take care of each other.