Michael Driscoll attended his final City Council meeting during his career as Watertown’s Town and now City Manager that lasted nearly three decades.
At the end of the meeting, Driscoll spoke to the Council, the staff and the community and reflected upon his accomplishments, his appreciation of Watertown’s departments and their leaders, and provided some advice for “good government.”
Some of the highlights include improving Watertown’s facilities, building three elementary schools and constructing a new high school in coming years, and paying off the deficits in the City’s retirement and benefits accounts.
He thanked the City departments, and had some advice for the future direction of some, including the Watertown Police Department. Driscoll also congratulated a couple of department head who will also soon be retiring.
Finally, he thanked his family and quoted one of his favorite rock stars.
The following is a copy of Driscoll’s address given to at the Jan. 25, 2022, City Council meeting:
Mr. President, members of the City Council, the audience here and watching at home, as you are aware, on June 22 in this room I announced my intention to retire as the Town Manager and now City Manager at the end of this month, which will be 45 years of serving our community; with the last 29 years as Watertown’s Town/City Manager. My first Council meeting as Acting Town Manager was March 9, 1993. Tonight, is my last Council meeting as City Manager and I wanted to offer remarks on some good government initiatives and thank many folks tonight.
Much has been accomplished over the last 29 years and wanted to touch on a few of the accomplishments.
We have initiated services such as curbside recycling over 27 years ago and Intermunicipal agreements for services with Belmont.
We created an aggressive capital improvement program and reinvested in the infrastructure of our community including the following:
• We built a new Senior Center in 1993 and a new Police Station in 2010. We should look to build a new Senior Center.
• We have renovated and expanded the Library and Public Works facility, with both buildings being the envy of surrounding communities.
• We have renovated three fire stations, Town Hall, skating arena and parks and playgrounds.
• City Council has appropriated $17.4 million dollars within the General Fund Budget over the last 24 years for street and sidewalk improvements; and beginning in FY2013 and continuing through FY 2027 has or will authorize loan orders for another $59.9 million of street and sidewalk improvements, all within the confines of Proposition 2 1⁄2.
• On November 7, 2013, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, a municipal bond credit rating agency, upgraded the City’s long-term rating from ‘AA+’ to ‘AAA’, the highest rating attainable.
• Fully Funded Retirement System as of July 1, 2021
As a result of aggressive funding of the Retirement System, whereby the Pension appropriation increased by $11,159,992 from Fiscal Year 2009 through Fiscal Year 2019, which is a 152.34% increase or an annual average increase of 15.23% over those ten fiscal years, the City’s Unfunded Pension Liability is now fully funded!
• Funding Plan to Address the Unfunded (OPEB) Liability
As a result of aggressive funding of the Retirement System, the Unfunded Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Liability is being addressed with the continued implementation of a Funding Plan that began in Fiscal Year 2020. The City is having an actuarial valuation of the Post Retirement Benefit Program as of June 30, 2021. Subsequent to that valuation, the OPEB Funding Plan is estimated to have the OPEB Liability fully funded in 2031.
I am not aware of any Massachusetts community that has a fully funded retirement system and an aggressive funding plan to fund the OPEB Liability.
The guiding principle in these two good government issues is Council‘s long standing ongoing budget policy guidelines IC – which reads in part as follows
IC. Pension Liability and Other Post-Employment Benefits: In order to achieve long term financial stability, meet the City’s obligations to its employees and retirees, and maintain favorable bond ratings, the Council, the Retirement Board and Town Manager will work to address the City’s unfunded pension liability and other post-employment benefits (OPEB).
Given that ongoing budget policy guideline and the Retirement Board’s recent review of certain financial indicators, and with respect to the earlier referral tonight to the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Oversight, I respectfully request City Council’s favorable consideration of the Retirement Board’s request to increase the base of the retiree cost of living adjustment from 3% of $13,000 (max $390 per year per retiree) to 3% of $14,000 (max $420 per year per retiree). The last increase to the base was effective July 1, 2015.
• Funding of the Three Elementary Schools Project
As a result of aggressive funding of the Retirement System, financing of the $170,000,000 for the Three Elementary Schools Project continues in Fiscal Year 2022 and all of this project is being done within the confines of Proposition 2 1⁄2.
As you are aware, after significant discussions with the School Committee, School Building Committee and City Council, the City leased Saint Jude School, Waltham beginning on July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2023 for swing space for the Three Elementary Schools Project.
This decision allowed the Cunniff and Lowell Schools to be completed two years earlier than originally projected!
The Cunniff and Hosmer Schools were bid as a single collective package in order to receive the most competitive pricing and to ensure the two schools will receive the same building systems and materials; and allow for management of a single contractor for these two projects.
On June 9, 2020 the Honorable City Council unanimously approved a Proposed Loan Order totaling $103,455,000 to pay costs of constructing a new Hosmer and Cunniff Elementary Schools.
Construction began at the Cunniff and Hosmer during Summer 2020 and the Cunniff School was completed in October 2021; and the Hosmer School will be completed next month.
Construction is anticipated to begin at the Lowell School in March 2022 and completion is anticipated by end of Summer 2023. The current Lowell Elementary School will vacate during the February 2022 school vacation and relocate between the Philips Building and the City leased Saint Jude School property, located in Waltham. Lowell School is planned as a complete renovation and an addition to enlarge and bring the existing school to meet the educational program needs and preserve equity among the three elementary schools within the district.
I would have liked to bring forward the Proposed Loan Order to pay costs for the Lowell Elementary School Project prior to my tenure ending as City Manager. I am very confident the City Administration and City Council will move forward with this project in the next couple of months.
• Acquisition of Land/Open Space Stabilization Fund
On May 11, 2021, as a follow-up to conceptual recommendation #32 on the Fiscal Year 2022- 2026 Capital Improvement Program, the Honorable City Council established an Acquisition of Land/Open Space Stabilization Fund and approved an initial appropriation of $6,500,000 thereto. We currently have $10 Million in the acquisition of land/open space stabilization fund.
• New High School Stabilization Fund
At the same meeting on May 11th and as a follow-up to the top priority of the Honorable City Council’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Policy Guidelines and conceptual recommendation #22 on the Fiscal Year 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Program, the Honorable City Council established a New High School Building Stabilization Fund and approved an initial transfer of $2,500,000 thereto. We currently have $201,445 in the New High School Stabilization Fund as a result of expenditures being made related to the New High School Project.
• New High School Project
The School Building Committee has been working tirelessly to review conceptual design options for the new High School in an effort to ultimately select a preferred design option that is in the best interests of the Town, the taxpayers and the successful education of our children.
During all of the School Building Committee’s tireless efforts, we had been working on how best to proceed with the financing of the new High School. I am pleased that a plan was finalized and presented at October’s Fiscal Year 2023 Preliminary Budget Overview whereby financing of the new High School Project with MSBA funding included will be done within the confines of Proposition 21⁄2; and all of this to be done without the need to request debt exclusion financing from the taxpayers of Watertown.
The Honorable City Council’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Policy Guideline II.A. reads as follows:
• Continue support for Building for the Future Initiative funding in collaboration with the School Building Committee, for the Three Elementary Schools project, and for the MSBA High School project, without debt exclusion funding.
As a follow-up to that Budget Policy Guideline, $200,000,000 has been included in the Fiscal Year 2023-2027 Capital Improvement Program for the New High School Project.
• Group Insurance Commission
The last good government item that I want to mention tonight is the Group Insurance Commission.
As you know, the City was one of 11 Massachusetts communities joining the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission in Fiscal Year 2010. A Memorandum of Agreement was executed with the Public Employee Committee transferring the City’s group health insurance coverage to the Group Insurance Commission beginning July 1, 2009 and continuing through June 30, 2015.
In May 2014, a Memorandum of Agreement was executed with the various member groups of the Public Employee Committee continuing the City’s group health coverage under the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) through June 30, 2021.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Memorandum of Agreement, the City and the Public Employee Committee were to meet to discuss the upcoming expiration of the parties’ agreement and an extension beyond its current June 30, 2021 expiration. The City and the Public Employee Committee did not meet. In accordance with the applicable GIC regulation, the City was re-enrolled for the minimum renewal period of 2 years. The City and the Public Employee Committee have been engaged in negotiations for a further extension beyond the June 30, 2023 expiration.
I am very pleased to inform you that the City has reached an agreement with the various member groups of the Public Employee Committee on a Memorandum of Agreement continuing the City’s group health coverage under the Group Insurance Commission through June 30, 2026.
This decision allows the City to continue providing quality health insurance to its employees and retirees. Additionally, the City has been the beneficiary of the Group Insurance Commission’s proven track record of cost containment and stability. The Fiscal Year 2022 appropriation of $18,316,330 for “Insurance & Employee Benefits” is $4,962,617 higher than the Fiscal Year 2009 appropriation of $13,353,713, some thirteen fiscal years ago and is a 37.16% increase over that time period or an annual average of 2.86%. This track record will continue to greatly assist in the development of future budgets, while striving to provide the highest level of essential services to the citizens of Watertown while utilizing the taxpayers’ dollars as effectively as possible.
These accomplishments are good government initiatives that have involved a lot of planning, a lot of hard work and a commitment to the taxpayers of Watertown.
• City Council
As Town/City Manager and since 1993, I have seen firsthand a lot of hard work and commitment to the taxpayers of Watertown from 15 sets of Town/City Councillors who were elected in the biennial Town election for 2-year terms by the voters of our community. I would like to personally thank all of the Town/City Councillors who have served from 1993 and through 2021 for all of their efforts. The 16th set of City Councillors began their terms earlier this month. I know you will continue the hard work and commitment to the taxpayers of Watertown.
As mentioned on June 22, 2021, the final report of the Watertown Charter Commission that was issued in 1980 indicated that a majority of the Charter Commission’s members believe that a special relationship should exist between the Council President and the City Manager. After serving as a City Councillor since 1995, Mark Sideris was elected City Council President on November 3, 2009. Since January 2010, Honorable City Council President Mark Sideris has strived and fulfilled the expectation of the original Charter Commission members that a special relationship should exist . Mr. President, thank you again for all of your efforts.
• School Committee and Library Trustees
I would like to offer my appreciation to the other 2 elected bodies, Honorable School Committee and Honorable Library Board of Trustees, for all of their efforts on behalf of the citizens of our community.
• Department Heads and Employees
As a follow-up to earlier comments regarding hard work and commitment to the taxpayers of Watertown, we are blessed that our City employees are incredibly committed and are led by talented and dedicated Department Heads who put their heart and soul into their responsibilities. All but a couple of City Department Heads are here tonight.
I am very appreciative and will always be grateful for all of their efforts.
First, I would like to thank Dr. Galdston, her staff and the faculty in our school system for their efforts in the successful education of our children.
• Fire Department
Next, I would like to thank Chief Quinn and all the members of the fire department for their 24/7
The Fire Department is a well-trained team of professionals that provides fire protection, rescue and emergency medical services, and emergency response to the citizens of Watertown and its visitors.
The citizens of Watertown are very proud of their Fire Department and the members of the Fire Department work tirelessly to make Watertown a better place to live and work.
• Fire Chief Quinn’s Retirement
Please take the opportunity to contact Chief Quinn and wish him well after working tirelessly for the citizens of Watertown as Provisional Fire Chief since October 15, 2017 and Permanent Fire Chief since September 6, 2018 ; and as a member of the Watertown Fire Department since April 30, 1987. Chief Quinn will retire on April 30, 2022, 35 years to the day that he started his career in the Watertown Fire Department!
• Police Department
There has been lots of discussion on our Police Department during calendar year 2021. I would like to thank Chief Lawn, who is a very good Police Chief, and all of the members of the Police Department as the department is significantly ahead of other Police Departments.
An excerpt from the Matrix Study done in 2012 on the management and operations of the Police Department reads as follows: “it is clear to this project team that Watertown has an exceptional police department in comparison not only to other Commonwealth agencies but nationally. While there are many recommendations in this report to improve operations these should be viewed to be evolutionary rate than a need to radical change.”
All of us should be very proud that the Police Department was officially awarded full re-accreditation in 2018 through the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission after being a fully accredited department since 2015. To achieve this status, the Police Department had to meet 322 carefully selected standards which address critical areas such as policy development, use of force, training requirements, emergency response planning, records & communications, property & evidence handling, vehicular pursuits, holding facilities and budgeting. Massachusetts is one of 25 states to offer an accreditation process for the police profession. The Police Department is committed to maintaining this accreditation status and was awarded full re-accreditation in August 2021. Only 27% of the police departments in the Commonwealth are accredited.
Lastly, at the close of 2020, comprehensive police reform legislation for the Commonwealth was enacted, which establishes a Peace Officer Standards and Training (“POST”) Commission and certification system. This legislation, entitled “An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth,” (the “Act”) was the product of various compromises between the Governor and the state Legislature. Some of the Act’s provisions are currently in effect, while others will take effect over the course of 2021.
As with all extensive reform efforts, it will take time for the promulgation of relevant state regulations implementing the Act, and then for the Act and its implementing regulations to be interpreted by relevant state agencies and officials.
The Police Department is awaiting the above-mentioned promulgation of relevant state regulations regarding the Act. Thereafter, as I mentioned in the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Message dated April 27, 2021 and stated at Committee meetings in 2021, the Police Department will move forward with compliance with the comprehensive police reform legislation.
• Department of Public Works (DPW)
I want to thank DPW Superintendent Gregory St. Louis and all of the members of the Department of Public Works, who are part of the first responders’ team, for their substantial contributions they make to protect our health, safety and quality of life. I want to thank the Department of Public Works for their efforts in day to day needs of our residents such as planning, designing, operating, maintaining, and managing public ways and infrastructure, the maintenance of park lands, open space, public grounds and buildings, city cemeteries, water distribution systems, sewer and drain collection systems, and the collection and disposal of solid waste and recycling. The department also maintains municipal motor equipment and the Town’s street tree inventory.
• Watertown Free Public Library
I would like to next thank Leone Cole and all the members of the Library for their efforts in providing library services to all of our citizens and for being open the most hours of any library in the Commonwealth!
• Library Director Leone Cole’s Retirement
Please take the opportunity to contact Ms. Cole and wish her well after working tirelessly for the citizens of Watertown as Library Director since March 20, 1995, some 27 years ago!
• Watertown Council on Aging / Senior Center
I would like to thank Anne Marie Gagnon and her staff. The Watertown Council on Aging/Senior Center provides a variety of social, health, educational, recreational, advocacy, and support programs designed to help Watertown’s older adults age well in the community.
• Recreation & Skating Arena
I would like to thank Recreation Director Peter Centola and Skating Arena Manager Dan Brothers and their staff for all of their efforts.
• Public Building Department
I would like to thank James Kane, the new Director of Public Buildings and his staff for keeping 775,000 square feet of space safe, accessible, functional, and inviting while protective of Watertown’s historic heritage and town pride.
• City Attorney
I would like to acknowledge Mark Reich and all of his colleagues at KP Law for all of their efforts since April 1993 when the law firm was confirmed as Town Attorney now City Attorney by Town Council now City Council. I would also like to personally thank Joe Fair, KP Law for all of his efforts as Labor Counsel for almost 20 years.
• Last but not least all the employees in the City Hall
I have been fortunate to work alongside with my fellow colleagues in the City Hall. They are remarkable individuals that serve the community as frontline representative to provide essential and ongoing service to our community. They show-up daily and these individuals demonstrate a “business as usual” attitude with hope, leadership, compassion, and dedication. Thank you for the significant work on the frontline of city hall. I remain especially grateful for your service to the residents of Watertown.
As previously stated, I am very appreciative and will always be grateful for all of their efforts. I would also like to thank our Board and Commission members for their tireless efforts and for the continued support of our Legislative delegation. One member of the delegation is here tonight, Representative John Lawn. I have worked with John when he was a Councillor and now as State Representative. John, thank you again for all of your efforts.
We are living in an unprecedented time where our world, our nation and our community, is faced with the threat of an international pandemic known as COVID-19.
There were COVID-19 fatalities in Watertown. Our thoughts and prayers stay with the families as they mourn the loss of their loved one.
Thank you to all our City employees who are incredibly committed to ensuring the city can safely meet the needs of our community while we are also protecting our employees’ safety. I am so grateful for all our employees’ efforts under difficult circumstances.
Thank you to all citizens of our community as Watertown has been a resilient community and we are all in this together. We will continue to support each other and stay strong, Watertown Strong!
My family starts with my beautiful, lovely and wonderful wife, Jane, who is here tonight. Jane is my everything and I love her dearly. I will be forever grateful for her unwavering support and concern for my well-being. Thank you, Jane. I am really looking forward to spending more time together and have committed to having dinners at a far more reasonable time, unlike the many late dinners through the years.
Jane and I along with our four daughters and two precious grandchildren along with other family members look forward to seeing members of our community at the Saturday, May 21st event at the Commander’s Mansion that the City Council President announced earlier tonight.
As I have mentioned many times throughout the years, the goal of this administration and all of the Town departments is to provide the highest level of services to the citizens of Watertown while utilizing the taxpayers’ dollars as efficiently as possible.
I believe the 29 budgets that have been submitted beginning with Fiscal Year 1994 and through Fiscal Year 2022 are consistent with this goal; and are focused on achieving the long-term goal of sound financial management and fiscal stability in accordance with the Honorable Town Council’s Ongoing Budget Guidelines.
One of my favorite songs is Forever Young by Rod Stewart. Tonight, I think of a sentence in the song which is “And when you finally fly away, I’ll be hoping that I served you well!”
In closing, and most importantly I want to thank all of the members of our community for their support throughout the years. It has been and is a privilege and an honor to serve as Town/City Manager for all the citizens of Watertown.
Thank you and God Bless.