Executive Director's Report

Connect, Engage, Be Inspired

Geoff Beckwith

Annual Report to the Members
Submitted by MMA Executive Director & CEO Geoff Beckwith, January 2023

We are so pleased to welcome you to the MMA’s 44th Annual Meeting! After three long years, all of us on the MMA staff are excited to get back to the Hynes Convention Center and gather in person for the largest conference of municipal officials in this part of the country.

The theme for our conference is Connect, Engage, Be Inspired. Connect because this meeting will renew this unique opportunity to network with municipal colleagues from every region, every role, and every viewpoint, to share ideas and experiences and build relationships that will last for years. Engage because there are big changes and big issues to address together, from fiscal stability to municipal infrastructure to economic renewal, and everything in between, and this is a chance to lean in with your colleagues to advance ideas and solutions. Be Inspired because it is inspirational to be in the same room with hundreds and hundreds of public leaders who are all working to move their communities forward, and the energy and insights we gain this weekend can carry us forward into the new year with gusto.

I’d like to thank the special guests who are joining us for our conference. We are so pleased that Governor Maura Healey, Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and our session speakers, Elizabeth Lombardo, Anthony Everett, Clarence Anthony and Marc Ott, will anchor our program. And please join me in giving special thanks to the presenters and moderators for our 18 workshops and 10 Learning Labs. We are packing a lot of great content into our two days!

2022 has been a year of transition for communities, especially in dealing with COVID. We started last year with a massive spike in cases as the coronavirus variant phenomenon hit the state like wildfire. Omicron flared across Massachusetts, and many worried that the public health crisis was looping back to a shutdown mode. Yet, even though tens of thousands of new infections were occurring daily, communities stayed open and public services continued at full strength. Using past experiences and learning, and finely tuned messaging and interventions, local leaders were proactive, and the crisis soon ebbed. Then, as COVID began morphing into an endemic state, localities ramped up economic recovery and renewal efforts, and built budgets and ARPA spending plans to move communities forward.

The strong partnership forged between local officials and the Baker-Polito administration, supported by strong investments by the Legislature, provided continuity during the past year, even as new challenges emerged. Burgeoning state revenues and unprecedented federal aid shored up the state’s fiscal position, although high inflation and relatively flat local revenues increased local budget stress. The Legislature moved to increase municipal and school aid, recognizing that using the state’s strong fiscal position to support municipalities is a wise long-term economic investment. In November, voters elected a new team to serve in the State House’s corner office, and the baton hand-off from the Baker-Polito administration to the Healey-Driscoll administration was as smooth and steady as any in the nation. Local officials have great reason to be confident that the state-local partnership and collaboration of the past eight years will continue unabated, as Gov. Healey and Lt. Gov. Driscoll have voiced their firm belief that Massachusetts can only move forward if all our cities and towns are strong and vibrant.

Through these challenges, successes, and transitions, my colleagues and I on the MMA staff have been deeply inspired by your resilience and leadership. You’ve continued to protect your communities from the worst of the pandemic, you’ve engaged citizens more directly and fully than any other level of government, and you’ve put us on the path to recovery and growth.

From the Berkshires to Boston, from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, from the Pioneer Valley to the Blackstone Valley to the Merrimack Valley, and all places in between, you and your colleagues in local government are united by a common commitment to make the most dynamic and essential level of American government work for the residents of our great state. You demonstrate that municipal government has what it takes to solve our most vexing economic and social problems, and deliver the building-block services that serve as the foundation for a high quality of life.

United under the MMA umbrella, local leaders stand as a powerful coalition to advance and address the needs of our communities, dedicated to making Massachusetts an ever-better place for our residents, families, businesses and taxpayers.

As we have highlighted at past Annual Meetings and in our advocacy work every day, cities and towns are the cornerstone of Massachusetts’ economic prosperity and are fundamental to our success in an increasingly global, mobile and virtual marketplace. Local services create the high quality of life we need to attract and retain people, families, workers and businesses to our state.

That’s why state and national officials need to embrace a strong and productive intergovernmental partnership as an essential strategy to move our economy and society forward. Our federal and state leaders must understand the indispensable role that cities and towns play in building a stronger Massachusetts, and we need our partners to continue investing in fiscal stability at the local level.

It is the MMA’s job to coalesce local leaders’ priorities into an action agenda that gives cities and towns the tools, resources and authority to build stronger communities in every region of Massachusetts, and to present that agenda to the governor and state and federal lawmakers for adoption. Your relationships with legislators and our advocacy on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill make for a great combination to ensure that your voice is heard.

Cities and towns are doing the real work that provides a foundation of stability and opportunity for our citizens, delivering the basic services of a modern society: public education, police and fire protection, emergency medical response, transportation and public works, library resources, public health, economic development and planning, civil defense and emergency preparedness, senior and youth programs, and much more.

The MMA’s mission is clear: to provide a powerful voice for the needs of cities and towns, to provide educational, technical and program services that support the efforts of local leaders to serve their communities, and to provide a network and platform that will build a brighter future.

I am pleased to report that the MMA is delivering on our mission, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our dedicated and tireless staff, under the leadership of our fantastic Board of Directors.

Highlights of 2022 – Maintaining Nimble Operations to Serve Our Members
Starting in March 2020, the pandemic shutdown forced communities to transform their operations and stand up new ways of doing business and new programs and services to fulfill their mission and meet the crisis head-on. The same was true of the MMA. Adjusting throughout the public health emergency, the MMA has delivered services to our members in virtual, hybrid and in-person formats based on the situation and need.

Here’s a sample of key action steps the MMA staff took to lead and respond to the emergency:

Going Virtual, Hybrid, and Preparing for the Future. The MMA continues to operate in a hybrid format, firmly establishing the capability to fully serve our members in-person or remotely. In 2020, we put in place the technology for our staff to work remotely. In 2021, recognizing that the future of work will be a blend of remote and in-person, we transitioned our physical office to a new, smaller workspace with excellent technological capacity, so that we can operate with maximum effectiveness and efficiency in the post-pandemic world. During this time, we continued to deliver high-quality webinars, virtual meetings and in-person sessions for all our affiliate associations, our website continued to be recognized as a national leader among municipal leagues with outstanding information for our members, and our staff continued to produce top-quality publications and training.

We have returned to our normal in-person model for our affiliate groups, but have added to the MMA’s staff so that we are continuing to offer online training and webinars, and are curating a library of easy-to-access webinars for our members to access on the full range of municipal issues and operations. This year alone, the MMA has produced 30 new webinars for our members (you can see them here)! In short, MMA’s membership programs now reach more local officials than at any time in our history.

Connecting Local and State Leaders. The MMA continues to serve as a critical platform through which top state leaders and offices can communicate with cities and towns. To date, the MMA has hosted and moderated dozens and dozens of briefings for municipal CEOs by the lieutenant governor, cabinet secretaries and key state officials. The briefings are recorded as webinars and posted on the MMA website, along with answers to nearly all questions posed by local officials. In recent months, the MMA has worked with state leaders to bring you briefings on the migration and housing crisis, ARPA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, police reform, and more.

MMA Website Provides Extraordinary News and Content. The MMA website continues to be one of the very best among our nation’s state municipal associations, providing you and the public with all the late-breaking news concerning local government, a huge archive of policy information, deep resources on ARPA and COVID-19, timely stories of innovations in cities and towns across the state, and copies of all of the MMA’s testimony on budgets, legislation and regulations.

• Delivering Dynamic Publications. The MMA’s flagship publication, The Beacon, continues in electronic format (here’s the January 2023 issue) so that municipal officials and employees get faster access to essential information. We are transforming our Municipal Directory into a new interactive online resource that will enhance its value to you, and I can’t thank our communications staff enough for all the work they are doing. And our every-Friday Weekly Review blast email, summarizing the top municipal news of the week, is received by more than 2,200 municipal officials. (Opt-in here if you haven’t already.)

Continuity of MIIA Risk Management and Wellness Programs. On the MIIA side of the operation, the transformation has been equally remarkable. Our MIIA staff completely overhauled our systems so that the operation could continue without missing a beat, providing first-in-class risk management services, claims administration, wellness programs, and much more. Visit www.emiia.org to see for yourself!

The MMA-Suffolk Educational Programs Are Going Strong. The MMA-Suffolk University Certificate in Local Government Leadership and Management, and our Municipal Finance Management Seminar, are operating at full steam. In September, the MMA will launch our 21st and 22nd classes, bringing us well over 500 municipal employees who will receive a Certificate in Local Government Leadership and Management — the equivalent of five graduate-level MPA courses. Many of our Certificate students have already been promoted to new positions with more responsibility, which is very rewarding to see. And our Finance Seminar, initiated because of the shortage of qualified municipal finance professionals, is now held three times a year and has already graduated more than 200 students. You can learn more at www.mma.org/suffolk.

MMA-Suffolk University Municipal Fellowship Program. Building on the major success of the MMA’s partnership with Suffolk University, which has provided invaluable education opportunities for more than 700 municipal employees across the state, Suffolk University created a Municipal Fellowship in its MPA program. This fellowship awards an annual scholarship of up to $28,000 to full-time municipal employees who have graduated from the MMA-Suffolk Certificate program and are continuing on to pursue a full MPA degree at Suffolk University. More information on how to apply and the selection process is available on the MMA website.

Delivering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resources for Our Communities. In 2021, the MMA worked closely with the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) program to develop and bring racial equity training and tools to municipalities in Massachusetts and neighboring states. The MMA and the NLC produced an intensive, three-part training on racial equity during the summer, attended by more than 150 Massachusetts local officials. That was just the beginning.

During 2022, we began a thoughtful process to develop a comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative for our members to continue this work over the years ahead. This past summer and fall, we formed the MMA’s DEI Advisory Committee and crafted a comprehensive framework to guide the development and presentation of DEI training and resources for our member communities. Please go to the MMA Annual Meeting App to read MMA’s DEI Framework. We are in the process of securing the services of a strategic consultant to advise us as we shape our programs for maximum effectiveness, and look forward to exciting announcements and programs during 2023. This is critical work, and we will highlight the importance of municipally based DEI work at the closing session of Annual Meeting, bringing in the leaders of the National League of Cities and the International City/County Management Association to talk about work going on in communities throughout the country.

Fiscal Stewardship of Your Association. I am pleased to report that even with the disruption in our programs, conferences and operations, the MMA’s fiscal 2022 budget closed in the black, and our fiscal health remains very strong. Further, the MMA’s Executive Committee adopted a balanced budget for fiscal 2023 that continues all of the MMA’s programming, operations and member services, while adjusting dues by a below-inflation 2%, and adjusting revenues and expenses for post-pandemic realities. The MMA emerged from the pandemic at full strength, thanks to years of financial planning and a commitment to fiscal stewardship by our staff and leadership. This is all the more impressive because we achieved this with a last-minute cancellation of our January 2022 in-person Annual Meeting, while still settling into our new office at 3 Center Plaza in Boston, which provides us with modern technology that is allowing us to deliver services much more effectively in a hybrid-format world. In other words, we have enhanced our capacity to serve our members and continued to stand on very solid financial ground, and that is very good news for the MMA and our members.

The MMA’s Fantastic Staff Has Made This Possible. Lots of you get a chance to see and meet many of our membership, communications, legislative, risk management and wellness teams in normal times, so you have a great idea of how amazing they have been during this year. But please do not overlook the truly fantastic efforts of those dedicated staff members who you don’t know or see every day. And I can’t say enough about our IT, finance, database, and administrative colleagues at the MMA. Their ingenuity and hard work provided us with the platform and capacity that allowed for all of the MMA’s transformational changes. This has truly been an “all hands on deck” success. When you have a moment, please go to the MMA staff page on the MMA website to look at who does what on our team. They are all terrific!

Advocating for Strong Municipal Government Every Single Day
Your membership in the MMA ensures that cities and towns in Massachusetts have a loud and effective voice when municipal issues are being debated on Beacon Hill and in Washington.

The value of your membership in the MMA has never been clearer. Working tirelessly with local officials, we have leveraged the strength of cities and towns to engage with the governor, legislators and state officials on every key issue, from the pandemic to local aid, from municipal operations to economic development, and everything in between.

Protecting and Investing in Local Aid. As you recall, the MMA’s advocacy protected local aid in the fiscal 2021 budget, which wasn’t enacted by the state until December 2020. Knowing that cities and towns could not wait that long, the MMA worked with state officials, who announced in July that existing local aid levels for Unrestricted General Government Aid and Chapter 70 would be protected, providing stability at a time when the state was still in lockdown mode. The state delayed the start of the Student Opportunity Act by one year. At a time of great uncertainty and unpredictability, the MMA’s advocacy provided stable ground to stand on.

Then, as the state began to deliberate on the fiscal 2022 state budget (last year’s spending plan), with state revenues stable and increasing, the MMA secured a $40 million increase in discretionary local aid (UGGA), and worked with key stakeholders and legislators to put implementation of the Student Opportunity Act back on track. Originally, the SOA was going to start the phase-in of new education aid in fiscal 2021, and finish in seven years (fiscal 2027). Because state revenues had rebounded, the MMA called for a six-year plan to fully fund the SOA, putting us back on track for fiscal 2027. And the MMA achieved that victory. In addition, the Legislature fully funded the Special Education Circuit Breaker, and provided increases for regional school transportation, charter school reimbursements, Community Compact funds, MassWorks, aid to rural schools, and began a the-year plan to fully fund the important payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) program.

This year’s fiscal 2023 state budget showed continued progress and partnership. With state revenues continuing to increase, the MMA worked with the Legislature to double the governor’s original UGGA increase, from 2.7% to 5.4%, adding $63 million to discretionary local aid. Further, the Legislature doubled minimum school aid to $60 per student, increased Chapter 70 to nearly $6 billion a year, and fully implemented the Student Opportunity Act’s enhanced reimbursements for Special Education and charter school tuition a full year ahead of schedule. The PILOT program continued to grow, with a $10 million increase.

The Legislature’s final economic development bill, passed in November, included $480 million in funding for key municipal priorities, including $25 million more for broadband, $304.5 million for housing programs, $20 million for migrant and refugee shelter and housing, $115 million for the Clean Water Trust, and $20 million of the year-end surplus was transferred to support the state’s Community Preservation Act match.

In addition, the state enacted more than $15 billion in major bond authorizations to stand up hundreds of millions of transportation and infrastructure programs that will benefit cities and towns for years to come. You can read the details here and here.

Winning Unprecedented Federal Aid through ARPA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act – Including a Major Congressional Win Just Weeks Ago (read the final bullet for that). The MMA has an excellent working relationship with the entire Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and worked just as closely with the Baker-Polito administration’s Federal Funds Office. In addition, the MMA is an active partner with the National League of Cities, joining with 48 other states in calling for strong federal investment in cities and towns. (Hawaii doesn’t have a municipal association!) In all these ways, the MMA has played a key role in placing the Bay State’s issues front and center in the national municipal agenda. Here are the highlights, which have brought never-before seen aid to the communities of Massachusetts:
– In 2021, the MMA worked for months to provide essential information to the Massachusetts federal delegation, and on a national advocacy initiative with the NLC, on the need to invest American Rescue Plan Act funding directly in local governments, and the result was an unprecedented package of direct aid to Massachusetts cities and towns of $2 billion.
– In addition, Massachusetts played a major role working with the National League of Cities, the Massachusetts federal delegation, and municipal associations in neighboring states to win a special provision in the final ARPA rule to redistribute $945 million in county aid directly to cities and towns located in non-functioning counties. (The communities located in functioning county governments are negotiating to receive these funds.) For the vast majority of cities and towns, the MMA’s advocacy helped to more than double their ARPA funding, from $105 to $299 per capita!
– And in another big win, the MMA worked with the Massachusetts federal delegation and the National League of Cities to call on the U.S. Treasury to issue the most flexible rules possible under ARPA, so that communities could make best use of the funds to revitalize their cities and towns. Our senators and representatives were resolute and effective. The result was a final rule that allowed all communities to use up to $10 million of their ARPA aid (if they receive that much) as eligible for lost revenue — the most flexible funding use possible.
– The MMA worked with our federal lawmakers and the NLC to advocate for the bipartisan infrastructure and investment package signed into law by President Joe Biden late last year. This law will deliver up to $9 billion for critical transportation, water, wastewater, stormwater, broadband, and cybersecurity infrastructure to Massachusetts alone over the next five years.
And, in a huge development in late December 2022, our federal delegation helped to lead Congress in passing a federal budget that INCREASED spending flexibility for your local ARPA dollars, which you can read about here. The bottom line is that cities and towns can use up to $10 million or 30% of their ARPA funds (whichever is greater) for projects that are eligible under Community Development Block Grants, federal transportation programs, or disaster relief. The MMA will be working with the National League of Cities to get information out to you as soon as the U.S. Treasury Department develops updated guidelines, expected in February.

Continuing the Fight to Fund Chapter 90. The MMA has led the fight to increase Chapter 90 funding for local roads. Our advocacy brought the program up to $200 million 11 years ago, but our target is much more ambitious. Our goal is to reach at least $330 million on a permanent basis, growing each year indexed by inflation; unfortunately, this has been elusive. To enhance local infrastructure funding, the MMA strongly supported and helped to renew support for the program to repair small bridges across the state, and investments in the Complete Streets program.

Building on the MMA’s Past Successes. Some of the MMA’s past victories are dramatic and easy to notice and quantify, such as the MMA-led campaign to achieve municipal health insurance reform, which has delivered more than $2 billion in savings and cost avoidance to cities and towns since its passage, allowing you to protect essential services, preserve jobs, and promote the best interests of local taxpayers. Further, over the past 10 fiscal years, the MMA has succeeded in restoring $400 million to Unrestricted General Government Aid, and has won similar municipal and education funding investments. The MMA has many other well-known legislative successes, including passage of the first-ever local option meals tax, increasing local lodging excise tax options, closing the century-old telecommunications tax loophole on poles and wires, protecting local aid from deeper-than-expected cuts in the final versions of the state budget during the Great Recession, and passage of the Municipal Modernization Act, which updated and reformed more than 200 outdated provisions in state law. Standing alone, the MMA also serves as the primary advocate on civil service, collective bargaining, public retirement and other important labor-management issues, working to give cities and towns the tools to manage and control skyrocketing benefit costs.

Creating Millions in Value for Communities through MIIA. In the midst of a national crisis in insurance in the 1980s, the MMA-created Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA) has saved its member cities and towns hundreds of millions of dollars through its health, dental, long-term disability, workers’ compensation, and property and casualty programs. And this year, MIIA unveiled a new Unemployment Services Program, offering our members top-quality claims management and administration services, in partnership with the best resources in the industry. Please check out this exciting new initiative! MIIA is the strongest and most stable municipal insurer in the state and has seen record growth in membership because of its well-deserved reputation for value, stability and service. Since 2010, MIIA has provided well over $200 million in credits, discounts, grants and rewards to its members. (You can read more about this at www.mma.org/about-mma/services/miia.)

Promoting Diverse Municipal Workforces. The MMA’s MassTown Careers initiative is a video and social media campaign to promote the extraordinary rewards that come with a career in municipal government, partnering with you to recruit young (and mid-career) job seekers to work for your communities, with a focus on enhancing the diversity of municipal workforces. Check out MassTown Careers at masstowncareers.org.

At the MMA, we focus attention on providing services to our members and prioritizing the major issues of the day. As an innovative service provider to cities and towns, we are committed to maintaining all of our current membership education and assistance initiatives and exploring new ways to serve you with maximum effectiveness.

The MMA is your voice leading the fight to protect unrestricted local aid and Chapter 70 education aid, and to move forward in funding the Student Opportunity Act, increase Chapter 90 road funding, boost the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program, fund regional school transportation reimbursements, allocate special education costs, fix the deeply flawed charter school funding system, win significant new investments in our environmental infrastructure systems and climate resilience measures, and much more. The MMA is devoted to protecting localities, and we know that winning permanent local aid commitments and securing real management tools are essential to our state’s economic success, and to your ability to move your community forward.

This outline of the MMA’s activities can go on and on. The summary description is that, even during another year filled with public health, social, economic and political uncertainty, the MMA has embraced a long and powerful agenda to give you and your colleagues in local government the tools, authority and resources to make your community thrive and make a difference in people’s lives.

Thank You to Our Members and the Fantastic MMA Staff
As you may have heard, I will be retiring in September, after 31 years working for this amazing organization in a job I love. During the past three decades, all of the MMA’s success has been possible because of your participation and leadership, aided by the thousands of local officials who make up our municipal network. From all sizes, shapes, and styles of communities, our greatest strength rests in our enormous diversity. Speaking together with one clear voice, a united league of local leaders can realize the promise of a stronger future for local government. My role has been to broadcast your voice and vision, and it has been a fabulous and rewarding experience.

The MMA is your organization, created, composed and governed by local officials. Our membership consists of you and your municipal colleagues from all across the state. We bring every community together to build the strongest and broadest coalition in the Commonwealth. With your continued leadership, the MMA will continue to advance the cause of local government, making a difference every day.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the MMA’s dedicated and talented Board of Directors, and this year it has been a pleasure to work closely with MMA President Ruthanne Fuller and Vice President Jill Hai, two remarkable and effective leaders who have done so much for all our communities.

As the mayor of Newton, Ruthanne is recognized as one of the very best public leaders in the state, known as someone who listens and unites people together for common cause to serve the public interest. She is thoughtful, wise, and devotes countless hours to master all facets of public policy. We are so fortunate that Ruthanne has devoted her time and talents to leading the MMA. Her passion and energy, sense of optimism, and knowledge of municipal government have made her a perfect leader for the MMA. Ruthanne has brought us to new heights!

As Ruthanne ends her year with the gavel, Lexington Select Board Chair Jill Hai will transition to the presidency. We are so fortunate, as Jill is highly respected as a fantastic leader who offers vision, passion, and a deep commitment to public service, always thinking of new ways for municipalities to move forward in the public interest. We know the MMA will be in truly great hands with Jill at the helm. We look forward to a very productive year with our outstanding Board of Directors and leadership team.

Finally, I must emphasize that the MMA is beyond fortunate to have a terrific professional staff of special people whose dedication to serving you reaches above and beyond the call of duty every single day. They give their hands and their hearts to all that we do, and I am truly honored to be their colleague.

I’ve spent 75% of my career and nearly half my life at the MMA. During this time, my colleagues on the staff have improved every part of our operation. They have expanded our services, modernized our systems, and built a truly impactful organization. The credit for all our gains belongs with these dedicated and gifted professionals. My only real accomplishment has been to hire and support them as best I could along the way. I hope you’ll join me in expressing appreciation for the great work they do for you.

It has been a great honor for me to serve as your executive director all these years. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work for you and with you every day.

On behalf of all of us, from the most senior to the newest members of the MMA staff, we are excited and honored to work for you, and, as always, remain at your service. Thank you!

Respectfully submitted,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO