By MMA President and Lexington Select Board Member Jill Hai, January 2024
Welcome to the MMA’s 45th Annual Meeting & Trade Show! It’s great to be with you all.
Over the past year, it’s been an honor to serve as President of this great association, and to get an up close and personal view of all the MMA does to serve all of you. The Massachusetts Municipal Association is our advocate, our convener, our informer, and our friend.
2023 was certainly a momentous year for the MMA. After 31 years of steady, diligent and trusted leadership, Geoff Beckwith announced his retirement last January, just a couple of weeks before I accepted the gavel as President. Those were some big shoes to fill! I had the distinct pleasure of leading the nationwide search to find Geoff’s replacement, with the help of a wonderful Search Committee, a search firm, and the MMA staff. The process led to the hiring of the broadly talented Adam Chapdelaine, a leader with deep roots in local government and passion for our priorities. Adam has taken the reins without missing a beat, and is keeping the MMA on a steady course of progress.
Last January, we also welcomed a new administration — indeed, the state’s first all-women administration: Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. Both women are well -known as friends of local government, and they joined our Annual Meeting last year just a couple of weeks after their inauguration. (And they’re back again this year!) Gov. Healey and Lt. Gov. Driscoll are both committed to strengthening the state-local government partnership, and the MMA has quickly developed a strong working relationship with them, based on open lines of communication. It’s been a pleasure seeing and collaborating with them regularly at the Local Government Advisory Commission meetings, as well as in many of our communities.
Almost immediately, the new administration elevated the state’s climate crisis response by creating the first-in-the-nation, cabinet-level position of Climate Chief, which was welcome news for communities on the front lines on this issue. For this critical role, they chose Melissa Hoffer, who is here with us as the keynote speaker for the Women Elected Municipal Officials Leadership Luncheon.
The administration also recognized the need to boost the voice of smaller communities with the creation of a Director of Rural Affairs position, and to improve our strategic position for competitive federal funding, with the new Federal Funds and Infrastructure Office and the Federal Funds Partnership for Municipalities and Tribes.
To prioritize the state’s housing crisis, the administration established the Commonwealth’s first Housing secretariat, created the first “green bank” in the country dedicated to affordable housing, and filed a $4 billion housing bond bill. I was thrilled when my hometown of Lexington was recognized, along with Salem, as the first communities to achieve compliance with the MBTA Communities law, and I was grateful when the state changed the compliance criteria to allow commercial uses on the first floor of these projects.
There was also good news for cities and towns in the state budget for fiscal 2024, which included a healthy 3.2% increase in discretionary local aid (affectionately known as UGGA), along with a $603 million increase for Chapter 70 (fully funding the Student Opportunity Act), full funding for the special education circuit breaker, a $15 million increase for rural school aid, full funding of charter school mitigation payments and McKinney-Vento student transportation costs, and a 90% reimbursement rate for regional school transportation. Legislators and the administration used $100 million from the Fair Share Amendment to boost funding for local road repairs, $100 million for relief from extraordinary school building project increases, and $50 million for a new Green School Works grant program. These are all very welcome and meaningful investments!
Over this past year, the MMA has made great strides to support cities and towns in their work advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I had the pleasure of serving on the MMA’s DEI Advisory Board, which is leading the organization’s efforts to develop training and resources.
This past summer, the MMA retained the Racial Equity Group to help develop a strategic DEI plan for the organization. The group created the MMA’s recent Municipal DEI Survey and is conducting a series of member focus groups to identify the extent to which municipalities have emphasized DEI in municipal practices, policies and culture. Racial Equity Group will use the results to identify the resources and education needed to support municipal members engaged in this work, according to their level of need, and establish benchmarks for success.
DEI is a theme of this meeting, with an opening keynote by Eddie Glaude Jr., a bestselling author, Princeton professor and political commentator who will discuss how America’s promise of equality has rung hollow for Black Americans, even six decades after the civil rights movement. A DEI workshop, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Significance for Municipalities,” will be repeated during each of the conference’s three workshop sessions. I encourage you to attend one. And Racial Equity Group CEO Bird Guess will be available to meet members during the conference.
On a daily basis, in the face of myriad challenges, all of you deliver the very best that local governments can do for residents and businesses all across this great Commonwealth. You do this with passion, integrity, hard work and creativity. I’m inspired by the important work you’re doing to support residents across Massachusetts.
We make progress and effect change by working together, across large cities and small towns. The MMA advocates on behalf of all of us at the State House for the funding and legislation needed to support strong communities and vibrant main streets. The MMA forms legislative positions and priorities with the input from your generous service on the MMA’s Board of Directors and the five MMA policy committees.
In addition to the many timely workshops available here at this conference, the MMA and its member organizations — representing select boards, mayors, town managers and administrators, councillors, and finance committees, as well as human resources professionals — hosted a broad range of educational opportunities — roughly 30 in-person meetings and more than 40 pertinent webinars — specifically for municipal officials. The MMA also offers top-notch communications and information resources, including The Beacon, the MMA website, the Mass Municipal Data Hub that launched at this time last year, and the updated, online Handbook for Massachusetts Select Board Members, which launched this week!
The MMA recognizes the challenges you face in recruiting and retaining talented folks to make our city and town operations hum, and the association has been working to build the pipeline of qualified people for municipal positions. The MMA teamed up with Suffolk University a dozen years ago to offer professional development programs for municipal talent, and the partnership will launch its fourth program this spring — a new Municipal Human Resources Seminar. The MMA also offered a number of webinars devoted to professional development, including a Reframing Recruitment series. And the MMA’s MassTown Careers campaign works to bring new people into local government careers.
Women Elected Municipal Officials, better known as WEMO, continues to grow and thrive, creating opportunities for women local government professionals to connect and learn from each other.
I want to sincerely thank my predecessor, and mentor, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who served so effectively as President of the MMA in 2022. We still face many challenges, and for that I turn the presidency over to my wonderful colleague and Waltham Councillor John McLaughlin, who will be officially elected on Saturday. I have so enjoyed working with John over this past year. We are in very capable hands going forward.
Please enjoy this wonderful conference, and stop me if I’m nearby to say hello. There’s nothing else like the MMA Annual Meeting for getting to know fellow public servants across our Commonwealth, and for sharing and learning together.
Select Board Member, Lexington