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Mayoral hopefuls Christenson, Fallon give views on Malden’s future

Posted by Marcia Dick  October 6, 2011 10:10 AM

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Q and A with the candidates

We asked the candidates for mayor, City Councilors Gary Christenson and Deborah Fallon, seven questions to help voters make their choice at the ballot box Nov. 8.


Q: How would your approach to being mayor of Malden differ from Mayor Howard?s?

Christenson: My approach would be to govern with more input from the community using technology as a way of facilitating communication. For example, online forums where residents can share their concerns and online polls where people can offer feedback on City policy are two ways to further involve residents.

Another thing I would like to do differently is take more direction from resident-led steering committees. From street signs to the look of our crosswalks, I would like to have proposals develop from the ground up which would help foster consensus when a policy is implemented. While the Mayor must be a leader and decision-maker, it is critical to hear from the folks who will live with those decisions.

I would also serve as a ?mayor on the move? working around the City rather than being at City Hall all the time. I envision myself working out of places like the senior center, schools, and fire stations. This approach would serve as another opportunity for residents to be in touch with their Mayor.

Finally, I believe it is important for the Mayor to have a presence at the meetings of the groups and organizations that are making a difference in Malden.

Fallon:  Every person has a different style; Rather than to compare myself to another individual, I can say that my style is one of working with citizens ... working with the grassroots in an inclusionary way, very much like how I have served the people of Malden for the last 15 years via Portal To Hope and during my tenure as Councilor-At-Large.

Leading with the people's voice, should I have the privilege of serving as our next Mayor, I'll be a Mayor of the people ... a Mayor on the ground, in neighborhoods, working with citizens to develop programs that improve our city livability.

Q: What expertise or experience makes you the most qualified position for the job?

Christenson: In my career as both a professional and a public servant, I have developed a strong expertise in managing finances. I have served as the Finance Chair of the budget subcommittee for both the School Committee and City Council and managed an annual $60M budget for the Middlesex Sheriff?s Office since 1998. This experience is vitally important for a chief executive looking to maximize every dollar.

Also, having served on the School Committee for four years gives me first-hand experience of the challenges facing our district and direct insight as to the role the Mayor has as Chair of the School Committee. I also understand how the Mayor has to work with the City Council because of the variety of positions I have held in my eight years on the Council, including serving as Council President.  

Finally, my lifelong dedication to Malden and its organizations like the All Faiths Festival, Bread of Life, Triangle, Inc., YMCA, and the Malden Neighborhood Basketball League has provided me with a keen understanding of how important these groups are to our community.

Fallon: I have served as Chief Executive Officer at Portal To Hope since 1996, and in that capacity I have worked with residents of Malden and neighboring cities and towns to build a community - a community of people who work to support our most vulnerable neighbors (those whose lives have been impacted by violent crime, homelessness, unemployment, etc.).

As a hands-on CEO who works in the trenches to advocate for people and help them to rebuild their lives, I know how to invite citizens to participate in the process of serving our neighbors, creating opportunities for people, and building from the ground up services and programs on conservative budgets that improve our neighborhoods.

Overseeing the City of Malden is not just about being able to oversee a budget alone; it's about caring for people, ensuring they have a place at the table to participate in government, and to help direct where we want our city headed in the next era of good government.

My experience in working with the state and city budgets and knowing how to creatively pursue funding opportunities ... my experience in ensuring budget transparency and fiduciary responsibility to the public will serve the people of Malden well should the voters elect me as their next Mayor.  Moreover, I have the heart for the people; my reasons for running for Mayor follow after my 15 years in public service, including serving the people of Malden citywide on the Malden City Council, and I take my job serving the people of Malden seriously and with great care and compassion for my fellow community members.  I offer the change in leadership that our community members have been calling out for.

Q: Under your leadership, how do you plan to attract new business, improve quality of life for residents, and strengthen the city's economic base, including jobs for residents? How will you revitalize Malden's downtown, and what role will private development play in your vision of Malden's city center in years to come?

Christenson:
The revitalization of the downtown will be of particular importance to our City moving forward. To accomplish this, I will lead the effort to redevelop the City Hall site and reconnect Pleasant Street. I will also propose the relocation of City Hall functions to available office space nearby to help reinvigorate the square. This coupled with the development of the National Grid site on Commercial Street will initiate a revitalization of downtown Malden.
 
However, most importantly, the City must become more of a partner to local businesses. By conducting a review of our zoning ordinances, we can help our businesses be more competitive. I also plan to designate a Business Advocate to help those who wish to expand their business and attract those that want to locate in Malden. By creating a more welcoming environment, we can grow opportunities for the benefit of all.

Fallon: I'm someone who has managed a small corporation and have partnered on a small business in addition to working in larger corporations, so ensuring that Malden's business population is one of vitality is of great importance to me, just as it is to our citizens.  I've visited neighboring communities and even looked at a Virginia model that includes residential overlay and transit based development, which is an idea that residents have brought to my attention.  I have also had the fortunate benefit of watching a Mayor attract business into the Malden community that generated new revenue, encouraged business partnerships with public safety, and increased job opportunities for Malden residents; I learned how to do this by having such a wonderful example in my life, and I will follow suit!  When my father, the late Hon. Thomas Fallon, served as Mayor of Malden, he invited businesses including Bank of New England to the community.  He created the Beautification Program that became a nationally recognized model, which included a recycling component, and which helped to attract businesses and people to reside in our community, because it reflected a community pride - even in the difficult times of when Proposition 2 1/2 was implemented.  

I mention this because I have a plan for recycling that differs from the current Pay-As-You-Throw trash removal program, which I am against, and the recycling program I have been talking with citizens about implementing is one that models after neighboring communities that allow for recycling credits that could be used toward supporting local businesses.  In other words, a good recycling program incorporates business partners whereby residents can spend their credits, in coupon style, back on businesses in our city.

It's an incentive program that would help bring residents back to our local businesses.  As Councilor-At-Large, I have remained on the ground with the people of Malden, asking them about their ideas for how to attract businesses to our city, and some of those ideas have included incentive programs, in the same way our sister City of Everett has, that support small businesses, which are the backbone of any community.

I also think that there are attractions that we can capitalize on to attract people to our City.  We have a rich history.  We have the Malden Reservoir, Rivers Edge, the memorial at Bell Rock Park that veterans, including John Webster, worked diligently on for over 10 years to develop, ideas collected from residents about Waite's Mount and the old Malden Hospital site, and other attractions - all of which we can promote better, along with promoting our businesses, to attract new people to our community.

Q: As mayor, describe your approach to public safety, and give specific examples of how you would improve safety for all citizens in the city.

Christenson: The City of Malden has grown in population and has attracted new businesses so now the City must invest in our public safety. We need to increase the number of police in Malden.

Additionally, as chairperson of the Mayor?s Housing Task Force, I plan to be aggressive in dealing with illegal apartments, rooming houses, code violations, and issues such as graffiti, litter, and the overall appearance of the City.
 
Finally, there is no better tool to help our police officers fight crime than citizen input. As I have done in Ward 1, I will partner with neighborhoods to organize effective crime prevention strategies and utilize technology for residents to provide us the information we need to keep people safe.

Fallon: I have a strong public safety record.  Not only did I graduate from the Northeast Regional Police Institute, where I have returned to assist in teaching police officers over the years, but I worked with the City of Everett and the Everett Police to create a leading law enforcement program in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - EVAPorate Violence. That pioneer program, which was awarded by the United States Conference of Mayors for its outstanding achievement in reducing recidivism of domestic violence crime and improving city livability, was featured on the national talk show, "The Montel Williams Show," for its public safety creativity as the program is all-inclusive; it involves the police, nonprofit organizations that serve victims of crime, government, local religious organizations, businesses, schools, and citizens - all of whom work together to reduce crime and create "Violence Free Zones."

This is a program that was never adopted by the City of Malden, yet was adopted by neighboring communities and serves as a program model around the country.  Should I serve as Mayor, this program model will be adopted in order that we offer the best resources and services to victims and their families.  Immediately after I took hold of the Councilor-At-Large seat, I began providing Quarterly Community Meetings for the public.  It was a promise I made to the people to help develop crime watch groups, which we have done, and to encourage increased communications between citizens and the Malden Fire and Police Departments.

I am happy to know that following our suit, other city leaders began to offer similar meetings, helping to increase the venue in which citizens can share information and participate in the process of keeping our neighbors safe.  As Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I have been the loudest advocate for our police officers and firefighters, which is why the Malden Firefighters Union Local 902 has endorsed my candidacy.

Should I be elected as Mayor of Malden by the people, I will continue to keep public safety a priority, pursue federal, local, and other grant funding opportunities to rebuild our Fire and Police Departments, and ensure that both the public safety experts from those departments and the people of Malden benefit from increased patrols and manpower and the implementation of a long-term plan for public safety, so that Malden returns to being a leader in our Commonwealth - in our country - in the way of keeping people safe.

Q: Some recent hot-button issues in Malden have included the proposed resident parking permit system and accompanying increase in ticket-writing for violators, as well as the pay-as-you-throw trash system. As unrestricted state aid continues to decline, what role should fines and fees play in closing gaps in the city budget? If you're elected mayor, should residents expect to see an increase, decrease, or no change in the secondary costs associated with living in Malden?

Christenson: My general philosophy is to hold the line on all secondary costs. I will seek ways we can become more efficient like those outlined in the 2009 report I co-authored that contained 35 recommendations on ways we can conduct City business differently. Those recommendations and maximizing the use of technology should further lessen the need for increased fees to make ends meet.

One change residents should expect in terms of secondary costs is relief in the form of continued increases in the Residential Tax Exemption Program. My goal would be to expand the exemption from 20 to 30 percent, which would further reduce property tax bills for all resident-homeowners.
 
Regardless of the economic times, I plan to solicit more input from the community and develop more of a consensus on our finances moving forward. For example, I intend to hold a forum for citizens to see my budget proposal before it is submitted to the City Council. This is another example of how important it is to hear from the folks who will live with our decisions.

Fallon: I am against increased fees (e.g., the residential parking sticker program) and hidden taxes (e.g., PAYT).  As Councilor-At-Large, I voted against the Meals Tax, as I believe it is a discriminatory tax as it targets restaurant owners and said tax impacts small business owners and their patrons.

I am against supplementing a city budget on the backs of taxpayers.  I am for streamlining city government in a way that eliminates wasteful spending, and having 15 years of experience in serving as CEO of a nonprofit corporation that operates on a small budget but serves a significantly large number of people, I have the experience in providing the best services possible for residents on conservative budgets.

I also know how to work in partnership with people to develop creative ways to save and to fund programs and services that, again, do not have to burden our taxpayers.  As Councilor-At-Large, I, alone, voted against the budget this year, and I voted against the budget last year, because I do not believe our city leaders have properly prioritized the way we spend our taxpayer dollars.

Rather than creating unnecessary jobs at City Hall, including a Chief Financial Officer position at over $100,000 per year, when we already have a structure in which we can have Department Heads, an Assistant Treasurer, Treasurer, Controller, School Committee, City Council and Mayor, who really serves as the CEO/CFO - we are all charged with a fiduciary responsibility to the public, and we do not need to be creating frivolous jobs at City Hall in the face of cutting essential services to the public (e.g., the cuts made to education, police, fire and public works over the years).  It sends a bad message to the public when we cannot maintain city services in a growing population of people, because we are not appropriately prioritizing our spending.  

I'll be a creative, conservative, transparent Mayor - just as I have been as CEO at Portal To Hope and as Councillor-At-Large serving the people of Malden.

Q: How would you address the continued need of the Malden Fire Department for a new east-side fire station? If you think a new station is needed, how would you fund it?

Christenson: I will continue to work hand-in-hand with the members of the Fire Department, citizens, and the City Council to hear their view on the best way to proceed to replace the recently closed station.

Currently, there are discussions to build a new station potentially with another city department or build a larger facility to accommodate more of the Malden Fire Department?s long-range needs. Either way, I believe we need to provide better coverage of the east side of the City.

As for funding a new station, the redevelopment of City Hall and the National Grid site and some strategic bonding should produce the funds to pay for this project. I would limit borrowing as much as possible by maximizing grant opportunities.    

Fallon: As the councilor who called for the Mayor to re-establish the New East Side Fire Station Committee, I am participating in the process of finding a new location for a fire station to serve the east side and ensure adequate response times to protect our citizens.

As Mayor, I will continue to work with Malden Fire Department officials - the experts in fire protection and public safety - and look to implement their plan, following neighborhood, geographical, response time, and other necessary studies to ensure that the citizens of Malden and our firefighters, whom we rely on, are protected.

As I have done as Councilor-At-Large, I would look to the International Association of Fire Fighters for help in securing grant funding and other creative revenue opportunities to fund the construction of a new fire station.  It is unacceptable that in recent years, we went from five fire stations in the city to two, or that there has been no long-term plan in effect to maintain our stations, apparatus, and manpower.  Rebuilding of the Malden Fire Department will remain a priority of mine should I be elected as our next Mayor, as it is a priority of the people of Malden.

Q: Identify at least one city service, department, or function that you believe is failing to adequately serve citizens, and describe specifically how it would be improved under your leadership.

Christenson: The City needs to develop a culture in which citizens and local businesses are treated as customers by the men and women who represent city government. A customer-friendly culture change needs to take place to encourage people to interact with their government more often and feel a part of the City.

I plan to develop a ?311? City Call Center where current staff can efficiently direct constituents to the right department in city government. In addition, by establishing a tracking system for citizen issues, we will improve accountability, achieve resolution, and most importantly, deliver quality service.  

Other ways we can help people feel included in the future of the City is by adding to traditional communication methods by using social media, e-mail, and text updates on matters of importance. Also, the City?s website will contain purchase bids and awarded contracts and will allow residents to track where City funds are being spent.

A Christenson administration will work hard to demonstrate that our residents are valued.

Fallon: Right now, my answer to that would be: Government is failing the people.  Government fails citizens when government leaders do not support our city workers and departments - leading to a failure in the system of providing services to the people of Malden.  

Government fails when government leaders have no vision for our city and no long-term planning in place.  Government fails citizens when residents are not included in the process of weighing-in on government matters or voting on changes to our City Charter, which is our governing instrument, because when government leaders circumvent the people's right to help lead the direction of our city, our city falls down.  

Government fails citizens when it ignores the people's voice and is overcome by running a city on personal or political agenda rather than the people's agenda.  When government ignores the very people who provide services critical to the well-being of our community, it impacts our morale - not only throughout our city departments but throughout our community at-large.

On my watch as Councilor-At-Large, I have repeatedly called for inclusionary government, transparency in government, and a government of the people.  For the first time in 16 years, the people of Malden will have the opportunity to weigh in on the Mayor's race, and should the people of Malden see fit to elect me as their next Mayor, I will serve them with a heart for the people, as an advocate for people's agenda - and we'll be able to turn our city around and return it to a city of leadership that it once was - a leadership and community of pride generated by the people of Malden.

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