2017: Year in Review
By Christopher Roberson
Medical marijuana raised “more questions than answers” in 2017
Although the sale of medical marijuana was ultimately approved, the City Council spent much of 2017 trying to figure out how to best handle having such establishments in the city.
“There are more questions than answers,” said Councillor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin during the council’s Feb. 16 meeting, adding that Peabody was not the only community that was in a quandary. Therefore, the council voted unanimously to adopt a yearlong moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
On March 23, councillors voted unanimously to approve the draft of an ordinance banning the public consumption of marijuana that was presented by Police Chief Thomas Griffin. “The new ordinance, which would take effect in the coming weeks, would allow officers to hand out fines up to $100 in a manner that resembles a parking ticket,” he said. Griffin also said that the fines collected would benefit the Healthy Peabody Collaborative.
Going into the May 25 meeting, it was clear that the council needed to take action on the zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries. During the meeting, councillors agreed to withdraw their initial plan of having a medical marijuana zone at 100 Corporate Place. The council’s action was in response to concerns from Lynnfield residents living on Green Street, which straddles the Peabody/Lynnfield line. Residents said Green Street is the only way to access Corporate Place.
“The original proposed zone would have dramatically and adversely affected the lives and homes of many decent people,” said Green Street resident Danielle Berdahn. “Living with the uncertainty of people potentially getting high and driving down our streets impaired, while our children play, would have been agonizing for the residents of this area.”
Mayor Edward Bettencourt said it was never his plan to create friction with Lynnfield’s residents. “My intention was to create a zone that limited the places where it could go in our city. I did not want it near neighborhoods; I did not want it near schools or parks,” he said. “The last thing I wanted to do was create something that affected our neighbors, the town of Lynnfield.”
City officials then began the process of approving a new four-parcel zone in the area of Brothers Kouzina, 7-Eleven and Bertucci’s.
The council continued to tread during its Sept. 14 meeting. “We don’t want to be in court, we want to protect ourselves,” said City Council President Joel Saslaw.
He also said he expected that all approved companies would be active and positive contributors to the city. “These entities are going to put their best foot forward,” he said.
But the real issue had been about determining when a letter of non-opposition would be warranted. “That’s the elephant in the room,” said Saslaw. “There is no guide.”
Therefore, he suggested a list of criteria for the council to use when it comes time to start making those kinds of decisions. Saslaw recommended inquiring about a company’s board of directors, its level of security and its years of industry experience and location. “Those are the things that I thought about,” he said. Saslaw also said the council would review a host agreement before sending it to Bettencourt for his signature.
Councillor-at-Large David Gravel suggested implementing additional zoning restrictions for medical marijuana companies. “We should go back into the Zoning Ordinance, open it up and put in the restrictions,” he said.
During its Nov. 9 meeting, which ran beyond midnight, the council voted unanimously to sign letters of non-opposition for Wellness Connection, Sanctuary Medicinals and Phytotherapy. All three dispensaries are planning to open on Rt. 1.
New Superintendent of Schools
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Cara Murtagh beat out four other finalists, three of whom have doctorates, to receive a unanimous vote from the School Committee to enter contract negotiations to become the district’s next superintendent.
During the School Committee’s Nov. 14 meeting, Member Beverley Griffin Dunne said hiring Murtagh will provide the district with a “seamless transition.”
Griffin Dunne also spoke about Murtagh’s “immeasurable” dedication to public education in Peabody. “We all know Ms. Murtagh works 28 hours a day,” she said. “She has dealt with some very difficult situations that our system has gone through – she has learned under fire.”
In a follow-up interview, Member Jarrod Hochman explained why he favored Murtagh. “There’s a lot that impresses me about Cara,” he said, adding that she consistently invites colleagues to assist her with projects and “There’s so many positives with her hire.”
Hochman also said it is beneficial to already have Murtagh in the district. “She’ll hit the ground running seven or eight months before she even takes the position,” he said.
Member Joseph Amico said he made his decision before the committee even interviewed the final three candidates on Nov. 13. “After the first round of interviews, I made up my mind – I was ready to select her as superintendent,” he said. “Ms. Murtagh has the knowledge, compassion and work ethic to lead our district for many years to come. She knows the kids, the families, the system and the staff. This gives her an advantage to keep the momentum going.”
Amico said that since 2015, additional adjustment counselors have been hired; the Guidance Department has been restructured and a one-to-one Chromebook program was launched at the new $90 million Higgins Middle School. “Cara Murtagh has been a big part of these system-wide upgrades and many more,” said Amico.
He said the next challenge will be finding a new assistant superintendent. “A huge decision will be who will replace her in her current role – she is such a dedicated assistant superintendent,” said Amico. “Most districts, if not all our size, have two assistant superintendents. At some point, I would like Peabody to make this upgrade as well.”
Prior to becoming the assistant superintendent in 2012, Murtagh had been an elementary school principal in Peabody for eight years. During her tenure, Murtagh served as the district’s homeschooling coordinator and the coordinator for MCAS testing. Murtagh has also been responsible for Title I grant writing and supervising math and literacy specialists under Title I. She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Emmanuel College.
Murtagh is expected to begin her new position on July 1, 2018.
With 6,316 votes, Councillor-at-Large Thomas Gould won the entire municipal election this year. As the results came in on Nov. 7, it was found that Gould had received more votes than any other candidate in any of the six contested races.
“It’s an honor to be reelected to the council; I try hard every day to help make life better for people,” he said. “I will continue to work hard to keep Peabody moving forward.”
Second place went to Councillor-At-Large David Gravel, who picked up 5,222 votes. “I am extremely grateful to the citizens of Peabody for allowing me the opportunity to serve as a councillor-at-large for another term,” he said. “I believe that the city is on a good path to revitalization, and over the next two years I intend to work hard to continue to make Peabody the best that it can be.”
Councillor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin finished with 4,978 votes to lock in another term.
Challenger for Councillor-at-Large Thomas Rossignoll successfully made the leap from the School Committee, garnering 4,215 votes. “I am humbled and honored by the support I have received throughout this campaign. There are some amazing people in this city and I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “I also want to congratulate all the other candidates who won their elected position as well as thank all the other candidates for having the courage to put their name on the ballot. It will be an honor and a privilege to serve on the City Council.”
Challenger Ryan Melville rounded out the top five at-large candidates with 3,933 votes. “I am thrilled by the results and am really excited to serve the city of Peabody,” he said. “I am thankful for the support of my family and friends who put a lot of hours into our campaign. I look forward to working with my fellow elected officials and the mayor.”
In Ward 4, Councillor Edward Charest received 1,134 votes to easily defeat challenger Bukia Chalvire, who had 571 votes.
Out of the three contested ward races, Ward 5 had the tightest margin of victory, as City Council President Joel Saslaw slipped by challenger James Jeffrey by 242 votes. “It can get personal at times, but we all want what’s best Peabody,” said Saslaw.
Mark O’Neill will be the new face in Ward 6 after defeating Michael Geomelos by a vote of 1,065 to 797. “We worked very hard by visiting as many homes as possible. My family and our campaign volunteers really carried me throughout this race,” said O’Neill. “Meeting old friends and making many new friends while campaigning was the best part of this journey.”
After an unsuccessful bid in 2015, Andrew Arnotis was in a much better mood this year after winning a seat on the School Committee with 4,274 votes. “We got there,” he said, adding that his overall intent is to bring a positive influence to the committee – “That’s the end all and be all, that message resonated tonight.”
Incumbent Member Beverley Griffin Dunne topped the race for School Committee with 5,695 votes. “It is so worthwhile for the betterment of our schools; I don’t want to give up,” she said.
Member Jarrod Hochman was reelected with 4,017 votes. “I’m grateful to the people of Peabody. I’m excited to get back to work,” he said.
Hochman also said that unlike other races this year, everyone who ran for the committee did so with a “quality, clean campaign.”
Hochman also shared his excitement for Arnotis. “That’s how I was eight years ago – he’s a great young man,” said Hochman.
In the race for the Municipal Light Commission, incumbent Commissioners Thomas D’Amato and William Aylward both won re-election. D’Amato topped the ticked with 5,646 votes and Aylward received 4,722 votes.
Candidate Kate O’Brien finished first in the Library Trustee race with 5,659 votes. She was followed by Thomas Pappas with 5,390 votes, Frances Gallugi with 4,485 votes and Sandra Fecteau with 4,392 votes.