Looking back on 2018
By Barbara Taormina
Choosing items for a year-in-review is always a challenge. People have different opinions about which stories were the most important, and what news had the biggest impact on the city. No one would argue that 2018 was a busy and eventful year. Nevertheless, the following short list contains some of year’s most important moments and issues for Malden.:
In late August, members of Malden Rising Leaders Summer Fellowship Program presented a proposal to lower the voting age to 16 in municipal elections, and the idea quickly picked up steam. The Malden Youth Civics Council and other student groups joined forces with MRL and several city leaders including School Superintendent John Oteri threw their support behind the idea. Councilor Steve Winslow helped the students draft a petition to the state legislature to change the city charter, the first official step toward lowering the voting age. Malden voters would also have been required to approve the change through a ballot question.
But in December, the City Council voted against petitioning the legislature for approval to start the process. Councilors felt they needed more input from constituents before moving forward with the proposal.
Still, the campaign for Vote16 isn’t over. MRL founder and President Ted Louis-Jacques recently posted an online message that criticized city officials who stood in the way of change. And that’s not all.
“2019 is an Election Year, campaign season is around the corner,” wrote Louis-Jacques. “#Vote16Initiative will be on the forefront! We will hold you accountable. Our citizens deserve better, out students deserve better, our city deserve better. Change is not painful, only resistance to change is painful. Put equity, justice and equality first, do the right thing.”
In hindsight, all the concerns raised about public comment at City Council meetings seem like much ado about nothing.
In June, councilors voted unanimously to approve public comment, a 30-minute segment at the start of City Council meetings when the public can share their opinions and ideas about city business. And so far, it has worked as it was intended, no personal gripes, no grandstanding just an exchange of ideas and opinions.
Instituting public comment was a pet project of this year’s City Council President Debbie DeMaria. It took several rounds of debate and a couple of votes but DeMaria was persistent.
“This was a great win for Malden,” said DeMaria when public comment was finally approved. “I, and other councilors, look forward to another opportunity to hear from our constituents.”
World War I Memorial
A long overdue tribute was finally paid to the city’s World War I veterans this year.
On Veterans Day, the city dedicated a refurbished and expanded World War I monument at Devir Park. The original monument only had the names of Edgeworth residents who served during the war. The new memorial, which has two new sections and the restored original section, contains the names of all city residents who served.
“Today we go back in time to pay tribute and give thanks to the men and women from Malden who fought in World War I,” said Mayor Gary Christenson during the ceremony. “We do this by dedicating a memorial on the 100th anniversary of the end of that war that will forever honor these brave heroes in one location for the first time in city history.”
City Charter Review
Last fall, the city announced that a consolidated and readable version of Malden’s City Charter was available on the city’s website. Although not all residents rushed to read the document, for those who were interested, it was a very big deal. But there will be more and even bigger city charter news coming in 2019.
“Not surprisingly, the consolidated charter revealed a number of organizational inconsistencies, outdated provisions and operational inefficiencies,” said Mayor Gary Christenson in a letter to the City Council. “I think we owe it to the city to work toward modernizing and strengthening this important document.”
The city has created a new five-member Charter Review Committee to review and update Malden’s City Charter. Christenson has named Maria Luise from the Mayor’s Office and Ron Hogan who heads up the city’s parking department to serve on the committee with City Councilors Debbie DeMaria.,Ryan O’Malley and David Camell.
The committee will start working at the beginning of the year with the goal of completing their review and recommendations by early summer. That schedule gives the city enough time to ensure that any changes that need voter approval will be on the ballot for the 2019 municipal election.
Last year, it was a challenge to find a parking space in downtown Malden. But thanks to the relatively new Parking Department headed up by Ron Hogan, scores of new parking meters and the magnificently efficient parking enforcement crews, finding an empty spot isn’t so hard anymore.
And parking will remain on the city’s agenda as the City Council’s Parking Committee hammers out a citywide parking program that restricts overnight parking and parking near the city’s two T stations to residents. There are still a lot of details to work out such as signs, visitor passes and fines, but after years of discussions and several failed attempts, residential parking is within sight.
“If we don’t do it this time, it’s an embarrassment,” said Councilor Craig Spadafora who has been a longtime advocate of residential parking. “Some residents will be upset, others won’t be. We have to agree to disagree and move forward.”
The fate of the Malden Hospital site has been and will continue to be a big story for the city. The Fellsmere Housing Group has proposed a private residential development with roughly 250 condos and 18 single family homes. The project would require a zoning change for the site. The non-profit citizens group, the Friends of Fellsmere Heights, has teamed up with Boston Architectural College to develop an alternative proposal to use the 18-acre site to provide more open space and community resources. Funding remains a huge factor for the Friends who are looking at grants and Community Preservation Act funding to pay for their plan.
Although no major public moves or decisions have been made, both sides continued to make their cases over the past year.
In June, Debbie Cronin-Waelde, the chief nursing officer for MelroseWakefield Healthcare which owns the hospital site, spoke to the City Council on behalf of the healthcare organization.
“Our ask is that you continue to work with us on the advancement of the Malden Hospital site,” she said. “I am here to express our strong belief that the project proposed by the Fellsmere Housing Group is the right plan to move this forward.”
Peter Converse, whose family donated the land and the hospital to the city also visited the council to express his and his family’s views of the proposals.
“To give up any of the open space left to the city we would think would be a crime, and certainly detrimental to the physical, mental and spiritual health of the city,” he said. “We believe to give up this land to developers for what sounds like pretty dense housing makes no sense whereas the proposal by the Friends of Fellsmere Heights in much preferred.”