EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 1, 2013

Fiorentini: Running the city

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — In the late afternoon and early evening, James Fiorentini canvasses the city on foot, knocking on doors and meeting voters as he steers toward a potential Haverhill record sixth consecutive term as the city’s mayor.

Yesterday, he said he visited several homes in Bradford and attended two Halloween parties and a coffee hour at senior housing developments. He also has been staking out grocery stories and shopping plazas, asking voters for their support, he said.

During the day, Fiorentini runs city government — overseeing departments and buildings, mediating labor disputes and developing any number of projects and reforms aimed at cutting costs, generating revenue and delivering better services to residents.

Fiorentini, 66, a lawyer and former city councilor, will face off in Tuesday’s election against late-entry candidate Tyler Kimball, a city firefighter who also runs a large and well-known family farm in Haverhill. Kimball’s name will not appear on the ballot. He is running a write-in campaign.

With only a few days until the election, it’s hard to distinguish Fiorentini’s off-hours campaign from his day job. A letter the mayor put out to city councilors this week, for instance, reads like a campaign brochure, touting a number of recent accomplishments and projects in the works.

They include efforts to privatize the city’s payroll, information technology and custodial operations, and to renovate and upgrade City Hall and the Citizens Center. The letter also includes an update on city finances.

“As I’m certain you notice, the long-awaited repairs to the Citizens Center have started,” Fiorentini wrote to councilors.

The project includes repairing the building’s dilapidated “outer shell,” the mayor said. Haverhill borrowed $637,000 for the work and the federal government is pitching in another $237,000 for the project, which includes new siding, windows and doors.

The center on Welcome Street houses city departments that provide services and run activities for senior citizens, veterans and young people. It is used primarily for Council on Aging activities during the day and is rented to public and private groups at night and on weekends. The building’s “exterior envelope” has been in poor condition for almost two decades, the mayor said.

Fiorentini also told councilors the city closed the last fiscal year with a $650,000 surplus.

He said he expects the city to have between $750,000 and $1 million in extra money to put toward next year’s budget.

“We finished with a surplus by watching carefully every dollar, changing the rules on health care for municipal employees and by resisting the urge to spend what we do not have,” the mayor told councilors, while also thanking them for “exercising restraint” in developing this year’s spending plan.

Fiorentini said he is continuing to privatize and outsource several city departments and functions, with an eye on improving services and saving money by reducing the number of workers employed by the city. He said the information technology operation has been partially handed over to a company named HiQ Computer Services of Boston.

The city still has one computer technician on staff, Fiorentini said, for instances when the outside company is unable to fix a problem remotely. The mayor said the company has also upgraded several of of the city’s computer servers and is implementing a disaster recovery system.

The mayor said the city has hired a company to take over payroll and that the new system is expected to start in January.

He also said the city outsourced two of three City Hall custodian positions and upgraded the one remaining to be a custodian/maintenance worker.

“I was very unhappy with the cleanliness of City Hall,” Fiorentini said. “But it wasn’t because of the custodians. It was because they didn’t have the equipment to polish the floors that the new company has. The building looks much better now.”

An outside person was also hired to draft an overall preventative maintenance plan for City Hall, the mayor said.

In the letter to councilors, the mayor also updated them on his proposal for new zoning rules that would control future development of land along the Merrimack River.

The mayor’s plan, which is expected to come for a vote in January, creates eight separate zones for developing property along the river, each with different rules aimed at encouraging specific uses and providing public access to the waterfront.