Local Government and Politics, News

Bad weather, a terrible fire and a $7M deficit: Lynn’s new mayor has already been tested

Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee looks out on this city from his office. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Floods, fire and city finance worries — Mayor Thomas M. McGee has packed much into his first 30 days as the city’s chief executive.

Lynn’s 58th mayor, surrounded by family and friends, savored the moment when he was sworn into office during his Jan. 2 inaugural. But McGee barely had a day to spare before the demands of his new job became reality. He was surrounded by police, fire and Inspectional Services Department representatives on Jan. 4 as the city’s emergency management team convened to plan for 2018’s first blizzard.

The storm slammed the region on the following morning. McGee stood knee deep in flood water in West Lynn, assessing storm conditions on streets bordering the Saugus River and checking on residents’ flooded basements.

“I was really impressed by the way the people around the table at that emergency management meeting did their job,” McGee said. “After the storm was over, we held a debriefing and talked about what worked and how we can be better prepared.”

He didn’t have much time to breathe while the flood waters subsided.

A Jan. 8 fire found McGee standing on Broad Street with Fire Department commanders overseeing multi-community efforts to extinguish a blaze that left one person seriously hurt and 28 homeless.

McGee said city officials and the community came together in the wake of the blizzard and the fire to plan for better ways to respond to future floods and to provide housing assistance to the fire victims.

“I’ve always prided myself on collaborating and working together,” he said. “It’s important we use the ability and talents of people working for the city.”

Former Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and another mayoral predecessor, the late Patrick J. McManus, drew on their City Council experience to shape their fledgling tenures as mayor. But McGee and former Mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr. are former state legislators who moved from jobs involving consensus and compromise with colleagues to becoming chief executives.

“The biggest difference is things can jump up quickly in terms of issues,” McGee said. “The schedule easily gets thrown out the door.”

Following his crash course in handling city emergencies, McGee’s January schedule gave way to launching some of the initiatives he outlined in his inaugural speech.

He met with city department heads to next year’s budget. But McGee is also shepherding efforts to erase a $7 million deficit in the current budget. The state Department of Revenue has met with city officials to help balance the budget before fourth quarter property tax bills are mailed.

“The Baker administration has been very supportive towards helping find solutions,” McGee said. “We need to do something by April 1.”

He has also made good on his promise to focus on the condition of Lynn’s aging public schools. City officials have spoken with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the agency that funds school construction and renovation, in the wake of last year’s vote to reject a proposal to build two new middle schools.

“We’ve talked to them about how we can go forward,” he said.

McGee said he is drawing on friendships he made with mayors statewide and state officials during his tenure in the Legislature. While serving in the Senate, he focused on state transportation policy, advocating for a sharp increase in transportation construction spending.

That work won’t stop now that he is mayor.

“That’s been my passion for a long time,” he said.

The Pine Hill resident’s family hasn’t had to make significant adjustment to McGee’s new job. Son, Thomas, and daughter, Katherine, are in college and Maria McGee works long hours in her job with The MENTOR Network, a national health and human services provider.

McGee’s schedule includes spending time in Lynn’s schools, including a stop by Harrington Elementary where he read to students.

“Great things happen in our schools that sometimes get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

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