Historic Haverhill election
A historic event occurred in Haverhill on Nov. 7, when voters elected City Councilor Melinda Barrett to be their first female mayor.
Voters chose Barrett over her opponent, recently retired Haverhill police officer Guy Cooper, with a more than 2-1 margin to lead the city for the next two years.
When she takes the oath of office Jan. 1, Barrett will become the first female mayor in the city’s history of the mayoral form of government dating back to 1870. Barrett received 7,038 votes to Cooper’s 3,024 votes.
“I’m humbled by the overwhelming support reflected in the vote,” Barrett said following her victory. “I want to thank my opponent Guy Cooper for putting himself out there and running a clean, issues-based campaign. I look forward to working together in the future.”
Barrett, 60, is a third generation, lifelong resident of Haverhill. She is a graduate of Haverhill Public Schools (HHS Class of 1981) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a degree in Political Science.
Fiorentini retires after 20 years
It came as a shock and a sense of disbelief to his many supporters when Mayor James Fiorentini announced in February that he would not be seeking reelection after leading the city for 20 years. He made the announcement at a breakfast with friends, family and supporters at Maria’s Family Restaurant.
“I want to leave with enough health left to enjoy some life,” he said.
During his talk he discussed the challenges he faced when he first took office and how far the city had come since then.
“I saw a city on the verge of financial collapse,” Fiorentini said. “The worst part was that people had lost hope in their city.”
But he said that through fiscal discipline, demanding more state aid, and increasing the commercial tax base, they were able to turn things around. Fiorentini said accomplishments included paying off the Hale Hospital debt, building a new school and making improvements to infrastructure.
Plans to remove Little River Dam
A controversial plan to remove the Little River Dam that once powered the Stevens Mill on Hale Street became much clearer this summer when officials held a walking tour on July 26 at the rear of Cashman Park where it borders the river to discuss what will happen once the dam is removed.
The banks of the river, now largely hidden and inaccessible, will offer new opportunities for boating, fishing and other recreation, officials told people who participated in the tour. A canoe and kayak launch, fishing platform and a walking trail are just a few of the amenities officials hope to install as part of the planned removal of the dam at Winter Street, they said. Construction could start as early as the summer of 2024.
Once the dam is gone, they hope to plant hundreds of trees, shrubs and native vegetation to line the deeper-running river.
The plan also includes building a walking bridge that will span the river behind Cashman Park and connect to a walking trail along the river’s eastern side.
Voters OK tax hike for new school
Voters chose to bypass Mayor James Fiorentini’s plan to pay for a new $160 million Consentino School within the city’s budget when on June 6, in a special election, they passed a tax increase in the form of a debt exclusion, a type of Proposition 2-1/2 tax override that is temporary, usually 20 to 30 years, rather than permanent.
Of Haverhill’s 47,002 registered voters, 5,916 cast their ballots, bringing turnout of about 14% of voters.
Many folks credited the “Yes for Consentino” grassroots organization of parents, teachers, city officials and other members of the community for pushing voters to pass the debt exclusion.
Remembering Bill Macek, true public servant
Longtime City Councilor Bill Macek, 71, died unexpectedly on April 18 leaving a legacy as a beloved and respected Haverhill public servant.
Always prepared with what was needed to make well-reasoned decisions and offer sage advice, Macek was one of the most popular members of the City Council, which he served on for 26 years before retiring in 2021.
Although he did not seek re-election to the Haverhill City Council in 2021 after serving 13 two-year terms, he continued to serve his city.
In January, Mayor James Fiorentini announced he was reorganizing his City Hall staff and hired Macek to serve as deputy chief of staff, assisting in matters before the Council while the mayor searched for a full-time replacement for his chief of staff, who had resigned.
“We need to find ways to meet in the middle and bring people together and I think that my experience on the City Council will help in that effort,” Macek told The Eagle-Tribune at the time.
Scott Wood controversy
Former Haverhill school board member and mayoral candidate Scott Wood Jr. was battling with the city, claiming a breach of contract related to distribution of a 2013 pre-employment background check when he applied for a police officer job.
Wood initially filed a lawsuit in June and refiled it in October in federal court.
The case centers around the distribution of a background check that he claims cost him police office jobs in Wenham and Haverhill. Wood also noted that a more recent background check conducted by a police official in 2020 contained positive reviews by his former employers, with no listed concerns.
In his farewell speech as a school board member, Wood said he has weathered criticisms from all ends of the spectrum. He noted he tried to maintain balance within his position as well as protect the interests of the educators within Haverhill.
Historic Haverhill election