A New Beginning for Springfield

Charles Ryan was sworn in as Springfield’s 53rd mayor this month, pledging to restore fiscal order and make ethics his top priority. That’s music to our ears.

He received a standing ovation as he said there was a "new ethic" in City Hall and that /images of FBI investigators hauling boxes of records out of city offices would be a thing of the past. The loud applause was an indication of just how much Springfield has been hurt by the transgressions of members of the Albano administration, and how much hope there is that, with Ryan in office, things will be significantly different.

Greater Springfield can use a little fresh air.

If you talk with development leaders in the area, they will be diplomatic (sometimes), but they will admit that Springfield’s lengthy run of corruption-related headlines has not been good for business. There have been other factors that have slowed the import of new jobs to the city — including the prolonged economic downturn and the sharp decline of the tech sector — but FBI raids and arrests of city officials and friends of the former mayor didn’t help the cause.

With Ryan, planning officials hope — and we expect — that Springfield can restore its image and project confidence and progress, not stagnancy, bad politics, and greed.

A renewed focus on ethics is part of Ryan’s larger plan to move Springfield forward, and in some ways there will be pain before there is actual gain. The Albano administration habitually spent more than it took in, and now tough decisions will have to be made.

Ryan made one when he announced that the city’s Community Development Department would no longer fund the salary of Spirit of Springfield director Judy Matt. This was a hard decision because the Spirit of Springfield runs a number of fine programs, including Bright Nights, the balloon parade, and the Taste of Springfield, and Matt has done an admirable job of pumping some life into Springfield.

But in a way, it was an easy decision because a city like Springfield cannot fund every program and every salary that people want funded — a point lost on Albano and many members of his administration. Sometimes, a city has to say ’no’ and turn to the private sector and the business community for support. By using some imagination, Matt’s salary will certainly be funded, and the city will have about $85,000 to either put somewhere else or cut from the budget.

Inspiring imagination and innovation is another cornerstone of Ryan’s plans for the city. Inspired by MassMutual’s Center for Innovation, a new department created to encourage the flow of ideas and facilitate the implementation of the concepts generated, Ryan wants to do something similar in Springfield City Hall.

This will be an interesting development to watch. In many city halls, workers are too overwhelmed by day-to-day responsibilities to think outside the box. Meanwhile, it’s often difficult to maneuver new ideas through an undercurrent of politics, red tape, and competing interests.

We hope Ryan is successful in eliminating those roadblocks to progress and creating an environment where ideas are listened to — and then acted upon. This city could use some creative thinking.

Although there has been some progress made in the city’s downtown, and there are exciting projects in the works, such as the new federal courthouse, the MassMutual Center project, and Union Station, it would be fair to say that Springfield is in many ways stagnant.

By initiating a program encouraging innovation, Ryan could unearth some imaginative economic development proposals — it seems that most of the old ideas are not working — and also come up with some methods for serving city residents (and business owners) more completely and effectively.

Another priority for the Ryan administration is to challenge individuals and businesses to step forward and help the city where possible. He said residents can no longer be spectators, and he’s right.

At his inaugural address, Ryan said he was offering the city the "torch of idealism, not cynicism; of excellence, not mediocrity; of gratitude, not resentment." This would be a refreshing change from the past several years, and an Albano administration that seemed all too cynical, mired in mediocrity.

Charlie Ryan says Springfield is on the verge of a breakthrough. We hope he’s right, and believe he’s setting the proper course. Before Springfield can step ahead, it must repair its image, restore its fiscal health, get people excited about what can be done in this city — and get residents and business people involved in that process.

And the time to start is now.