Over mayor's wishes, Feeney plans civic summit

It was a historic moment for Maureen Feeney as a unanimous noontime vote among city council colleagues on Monday, Jan. 7 made her the longest-serving woman council president in Boston's history. Re-elected for her second term as president, Feeney says the experience was one of her proudest.

"Definitely more emotional than I expected," Feeney told the Reporter during a interview after the vote. "I was so nervous during my speech, but all the support from family and friends is inspiring. I am looking forward to continuing to work with the community and making some changes in our neighborhoods."

During her inaugural address given after the vote, Feeney shared her priorities for 2008: creating jobs and lowering revenues, rebuilding community relationships between youth and police and reforming school systems. Feeney also announced an initiative to form a citywide forum, scheduled for April, which will serve to further assist civic groups and community advocates.

Feeney says the summit, to be hosted by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority at the Convention Center in South Boston, will "raise people's expectations and understanding of their government."

"There has been a tremendous turnover within civic associations," said Feeney. "The number of participants is diminishing, leaving the work to fall on the few men and women who remain committed.

"It has become difficult for these associations to keep moving forward, but I believe bringing experts [from Boston University, Boston College and the Kennedy School] together will be highly beneficial," Feeney said.

While this one-day forum has drawn numerous supporters, Mayor Thomas Menino is not one of them. Menino has voiced some concerns about the gathering raising attendees' expectations on which the city government may fail to deliver.

"Mayor Menino has always been a champion of community forums and activities, but has major concerns as to how this forum is to be facilitated," said Dot Joyce, a spokesperson from the mayor's office. "His interest is to ensure that all individuals have the opportunity to voice their concerns and have them addressed.

"But in a summit this large he [Menino] is not convinced all needs can be met appropriately. Mayor Menino prefers to work with smaller groups in a more personal atmosphere," Joyce said. "If Maureen Feeney can present him with a clear idea of her plans, if he can get a better understanding, then he would be more apt to lend support."

Feeney still plans to go on with the summit and is currently working on forming a committee to help increase support and resources for community groups.

"The goal is to promote a wider city engagement and start a conversation," said Feeney. "We need to discuss city health. Let's provide support and training to advocates and celebrate the greatness of our city. We as a council must work together, meet as a body and form a common policy agenda, focus our efforts throughout 2008. We must take a more proactive approach towards building up our city."

Only the second woman to serve as council president in the Boston - the first was the late Louise Day Hicks - Feeney was first elected to the council's third district seat in 1993. Over the years, she has chaired the council's committee on Government Operations and City and Neighborhood Services and has served as vice president of the council under former president, Jimmy Kelly.



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