Amesbury’s Mayor Gove: Has She Lived Up to My Wishful Vision?

Mayor Gove tells Boston25 News about her fight to get the vaccine for Amesbury residents

Over a year ago I wrote a piece about my city electing Kassandra Gove as the first Amesbury native, the youngest (at 34), and the first woman Mayor of Amesbury: Kindness & Accountability: Amesbury’s New Mayor Wants You to Be Her Neighbor & to Keep Her on Her ToesJanuary 7, 2020

In the mayor’s inaugural speech on January 2, 2020, she told us that she grew up in Amesbury. She then told us that she also grew up in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. It took me a minute to get it, but I believed she was telling us she wanted Amesbury to be a city where we are kind to our neighbors. Mayor Gove promised transparency in her administration and asked us to hold her accountable. I was inspired to write about what I perceived as her message and my wishful thinking about the kind of mayor she might be.

I wrote my essay without talking to Mayor Gove. I sent her the link and asked about the accuracy of what I wrote. She messaged to tell me that my interpretation of her speech was spot on.

Fast forward 16 months…

So how did she do?

When I asked myself if Mayor Gove had come close to the hopeful vision I expressed a year ago, this is what came to me:

We’ve been upgraded to the premium version of Mayor. This version is constituent-centered and includes leading-edge “add-on features” of city governing practices.

Let’s review her first year, starting from the beginning.

A few days in office Mayor Gove was already meeting with constituents.

One of the first things she did was to ask the city council for approval to create a new staff position. The council approved the position and the mayor hired a communications director. I’ll say more later about why that was a brilliant and even prescient decision.

During the first month of her term, Mayor Gove was doing what mayors do. Here she is attending an Amesbury nonprofit fundraiser.

February 4, 2020 pre-pandemic Mayor Gove at a fundraiser for the Amesbury Carriage Museum

Then Came “The Rona” — A New Mayor’s Worst Nightmare

Kassandra Gove came into office with a big vision and ambitious plans. But two months into her term our young mayor was ambushed by the coronavirus, a public health crisis like our little city had not seen in our lifetime. The crisis threw a gigantic wrench into the works.

What did she do? She grabbed that wrench without hesitation and got to work meeting the challenge.

Mayor Gove likely didn’t expect to have her leadership and executive skills tested so soon or so profoundly, but you’d never know that she had no “official” government experience. I’m sure there was plenty of scurrying behind the scenes when the pandemic descended, but Amesbury residents never had a reason to panic. I don’t doubt that the mayor worked around the clock. She may have even had sleepless nights, but she knew what to do.

The Launch of Daily COVID Update Broadcasts — March 23, 2020

Mayor Gove was aware of what the people of Amesbury needed. She knew we were worried, had many questions, and weren’t sure where to turn. Therefore one of her first pandemic decisions (before we even had any COVID-19 cases in our town), was to start a daily live video broadcast on Facebook and the local cable channel.

The mayor provided updates and clarification about the governor's state guidelines and answered resident’s questions. I tuned in religiously to her broadcasts. For me, they were “exactly what the doctor ordered.” Her presence was reassuring, and updates not only helped us feel safe but they gave our community a way to connect with each other. On the Facebook live feed, we could see the number of people watching as well as the likes, comments, and questions from people we knew.

The mayor had a COVID-19 information web page created. She launched the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) where residents could call with questions. The EOC’s phone number was featured on the COVID web page.

The Interactive Mayor

Her broadcasts were daily for about the first three months, then twice a week through August 2020 when she went to once a week on Thursdays. It seems she will continue those indefinitely. What started as COVID updates and questions quickly included other questions about the city and about her. She was fully present for whatever the townspeople wanted to know.

Watch Mayor Gove’s first live broadcast — https://www.facebook.com/kassandragovemayor/videos/210407823375610

As the pandemic grew, our mayor, in essence, asked us to be kind neighbors by staying home to keep the virus from spreading.

It wasn’t easy but we united in a caring community spirit. #AmesburyCares

Mister Rogers would have been proud.

Times Were a “Alot Less Tougher”

During a solitary COVID-distanced walk I saw this handmade sign at city hall.

“Times are tough but thanks to the compassionate and strong leadership of Mayor Gove they are alot less tougher.” — April 2020

Assistance for Amesbury Businesses — We Got The BEAT!

As it became clear that closing down would need to be more than a few weeks, Mayor Gove saw the dark cloud looming over Amesbury businesses.

She came up with a comprehensive plan to assist local businesses —
The Amesbury Business Economic Adjustment Team (The BEAT)

Mayor Gove asked the Director of Amesbury’s Department of Community & Economic Development, Angela Cleveland to lead the team that would help businesses navigate guidelines from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts COVID-19 Advisory Board and to do what they could to help our local businesses stay afloat.

The BEAT published its first email newsletter May 21, 2020, and collaborated with the Chamber's “Support Our Local Businesses” campaign.

Graphic designer Shannon Carroll created graphics for the “Support Our Local Businesses” campaign

The Small Business Relief Grant Program

from the City of Amesbury web page

The next initiative to help Amesbury businesses was a collaboration with Newburyport.

Also led by Angela Cleveland of the Department of Community & Economic Development, Mayor Gove’s administration helped land an $800,000 grant to provide relief to businesses impacted by COVID-19.

It would be divided evenly between the two cities.

Inspired the Community to Take Care of Our Own — Aid 4 Amesbury

In May Mayor Gove initiated the Aid 4 Amesbury program, to assist our neighbors who were in need during the pandemic.

Partnering with The Pettengill House, a portal was created where donations could be made.

Residents in need could apply for assistance to pay for groceries, medication, child care, housing, and other needs.

Like all cities large and small, life in Amesbury changed dramatically. When the weather warmed up, the Gove administration worked out a plan for how to safely open Lake Gardner. The city hired part-time lake monitors to limit the cars, and remind residents to wear masks and stay distanced.

Lake Gardner

Like other cities, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th deeply impacted many in our community — our primarily white community. In June Amesbury residents stepped up to organize and we turned our anger and sorrow into one of the largest Black Lives Matter rallies in the region.

Black Lives Matter Rally in Amesbury, MA — June 2, 2020

Our Black Lives Matter Rally Had Support from the City & the Mayor

Mayor Kassandra Gove attended Amesbury’s Black Lives Matter Rally on June 2, 2020
So did I.

We didn’t always stay fully distanced during our Black Lives Matter Rally, but we were outside and almost everyone wore a mask.

Did the City Need a Communications Director?

To some, the hire seemed an unnecessary expense (this was pre-pandemic).

I knew, however, that a communications director was needed to properly serve the people and business community of Amesbury— that they would publish a wide range of information — city project updates, city government activities of the council, committees and commissions, messages from the mayor, arts and cultural initiatives, education and youth recreation, and information important to local businesses.

A city communications director would also help Amesbury get known more widely through media outreach and publicity related to city government — initiatives that fall outside of the role of the Chamber of Commerce.

I was impressed that our new mayor understood this as a necessity of a 21st-century city government — even a small one.

Mayor Gove hired Catlin Thayer as the city’s Communications Director. Caitlin brought a wide range of skills and immediately proved essential for the technical needs of the mayor’s live broadcasts.

That’s Caitlin in the lower-left of the frame of the Facebook live broadcast.

Caitlin took on the exhaustive task of updating the city’s website with mountains of new content and created the unexpected COVID-19 web page, and later the Vaccine Distribution page.

Caitlin’s contributions over the following months proved invaluable. It seemed she was the ideal collaborator to help the mayor with her vision of expanding and transforming the Budget Book and the Annual Report.

Together Caitlin and Kassandra crafted the city documents to appeal and be accessible to a wider audience than those published in the past. Caitlin assisted with content but the stunning design revealed her full talent.

The Mayor’s Budget

The mayor submitted a budget like nothing the city had ever seen.

“The budget submission looks quite different from previous ones submitted to the Council. When I ran for mayor I made a promise to be more transparent about how City government functions, and that includes how we raise revenue and how we spend it. This year’s document includes more information about the budget process, our various sources of revenue, financial reserves, organizational charts and descriptions of each City department…” Mayor Gove, Amesbury Budget Book FY 2021

“a detailed breakdown of where tax dollars are spent. It is my hope that this document will serve to showcase and educate about our financial status and budget process.”Mayor Gove

The expansion and makeover of the budget and annual report likely required more time from the mayor and her staff, but I was astonished as I saw:

One more aspect of the transformation of city government practices. Mayor Gove and her team had taken traditional, sleep-inducing statistical documents and turned them into dynamic, educational reports.

Here’s Amesbury’s FY 2021 Budget Book that includes a list of accomplishments from Mayor Gove’s first 8 months. (pages 6–7)

Even more exciting — City of Amesbury Annual Report FY 2019–2020

The report features a full page about the City Council as well as each board, committee, and commission. It also features four pages (shown below) that spell out Mayor Gove’s priorities and plans. (pages 26–29 in the PDF file)

Inspired Residents to Get Involved with Their City

In her January 21, 2021 Blog, Mayor Gove encouraged residents to get involved — to request to be considered for a vacancy on a city board, committee, or commission that matched their interest and experience.

Her blog included this bar graph showing the dramatic increase in appointments and reappointments as well as the city council activity.

The mayor wants to hear our beefs but she has a request:

“If you see something happen that you have questions or concerns about, call or email someone at the City. Get an answer directly instead of venting on social media.” (She wants us to act like grownups! Who knew?)

Her blog was published the day after a post in Amesbury Talks on Facebook. Someone blamed the “Dem mayor” for their higher tax bill. Another member corrected them: “The mayor isn't a Democrat, she’s an Independent.”

The City Launched its Very First Email Newsletter — March 16th

Mayor Gove understood the necessity of a city newsletter to keep Amesbury residents informed as well as engaged.

City Council, Committee & Commission Meetings, and Special Workshops and Announcements on the city’s Facebook Page

Facebook Events: City Council Meeting — Conservation Commission Meeting — Smart Growth Neighborhood Meeting
Facebook Posts: Police Station Balcony Restoration by Volunteers and Drug-Free Program Funded by a Grant Hired a Coordinator

The Public Service Mayor

Not even halfway into the year my dream was coming true —

During the 20 years I’ve lived in Amesbury, I’ve not seen this amount of relevant, engaging information provided to the public by the city.

Today’s digital world offers more information channels, but the public service provided by a user-friendly website, and a wide range of announcements, city project updates, meeting schedules, arts and cultural events, and opportunities shows a level of commitment to serving the people that I’ve not experienced before.

VISIONING: I AMesbury 2030 Project

Having her plate full with city business and handling the pandemic didn’t stop Mayor Gove from launching one of the initiatives she had in her back pocket when she took office — to develop a new master plan.

From the city’s I AMESBURY 2030 web page:

“Mayor Gove created an I AMesbury 2030 task force to help our community plan for the future. We will spend the next two years gathering community feedback, looking at our strengths and weaknesses and helping to determine where we collectively want Amesbury to be in the next 10 years.

I AMesbury 2030 will look at every aspect of our community…our schools, arts and culture, health and safety, housing, open space, technology, energy and environment, transportation, diversity and inclusion, tourism, businesses...”

Amesbury Listens Project — Part of the I AMesbury 2030 Project

“…an opportunity for residents and stakeholders to engage directly with City staff and voice concerns, ideas, questions, and compliments…we want to hear from everyone!” Amesbury Listens Project

Mayor Gove Led the Campaign for Local Vaccine Clinics

On February 24, 2021, this Daily News article stated:

“Gov. Baker announced the state will only give vaccines to large-scale regional clinics capable of administering 750 doses per day, five days a week. Baker’s move prompted Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove to send the governor a letter, asking for a more equitable distribution of vaccine doses.

It looks like Amesbury will be the lead…” -Mayor Holaday said.
(emphasis added)

Mayor Gove doesn’t tend to toot her own horn. In the March 10, 2021, article, Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington tooted it for her by acknowledging her leadership in the Merrimack Valley Regional Collaborative:

“Harrington said Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove took a lead role in coordinating the larger vaccine rollout.

Gove said Tuesday she appreciated Harrington’s remarks. “That was very kind of him. It has been a real team effort between all of the nine communities involved. Everyone has had a role in making this happen.”

Gove said Amesbury has the benefit of a dedicated communications director in Thayer, who she said was focused on grabbing the governor’s attention through a social media campaign and now with the coordinated vaccination effort.

“We were happy to take a lead there,” Gove said. “But that would not have happened without everyone in the region, especially Neil and Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday.” — Daily News March 10, 2021 (emphasis added)

Mayor Gove’s mention of Amesbury’s communications director was not only a well-deserved acknowledgment of Caitlin Thayer but a reminder to the people of Amesbury and officials in surrounding towns, of the value of a city communications director.

Amesbury Vaccine Clinic set up — March 12, 2021

April 7, 2021 article: Amesbury Clinic Hits 10K Vaccinations

State Senator Diana DiZoglio & Mayor Gove at Amesbury’s Vaccine Clinic — April 2021

The Massachusetts Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized Mayor Gove as Elected Official of the Year for 2020.

Continuing to Do What Mayors Do

Mayor Kassandra Gove signs the COVID-19 Memorial Day Proclamation

Mayor Gove joined communities around the country proclaiming Monday, March 1st as COVID-19 Memorial Day.

City flags were lowered to half-mast and three of our churches rang their bells 45 times to honor the number of Amesbury residents who lost their lives to COVID-19.

In April 2021 Mayor Gove read her proclamation celebrating Cider Hill Farm’s 40 years as a business and tourist attraction in Amesbury.

Improving City Employee Job Satisfaction and Wellness

Mayor Gove wanted to improve the city’s work environment with her ongoing strategy to make the City of Amesbury an engaging and diverse place to work.

She asked city employees what could be improved. The result was the purchase of standing desks and installing healthy food vending machines.

Hiring a Human Resources Coordinator for City & School HR Functions
As the city’s largest employer Amesbury’s city government has never had a formal Human Resources department or function. In coordination with the School Department, the city is hiring an HR Coordinator.

“It is Mayor Gove’s intention, through these programs and the hiring of an HR Coordinator, to create a workplace that attracts a diverse and talented workforce.” — the city’s web page

Mayor Gove understands the importance of job satisfaction for attracting and retaining great staff. She knows that when we have quality long-term city employees who are happy, we have a happier city.

Commitment to Arts & Culture

Another campaign promise by Mayor Gove was to make arts and culture more of a priority. She understands that vibrant cities thrive with creativity and public art. She knows a strong cultural community makes a city more attractive to new residents, employees of local businesses, and tourists.

Gove’s first initiative was for artists to paint murals on the city’s electrical boxes, the summer of 2020. It was a wonderful project through the Amesbury Arts Council that brought us joy while we stayed home. We watched the progress through photographs posted on the city’s Facebook page.

Viewing the work of the artists, you’d never guess this beautification took place in the middle of a pandemic.

After the success of the electric box murals, the mayor announced a new project in March 2021 — Murals will be painted on the city’s crosswalks!

She Has Indeed Brought a Different Kind of Leadership

Kasandra Gove brought an ambitious, creative vision for her city.

She promised transparency but no one knew exactly how that would manifest or to what degree we would know the workings of her administration. As we’ve gotten to know Mayor Gove we see that she’s a direct communicator who is not only transparent but in many ways, an open book.

During her live broadcasts, she will publicly answer any question asked. That’s courageous for a public figure.

Who does that? What politician asks us before and after they’re elected, to hold them accountable?

Presumably, one who plans to serve with integrity.

If that’s not a trust-builder I don’t know what is.

During the first critical months of the pandemic, Mayor Gove’s interactive video broadcasts served to keep residents informed, but more importantly, to reassure us. Mayor Gove was a calming and positive presence.

Even after the 47th time a resident asked “When will the city compost site reopen?” she answered patiently and with a smile.

A year later on the April 22, 2021, live broadcast, Mayor Gove clarified:

“It’s a little misleading because it’s not a compost site like we think of compost now, it’s really “a leaf dump.”

I appreciated that profound level of transparency — revealing the truth about the so-called “compost site.”😉

It’s clear to me that Mayor Gove is a forward-thinking visionary as well as an effective implementer. Most people are one or the other — they’re either the big-idea person or the workhorse who gets things done.

When a person in public office is both, fasten your seatbelt because their accomplishments will likely exceed anything you can imagine.

Mayor Gove has demonstrated solid executive skills through her decisiveness and strategic planning for the city. She has a positive attitude and leads with compassion and respect that uplifts those who work with her and for her.

Gove’s leadership is also displayed by what she is not. She’s not a showoff because she has authentic confidence. She doesn’t seem to have a “dominance” bone in her body and therefore doesn’t need to throw her weight around. One of her most impressive attributes is her high level of emotional maturity. She doesn’t get triggered and ignores the childish name-calling from opponents online who desperately seek something to criticize.

Has Mayor Gove’s administration been as forward-thinking, creatively uplifting, and community-building as I had hoped?

I'll let my June 3, 2020 Instagram post answer that question:

“That moment when you realize how grateful you are that these two bandits are running the city!”

Communications Director Caitlin Thayer and Mayor Kassandra Gove

We are a well-governed city with an innovative leader who understands the big picture and always seems to be two steps ahead. She not only gets sh*t done, but is a role model of kindness and sober maturity.

If Amesbury is not yet a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, we are certainly headed in that direction, following a leader who can help get us there.

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Relational & Procedural Skills Coach. Web Design. Unbridled perspectives on almost everything. https://christinegreen.com/coaching/

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Christine Green

Christine Green

Relational & Procedural Skills Coach. Web Design. Unbridled perspectives on almost everything. https://christinegreen.com/coaching/

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