CUMBERLAND – Now four years into his second career as mayor of Cumberland, Mayor Jeff Mutter says there have been many lessons learned as he keeps trying to make things better for the town and its residents.
The town’s bigger projects for 2023 have been well-publicized, from a new community center next to Town Hall to further park improvements, but Mutter this week detailed a personal goal for how he wants to lead during the coming year.
The mayor, who did not need to run for re-election in November after voters previously passed four-year terms in town, said he’s always about getting things done, simply taking the steps necessary to get a project across the finish line with the best results possible, but this year he’s focused on being more thankful and appreciative for the people around him and wanting to bring more people into the process of getting it done.
He said he also needs to do a better job of communicating appreciation on successes to those around him at Town Hall, who often just plug away each day getting the job done without complaining.
“It’s not something I’m good at,” said Mutter, noting that the get-the-job-done-at-all-costs mentality is something he brought with him from his years running Mutter Motors, but stopping for a minute is important to promoting cohesion and unity.
With some of the town’s initiatives toward creating a healthier community, it can be difficult to get the exact desired message out to the community, said the mayor, but to those who know him, they understand that it’s not just a tagline.
There are many components to making sure the community is well and healthy and that it’s good to move here, he said, and he and the staff try every day to demonstrate that by taking care of the parts they can. It’s part of the reason they’re working so hard to develop the new outreach building to serve people in need, he said.
Mutter said he was struck hard both by how many people applied to be part of a building committee to plan the community center and how many people rallied for a chance at being appointed to fill a vacancy on the School Committee. He said there are many new people moving to Cumberland, and the applicants for both boards were filled with people he’d never met before who have never been part of the process.
There are plenty of long-serving people in town who should be thanked for their contributions every day, he said, but the fact that new people feel they have an opportunity and want to contribute, “I feel really good about that.”
In years past, he said, he doesn’t believe so many people would have tried to jump in on something because they would have felt they didn’t have a chance because they weren’t connected or didn’t know someone in particular.
The mayor said he recently read a book recommended to him by John Marsland of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone called “Blue Mind,” which is all about the science of how being near, in, on or under water can make someone happier, healthier, more connected, and a better person.
One chapter in that book, which is inspiring Mutter’s shift in leadership strategy, is about the blue marble trend, which is all about expressing gratitude to others as part of a celebration of this planet we all share and the impact each of us has in preserving it and its resources.
Mutter said he’s still a firm believer in any conversation with the Town Council or School Committee that if the pieces can come together and something needs to get done, they need to do it, not knowing if such an opportunity will come around again. If you just keep waiting for the right time, he said, it may never arrive.
“I’m always thinking about all the pieces and putting them together to get to the finish line,” he said.
The big quote in the mayor’s office is that “we play on,” he said, but that expression can sometimes seem kind of cold. His desire this year is to “step back a little bit” and embrace the victories with staff, despite how difficult that can be sometimes.
Mutter said it can be difficult in this age of social media, but so much of the job is just about being steady and calm amid the chaos. He said he never wants to get too high or too low, taking the little steps needed each day and remaining on task, on message, and true to his authentic self, but he also needs to learn that it’s OK to take a day or two to celebrate when something good happens and show appreciation to those around him.
“I’m not going to beat myself up because I’m not good at it,” he said.
Residents can expect many good steps toward progress in 2023, said the mayor. At the Feb. 1 Town Council meeting, he expects to have something in front of the council on upgrades to the Diamond Hill Park stage, as well as the new bike pump track at the park. Work on the park’s new reflection pond is expected to start this spring, one of many upgrades planned for public facilities, and planning of the community center will also accelerate this year.
Another truth he’s learned afresh since first winning election in 2018 is that it planning takes a lot more time than actual execution, said Mutter, and eventual success is all about making sure the ball keeps getting pushed forward.
He said he’s expecting in the coming months to host a charrette of all department heads and other entities at Town Hall to “get an overall picture” and determine the scope of the town’s remaining capital needs, including those needed sooner rather than later. Public Works Director Joe Duarte and Planning and Community Development Director Jonathan Stevens have been doing some of that work behind the scenes, he said, trying to get a full picture of building and infrastructure needs as the town continues to grow.
The town still probably has several million dollars available to it from American Rescue Plan Act funding and lots of good work that could be done with it, said Mutter. One significant project that will correct a longstanding issue is long-awaited drainage work in the industrial park on Industrial Road near Route 295, a place where significant facility investments have been made. A $1.2 million Federal Community Project grant paired with $500,000 from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank will hopefully cover the entirety of upgrades there.
“That is a really big deal,” said Mutter. “I love that we can check a box that’s been out there for a long time.”