Amherst Forward engages fellow residents and public officials about critical issues facing our town. We support policies that strike a good balance between smart, strategic development and protecting open spaces. We support infrastructure that is equitable and that matches our progressive ideals. We support civic participation that is inclusive, informed, and engages a wide cross-section of residents.
The following questionnaire evaluates your support for our priority issues and will guide us in our endorsement process. In order to educate voters about candidates’ positions, Amherst Forward will publish the unedited responses on our website and will share them with the media and the general public.
Please limit your responses to 300 words for each question (bullet points are fine).
1. What would you say are the biggest challenges Amherst faces?
The most enduring and important challenge Amherst faces is the tension between our values and aspirations on the one hand and our ability to deliver on them on the other. For example, we desire high quality educational and other services to make life better for our residents, but our tax base is very narrow, putting far too much of the burden on homeowners and renters. Another example: we want vigorous participation and debate, but we too often succumb to polarization and mistrust that make it hard for us to hear each other.
There is no magic solution, and many of the tensions we feel today were set in motion many years ago. But what we can do today is own them and work on overcoming them. It’s not a matter of someone winning and someone losing: it’s about working out solutions that respond to our most important values, even if we all have to give a little up. In my view, the level of actual disagreement in Amherst over tangible issues is nowhere near as great as our feelings of difference and mistrust. That gives me hope, because in my first term on the council I’ve found many opportunities to make progress when we move beyond our symbolic differences and acknowledged that we all share many core values.
2. What relevant experiences and qualities would you bring to the Town Council that would help it work through these challenges constructively and effectively? *
As suggested above, I believe the key is focusing on specific problems, being explicit about our goals, and respecting each other as we find solutions that can earn the broadest possible support. Before going on the Council I had tried to live my professional and community lives on those principles. My work at the UMass Donahue Institute — from my first days as a program manager helping dislocated workers transition to new careers to my years as executive director — was entirely focused on bringing together stakeholders and funding to solve public problems. My work in the community — from chairing the capital campaign and leading the board at the Amherst Survival Center to chairing the committees trying to modernize our fire and public works facilities — was about putting our aspirations and values to work in very practical ways.
On the council, I had the privilege of serving as president during the “shake-down cruise,” which included a whole host of predictable challenges and the sudden arrival of COVID-19. I put my energy into two priorities: first, being absolutely clear and straightforward about issues requiring the attention of town government; and second, using agenda-setting, the committee structure, and all the communication tools available — from our formal meetings to Public Forums and District/neighborhood meetings — to promote understanding of the trade-offs and ownership of the results.
And through it all I’ve tried to keep learning and growing. For example, I did not come to the council with a background in public safety, but as Amherst joined the national debate over social justice and policing I learned where we could make a difference, and became a strong supporter of alternative approaches that can promote both public safety and social justice.
3. Have you ever served on an elected board or committee in Amherst and if so, what were 3 of your most challenging votes? *
I have served the Town of Amherst in the following ways:
- Fire Station Study Committee, Chair and Member, completed 2006
- DPW/Fire Advisory Committee, Chair and Member, completed 2018
- Town Council, President and District 2 Councilor, December 2018 – Present
One challenging series of votes over many years concerned replacing our public buildings. At times it seemed overwhelming to tackle all of these, but I am convinced they are needed and we can afford it; we should not pass these problems off to the next generation, allowing the deterioration to grow and the price tag to increase. So I’ve energetically advocated for the Four Capital Projects, even though it requires sacrifices elsewhere and a limited override. I voted to:
- Re-engaging with the MSBA to build a new elementary school
- Authorize borrowing for the Jones Library necessary to accept the MBLC grant and the agreement between the Jones Library Trustees and the Town regarding their contribution to the project.
- Voting for Memo dated 12/16/2020, “Options for Siting the Fire/Emergency Services and Headquarters (Fire/EMS) Building and the Department of Public Works (DPW)…” asking the Town to identify locations for both projects. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/12771
- Voting for Memo dated 12/16/2020, “Update of the Financial Model for Capital Projects” …” so that we all can assess the Town’s ability to pay for all four major capital investments. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/12771
Other challenging votes relate to the creations of CRESS to augment traditional policing with new mental health and community services capacity. I voted to:
- Hold two police positions open and ultimately to transfer these funds to CRESS.
- To increase the number of community responders from 4 to 8.
There was tremendous pressure on all sides, but I believe we did the right thing by acting methodically and allowing the community to absorb all the issues and ideas.
4. What steps would you take to engage low-income residents, renters, residents of color, and other underrepresented voices? *
We’ve tried numerous ways of opening up communications, but we need to do much more.
- Holding meetings in various neighborhoods and locations; often assisted by our CPOs. (i.e., when considering a siting for new DPW building we held 2 dedicated District 2 Meetings and a tent in the neighborhood for about 3 hours on a Saturday and Councilor DeAngelis and I attended a neighborhood meeting. There are also social events like Halloween scarecrow construction parties in low-income neighborhoods sponsored by Amherst Recreation).
- Special Comment at council meetings or meetings for specific issues. (i.e., the meeting of residents regarding 132 Northampton Road development of 28 studio apartments for low income people including the homeless.)
One of the responsibilities I accepted as President of the Town Council is responding to all emails sent to email@example.com. While a monumental task it has allowed me to interact and provide significant information about upcoming meetings and agenda items to a very significant number of residents. All Councilors are cc’d and may respond individually.
I’ve also found that one of the most effective approaches is to reach out one-on-one to members of the community who have demonstrated interest in an issue – for example CRESS. That gives me an opportunity to have a real conversation — which can be difficult in formal meeting settings — and to ask questions. It also gives me the chance to provide information on various aspects of the government process, and to suggest ways in which residents can be most effective in having their opinions heard.
I have also used the above practice in attending specific committee meetings (i.e., CSWG) and then meeting with committee chair(s) as they prepare to present to the Town Council. These include outline document and time expectations and offering a “practice session” by Zoom.
5. “One Town, One Plan” has been in development and in public discussion for over a decade. The plan is designed to meet the town’s most pressing infrastructure needs in a financially responsible way, and prioritizes the following four projects equally: the Jones Public Library Renovation & Expansion, the Elementary School Building Project, the Department of Public Works Building, and the South Amherst Fire Station. Do you support this plan? Why or why not? *
I have supported the plan from the beginning and contributed to its development both as chair of two precursor committees and in my role and votes on the council. Please see my responses to Question 3 above for more details.
Expanding on this Plan other changes include improvement of the North Common, a potential performance shell on the South Common, and a privately owned parking garage. Added to this is the improvements at Kendrick Park. All of these focus on making our downtown more vibrant. I have voted to:
- Use CPA, state grant, and town dollars to improve the North Common making it an inviting park with improved landscaping, etc. This project is slated to start in spring 2022.
- Use CPA funds to match a state grant allowing for the truly wonderful playground area in Kendrick Park.
- Zoning changes necessary to allow a parking garage on the lot behind CVS have been proposed to the Town Council and referred to the Community Resources Committee and the Planning Board. We hope to see their recommended changes this fall.
In addition, the Business Improvement District will be introducing preliminary plans for the performance shell to the Town Council in the near future. As a way to pilot this concept they held 4 concerts on the South Common this summer, placing the temporary performance platform in the general location of the proposed performance shell.
All of these improvements are critically necessary to increase the vibrancy of our downtown and replace our public buildings.
6. As a member of the Town Council, how would you engage and communicate with your constituents, including those who have not previously been active in town politics? *
I have utilized the strategies described in my response to Question 4 and found them to be effective in engaging with constituents more broadly. But there is always much more to be done.
One of the most interesting outcomes of having District Councilors is that we have a clear community of constituents. I first meet them by canvassing for election, but continue to communicate once elected. I regularly hear from District constituents about very local concerns like road conditions, lack of sidewalks or the condition of existing sidewalks, speeding on roads in front of their homes, flooding due to excess rain, etc. And I hear from them regarding larger town-wide issues – policing, alternatives to policing, taxes, the Jones Library, UMass, etc. If I do not have responses to these, I seek additional information and then pass it along and follow-up.
In addition, I have been encouraged to see growing discussion of town issues in blogs and online newsletters. And when asked to comment for these news outlets, I make it a point to cooperate as much as I can, since they can engage a broad range of members of the community.
1. Our supporters champion efforts to change local zoning bylaws so that we can densify our downtown and village centers and preserve open spaces. An important byproduct is that densification also broadens our tax base so that our town can pay for high-quality services. Do you plan to support zoning bylaw changes? *
2. There are four major capital projects that, if completed, will improve our public schools, town safety, and access to education and library resources. These four projects are: the Jones Public Library Renovation & Expansion, the Elementary School Building Project, the Department of Public Works Building, and the South Amherst Fire Station. Do you plan to support the long-range major capital projects plan to fund, over time and in the most financially responsible sequence (including state funding), Amherst’s four needed construction projects? *
3. Will you vote to uphold the Town Council’s vote in favor of the Jones Public Library Renovation & Expansion project? *
4. Will you vote in favor of the bond funding of any proposal to replace Fort River and Wildwood schools as long as it is approved by the School Committee and the voters and pronounced financially viable by the Town Manager?
While the School Committee retains the authority for school-related decisions, the Town Council must authorize borrowing (approve bonding) necessary for school buildings and other capital projects.
5. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has invited Amherst back into the state funding process. They have agreed to two potential elementary enrollment models: a 320-student building, which would replace Fort River but leave Wildwood as is, OR a 575-student building to replace both Fort River and Wildwood. Will you vote to fund the 575-student model to replace both schools? *
6. Do you have the capacity to actively campaign this fall for a Councilor position (e.g., do you have time to knock on doors most weekends, friends to help, willingness to articulate a vision, generate a website, brochure, etc.)? *