Both broadly (and with specific examples when possible), please explain your understanding and positions on the following issues, along with your intended actions if elected.
1. Public health, safety, and emergency services
Public health, safety, and emergency services are complex and interwoven.
With regard to Public Health, Amherst is fortunate to have a Public Health Department that, for example, demonstrated its ability to respond to the COVID-19 Public Health crisis during the last 1 ½ plus years. They did this by working closely with the public, our higher education institutions and the state. They offered COVID testing and vaccinations at various town locations and through the use of various mobile sites were able to expand these services to low income neighborhoods and also to people who are unable to leave their homes. As the need arose our very small department was expanded by over 200 volunteers with racial, language, and ethnic diversity.
Our Public Health Department is complemented by the powerful combination of firefighters who are also trained as Emergency Medical Responders thus providing both Fire and EMS services across town. Over the years the balance has shifted in demand for their services – while the need for fire services has decreased slightly, the need for emergency medical services has increased due to our aging population and student populations.
Our Police Department, often seen as a training ground for Police Chiefs for other municipalities (e.g. most recently South Hadley and Belchertown), is both well trained and yet very open to additional training. Starting with the FY22 budget we decreased staffing by two positions. However, as the Police Chief pursues hiring other vacant positions he is working hard to recruit representatives of the BIPOC community.
At the nexus of our present Public Health, Safety, and Emergency Services is the planned CRESS Program https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/56173/7a-CSWG-Final-Report-Part-A, p. 13 – an alternative to some areas of policing such as mental health and homelessness. Recommended by the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG), this seven member committee has worked tirelessly to develop and join in the implementation of an alternative to providing public safety services to the community, and before the end of October 2021, will make recommendations on reforms to the current organizational and oversight structures of the Amherst Police Department and the formation of a follow-on committee to CSWG.
As the CSWG brought their recommendations regarding the CRESS Program to the Town Council, I introduced a motion in the Finance Committee that increased the number of Community Responders from 4 to 8. While this still may not be sufficient, I feel strongly that it is necessary for the Town to fund this level of services as a starting point so that the program can be successful. An amended form of this motion was passed by the Town Council along with a resolution regarding the program. I voted YES on both of these items. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/13498
In the future I will support increased funding that provides the best combination of the various services described above, in a manner that strikes the right balance for Amherst.
2. Capital spending, borrowing and local property taxes
The Four Major Capital Projects/Investments – a new elementary school, a renovated and expanded Jones Library, a Fire/EMS station south of Downtown, and a new facility for all or part of the Department of Public Works – are all priorities for the Town of Amherst. I support all of these priorities because I have carefully followed the process for each and I have reviewed the financial information thoroughly and know we can afford them.
While on the Town Council I have voted to:
- Support the decision to re-engage in the Mass School Building Authority (MSBA) process to build and/or substantially renovate a new elementary school
- Support accepting the grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC); borrowing to cover the Town’s costs; and the use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to renovate and expand the existing Jones Library. I also actively participated in the development of the negotiated agreement between the Trustees of the Jones Library and the Town regarding their contribution to the renovation and expansion.
- Authorize the Town Council President to send the Memo dated December 16, 2020, “Options for Siting the Fire/Emergency Services and Headquarters (Fire/EMS) Building and the Department of Public Works (DPW)…” so the Town could identify appropriate locations that would allow us to move forward on these important projects. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/12771
- Authorize the Town Council President to send the Memo dated December 16, 2020, “Update of the Financial Model for Capital Projects” to the Town Manager on behalf of the Town Council…” so that the Town Council and the public can assess the Town’s ability to pay for all four major capital investments. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/12771 I also participated in providing feedback on the development of the financial model from the beginning of its introduction to the Finance Committee.
At the same time we have other capital needs as outlined in the 5 Year Capital Improvement Program https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/55851/FY22-Capital-Improvement-Program developed by the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC) and adopted by the Town Council. This is where funds are included for such critical items as sidewalk improvements, vehicles (electric or hybrid as feasible), new roofs, etc.
It is critical that energy savings and sustainability are common threads throughout each of these large and smaller capital plans – both buildings and other capital investments such as electric vehicles, roof replacements that support solar panels, etc. This has been part of the efforts of the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) and was presented in their report Climate Action, Adaptation, and Resilience Plan, June 2021 (https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/56634/7a-CAARP-Final_061721pdf)
I approach the issue of Capital Expenditures with significant experience both professionally (have overseen a major build out project for the Springfield Center of the University of Massachusetts), through my volunteer experience (as Chair of the Amherst Survival Centers Capital Campaign) and as the Chair and member of two Town Committees (Fire Station Study Committee, completed 2006, https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/49526/Fire-Station-Study-2006?bidId= and the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee, completed 2018, https://www.amherstma.gov/1505/DPW-Fire-Station-Advisory-Committee.
If elected, I will continue to support the Four Major Capital Projects/Investments; other capital improvements presented in the 5 Year Capital Plan, including sidewalks and bike paths; and projects that in particular reduce our carbon footprint such as electric vehicles where the advancements in technology and maintenance make these purchases feasible.
3. Operating budget and use of municipal funds
The Municipal Budget Process is regulated by Chapter 44 of the Massachusetts General Laws (https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter44) and further defined by Home Rule Charter, Article 5 (https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/41987/Amherst-Home-Rule-Charter).
Significant budget information to note:
- The budget must be designed to support the priorities of Amherst within the framework provided by the state.
- Simultaneous with the development of the Annual Operating Budget, the Joint Capital Planning Committee reviews and updates the 5 year Capital Plan and advises the Town Manager about the amounts to include in the Fiscal Year Operating Budget. https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/55851/FY22-Capital-Improvement-Program. This plan is then included in the Annual Operating Budget.
- At present the Town has extraordinarily low debt obligations. However, as the Town borrows for major capital projects, the debt owed each year must be included in the Annual Operating Budget and/or a description provided as to how reserves will be used to help manage that debt.
- Each of the events/components of the budget process described below include opportunity for Public Comment; email exchanges with the Town Council, and the opportunity to seek additional information from the various parts of Town Government including all Town Departments, the Schools, and the Jones Library.
The process of developing Amherst’s Annual Operating Budget includes the following key components:
- Financial Indicators – This is a presentation made by the Town Manager and Finance Director in early November of every year. Presented at a joint meeting of the Town Council, the School Committee, and the Jones Library Trustees, it highlights the assumptions and challenges for the coming fiscal year. These assumptions and challenges are regularly updated as the budget development process continues.
- Public Forum regarding the coming fiscal year budget – This is held in mid-November each year and is one of several opportunities for the public to express their requests, hopes, and concerns about the upcoming budget.
- Financial Guidelines for the Town Manager – the Finance Committee of the Town Council develops draft Financial Guidelines for the Town Manager and introducing them to the Town Council in late November/early December for adoption by late December. The Financial Guidelines reflects the Town Council’s Priorities, based upon the Town Managers Goals (set in late November) and what they have been hearing from the public. SEE RESPONSE TO QUESTION 5.
- Regional School Budget – The Regional School Budget requires a separate timeline for consideration so that it is presented by March each year before the Town’s Budget is introduced. This requirement is also described in the Charter and exists because the other three municipalities are Towns not Cities. Therefore they vote their budget at Town Meetings. The key components of establishing the Regional School Budget include:
- A meeting in early December of the Four Towns regarding the proposed Regional School Budget and formula indicating the amount and percent each of the four municipalities must pay. There is usually at least one additional meeting of the Four Towns during the late January/March.
- The Regional School Budget is presentation to the Town Council in late March. The adoption of the Regional School Budget may take place then or at a date no later than June 30.
- Presentation of the Town’s Budget – On May 1, the Town Manager provides the Town Council with the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. This is followed by a presentation at the next meeting of the Town Council. Information about all of the components of the FY22 Budget can be found https://www.amherstma.gov/78/Budget
- Review by the Town Council’s Finance Committee – Over a period of 6-8 meetings during May, the Finance Committee conducts a serious review of the budget. This review includes meetings with Department Heads as well as the Town Manager and Finance Director.
- Budget recommendation by the Finance Committee provided to the Town Council – this must occurs by June 1
- Budget adopted by the Town Council – The Council must adopt the annual operating budget by June 30
- In late summer/early fall, based upon the final Annual Operating Budget, the Town Council holds a hearing and sets the tax rates for the coming year.
- At the end of each fiscal year, the Town “closes out” the books. At this time an external audit is conducted by a firm selected by the Town Council. Amherst has excellent accounting systems and the audits are seen as “clean.”
Since joining the Town Council, in addition to serving as President, I have also been a member of the Finance Committee for all three years. Each year the Finance Committee has recommended and the Town Council has passed a balanced budget without an override.
The Town Council has received an adopted/amended measures of the Participatory Budgeting Commission. https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/13708 I voted yes on all of these measures and I will work to increase ways that residents can participate in the budget process.
To the extent we can afford what we want, the budget needs to reflect the priorities of the Town within the confines of maintaining a balanced budget. If elected to the Town Council, whether on the Finance Committee or not, I will continue to advocate for this multi-step process with significant opportunity for resident input. In addition, I will continue to ask tough questions about each component of the Town’s Budget.
4. Downtown development and zoning policies
Our Downtown should be vibrant with retail, restaurants, offices, services, and housing affordable to all residents. Like many communities, we need to manage and balance the uses that sometimes compete in the downtown area.
While the Parking study has suggested that we have enough parking it often does not feel that way. In addition, some streets in downtown and around the University are narrow, and we need to be sure we maintain access for residents and emergency vehicles.
I support a number of improvements to downtown including zoning that can promote vibrancy while still respecting our small town character. I remain supportive of appropriate parking policies and traffic calming measures in the residential neighborhoods immediately surrounding the central business district and on major thoroughfares.
Future capital investments need to include maintaining our infrastructure particularly in the downtown. This includes water mains (where we have had two major breaks in the past several months), sidewalks that encourage walkability, bike lanes, and access to public transportation.
5. Town government’s focus and priorities
I actively supported setting regular and specific objectives for both the Council and the town manager. I believe this is a foundation for transparency and accountability, and I’ve worked hard during my first term to make these objectives meaningful and relevant to the Council’s agenda. The goals established by the Town Council for the Town Manager reflect the values of our community. FY21-Town-Council-Performance-Goals-for-the-Town-Manager—Adopted-by-the-Town-Council-09-14-2020-amended-1-25-2021–4-5-21 (amherstma.gov)
The Town Manager’s Policy Goals, which include the following areas, reflect my priorities:
- Climate Action
- Community Health and Safety
- Economic Vitality
- Four Major Capital Investments
- Housing Affordability
- Racial Equity and Social Justice
After hearing from several community members that Racial Equity and Social Justice as well as Climate Action should be woven into each of these goals, we revised the Goals statement to include the following: “These Policy Goals are deeply interrelated and overarching and should guide decision-making at all levels of Town government and its provision of core, municipal services and are meant to be used by the Town Manager to set priorities, direct work activities, and allocate staffing and financial resources.” SEE RESPONSE TO QUESTION REGARDING TOP PRIORITIES.
6. Equity and social justice
Much of the focus of the Council’s first term has been maintaining a sharp focus on issues of equity and social justice, both in the broader perspective and in terms of specific implications and opportunities for our community. I actively supported and attended the Council’s first diversity training program, and have regularly ensured that committees and community groups working on local initiatives have full access to the Council’s agenda and support from town staff. In addition, I have also attended other anti-racism training in my capacity as a board member of the Amherst Survival Center.
I supported the creation of the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG), attended all of their public forums and several of their meetings as a member of the audience, and worked with them as they are preparing for their next presentation to the Town Council. Upon presentation of their proposal for CRESS, I proposed an amendment to increase the number of proposed positions (SEE RESPONSE TO QUESTION 1.) and the number of Community Responders has been increased from 4 to 8.
I also voted with the Town Council to support Reparations with a special fund https://www.amherstma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/13498, and support the formation of the African Heritage Reparations Assembly to provide the Town with guidance regarding Reparations.
I sincerely hope that the next Town Council will include representatives of the BIPOC Community and will actively work to help them be elected.
7. Housing and affordability
The Town Council has taken three distinct actions to support Affordable Housing and on Monday, September 27, 2021 will consider a fourth item – the Comprehensive Housing Policy. I voted to support all of those actions taken by the Town Council including:
- 132 Northampton Road – A property that will include 28 studio apartments for low income people including homeless.
- The Town Council held a 4 hour “meeting of residents” (Charter Section 8.1) which, as Council President, I moderated. (https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/47933/06-24-2019–FINAL-Agenda—Open-Meeting-of-the-Residents-6-20-2019?bidId=) This and other discussions lead by Valley CDC lead to some very meaningful changes in the plan that helped address residents’ concerns.
- The Town Council voted to support the project with CPA funds and subsequently wrote a supportive letter to the state funding agency.
- The project has now been approved and is moving forward with state funds.
- East Street School
- The Town Council voted to transfer this property to the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust for the development of low income housing.
- The RFP for this property is now active and combines its development with the next action (see next). https://www.amherstma.gov/3457/East-Street—Belchertown-Road-Project
- Purchase of Belchertown Road Properties
- The Town Council voted to spend CPA funds to purchase these parcels for the development of low income housing.
- As mentioned above, the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust is actively seeking a development partner for both this and the East Street School. https://www.amherstma.gov/3457/East-Street—Belchertown-Road-Project
Early in the Town Council’s tenure the Affordable Housing Trust proposed a housing policy to the Town Council. With the truly outstanding work of the Community Resources Committee, that policy which I support includes the following interdependent goals:
Goal I: Promote Greater Pathways to Homeownership and Integrated Communities through Increased Supply of a Diversity of Housing Types
Goal II: Increase the Supply and Variety of Affordable and Market Rate Rental Housing
Goal III: Create, Update, and Maintain Safe, Secure, and Environmentally Healthy Housing
Goal IV: Address Climate Sustainability and Resiliency of Housing Stock, Location, and Construction
Goal V: Align and Leverage Municipal Funding and Other Resources to Support Affordable Housing
What do you see as the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the Town Council and its procedures?
In my opinion, the greatest strength is the ability of a Council meeting regularly throughout the year to take timely action, focus on priorities, and provide a forum for critical issues to be raised, discussed, and revisited as needed. My experience in the first three years convinces me that this provides residents with a clear mechanism for becoming aware of issues coming before the town, understanding how and when decisions will be made, and participating in that process in a timely and effective manner. Another strength is the committee structure, which occupied a great deal of the Council’s effort in the first three years. I believe that structure makes it possible for the Council to give issues the attention and consideration they deserve as well as the opportunity for timely action when proposals are ready.
One area I would like to work on if I am reelected is further integrating the work of the committees into a master schedule for Council action. This would let councilors, staff, and residents get a clear picture of when predictable matters will come up for action, and also how other topics that may come up fit in with that. We made substantial progress on this during the past year, and I believe it has helped in many ways. Now we need to work out the kinks and make this a familiar aspect of Council operations.
What would be your top priorities if elected? What steps would you take to accomplish your goals?
My initial top priorities if re-elected are as follows:
- Review Town Manager’s goals so that they are consistent with the new Town Council.
- Review the FY23 Financial Guidelines so they are consistent with any revision in the Town Manager’s goals.
- Review the Town Council’s Committee Structure to make sure they reflect the Goals of the Town Council and that each Goal has at least one “home” committee
In addition to these broad, but CRITICAL priorities, my personal goals include:
- Establishment of the CRESS Program with an eye toward evaluation and increased future funding
- Utilizing the lens of racial equity and social justice as we move forward on all actions of the Town Council
- Implementing local strategic measures that help secure the future environment and sustainability of our town, nation, and the world
- Continuing the planning and implementation of the Four Major Capital Projects/Investments
- Figuring out how to create home ownership for lower income residents so that these residents actually end up accumulating wealth through home ownership
- Finding a path to recovery from the impact of COVID-19 on our health, safety, and our economy.
- Increasing the economic viability of Amherst in a manner that reduces or at least stabilizes the tax burden on residents
Describe an effort to bring about change in which you played a major role, including the overall goal, the process, and outcome.
I have had a very rewarding professional, community, and personal life, and now I have added my political life to those experiences. Each has allowed me to impact the lives of others by bringing about change. In responding to this question I will focus on one example from my community life.
About 15 years ago, I was looking for an opportunity to “do something” locally. An acquaintance invited me to lunch at the Amherst Survival Center (ASC) (https://amherstsurvival.org/about-2/ ), then housed in the basement of the North Amherst School. Let’s pause for a brief snapshot – the director’s office was also the office for two other people, the medical room, the meeting room, and when we ran out of space we met in the shower. I joined the ASC family as a member of the Finance Committee.
Under the leadership of the new Executive Director the ASC was making a comeback from some rough times and was now ready for a capital campaign to build a new home. I participated in a site selection committee; reviewed prospect lists for donors; and ultimately agreed to chair the Capital Campaign.
I have written many multi-million dollar proposals over the years, but I had to learn how to sit at a table and ask someone if they would consider a donation of $50,000. It was humbling when they said no; but so rewarding when they said yes.
We completed the $2.5 Million campaign within a record 2 years and moved into what is now the Amherst Survival Center we all know.
Faced with the impact of COVID, it has impacted the ASC services provided inside a building. However, within days of the Nation’s Shutdown, they pitched a tent in the parking lot and distributed hot meals and take home meals. With Town approval they build a semi-permanent shed and use it to continue their distribution of meals. ASC has purchased an additional vehicle to provide home delivery and continues pantry services to the most people in need. I cannot say enough about how proud I am of this organization that serves over 13 communities and in the past year has regularly delivered meals to over 7,000 people.
I continue to serve as a Member of the Board of the Amherst Survival Center including serving as President of the Board for 3 years.