Select Board Candidates
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Do you believe Natick’s current form of local government (representative Town
Meeting with a Town Administrator) is serving the best interests of its residents?
If not, what improvements would you consider?
Natick residents can be better served by either (a) improving how Natick operates under its current form or (b) changing the form of government. Simply changing its form of government will not “automatically” better serve the community.
Natick is served by many well-intentioned and talented volunteers; however, the Town struggles to attract citizen participation and candidates beyond a handful (a hardcore, 100-200 “professional citizens”). Engagement and awareness has improved during the pandemic, but will this level of intense involvement continue when we return to our “normal,” busy lives?
Natick’s residents have been underserved by several aspects of the current form and execution of government, notably:
- Wasted time trying to achieve meeting quorums;
- Inconsistent meeting management, including how citizens are engaged (or not);
- Missed economic development opportunities due to onerous meetings, erratic guidance, and/or inability to respond in a timely fashion; and
- Lacking a formal connection and holistic plan between the school department and municipal government.
Other forms of government offer differing ways to address these and other limitations. I would urge Natick to consider improvements, or alternative forms of government, to make us more agile and responsive to rapidly evolving circumstances.
I’ve compiled some useful information relating to changing local government structure at www.onenatick.com/form-of-govt/.
What process should Natick take to determine what changes, if any, are warranted
to its form of government? How will you support identifying, evaluating and
implementing proposed changes?
There is a clearly defined process under Mass General Law; however, before contemplating a change to its form of government, Natick must honestly assess its
current operations, including what’s working well, to determine whether and where
performance and service levels can be improved.
From there, a study committee, followed by a potential Charter Commission, and then ultimately the voters, would determine whether, and how, to change from the status quo.
Fun fact: What’s your favorite place to visit (outside of Natick)?
Austin, TX. Live
musing (ACL!), BBQ, food trucks, fun outdoors activities, and over a million bats in August – what’s not to love?
Natick recently formed an Equity Taskforce and the Town is currently working to develop a Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan. What role do you think the Natick Select Board plays in local conversations about social justice?
It is vital that the Select Board, which serves as Natick’s face and voice, leads by example while pursuing social justice. Unfortunately, achieving equity and justice in a predominantly white, affluent community has historically been a vague, aspirational goal but in practice and policymaking it’s a long overdue priority.
By creating the Equity Taskforce the Select Board wields substantial influence over ensuring that the municipal government employs equitable standards and practices. At minimum, the Board is accountable to the community for setting, and measuring the performance of, goals from the Action Plan.
More broadly, as fellow citizens, Board members must commit to “doing the work” for themselves, with their families and neighbors, and in the various roles they play as high-profile volunteers.
As a Select Board Member, how will you personally reach out to and work with BIPOC, the LGBTQIA community and other minority groups in Natick?
Board members must strive to balance their work as individuals with that as part of a team. Over my 13+ years of experience serving as a community leader, (https://onenatick.com/experience/), notably as selectman and on related subcommittees, I have:
• Worked with and sought guidance from indigenous peoples subsequent to Natick changing its school mascot;
• Served on committees supporting LGBTQIA youth (liaising with WAGLY/ OUT MetroWest). As Chamber president, worked with Rep. Jack Lewis and initiated connecting youth with LGBTQIA professional networks among local employers;
• Volunteered as speaker and facilitator for Framingham State University programs serving immigrant and minority students, working with their Chief Officer of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement and Career Services office;
• Collaborated with individual members of Natick Is United in their professional roles while serving as Chamber president, selectman, and community volunteer.
As the proud younger brother of a gay man and with endorsements from members of each of these communities, I am committed and eager to work with everyone as we strive for “one Natick.”
Fun fact: What is your favorite DPW vehicle?
I’ve gotta go with “the claw” - the recycling truck!
In her last presentation to Town Meeting, Natick's previous Town Administrator shared a bleak financial forecast for the Town if it continued recent spending trends. What is your perspective on the Town's long term fiscal health and its ability to provide consistent or improved municipal services?
Natick is well-positioned to thrive with an embarrassment of riches to sustain its long-term fiscal health. The hard truth is that we suffer from a structural imbalance and systemic challenges affecting our annual budgeting process, notably: challenging working relationships, historical distrust, and occasional “going along to get along” by some leaders.
The “bleak… forecast” was as much about the economic uncertainty from the pandemic as “spending trends.” Natick’s fiscal health relies on both, somewhat predictable, and growing, revenue and “responsible” expense management. Spending is always within our control; whether it’s “responsible” is determined by taxpayers, staff, and leadership, through Town Meeting votes.
My campaign website is “onenatick.com” because I take a holistic perspective of Natick, including strategic planning and budgeting processes. We must promote better cross-functional management
Would you vote to support putting an operational override on the ballot in Fall 2021? Why or why not?
I have a record supporting responsible overrides, including the 2008 operational override.
I also joined the “Revenue Enhancement Task Force” because I felt strongly that we cannot simply “tax our way out” of budget challenges.
Natick has exhibited a “level services” and “zero sum” budgeting mindset for too long, pitting schools vs. municipal services. This is short-sighted and the result of flawed processes.
It would be irresponsible of me to commit to a Fall 2021 decision now; more data and context must be considered at that time. When considering an override, I’ll weigh the significant cost/benefit factors and make a well-informed decision that’s in the long-term best interest of Natick and its taxpayers.
How will you - as a Select Board Member - work with your colleagues on the Board, the Town Administrator, the Superintendent of Schools, and the School Committee to develop a community-wide budget that supports the priorities of Natick residents?
This starts with hiring and working effectively with a Town Administrator. Next, setting clear and measurable goals, including results-oriented metrics and assessing collaboration effectiveness. Finally, rebuilding trust by establishing shared goal setting and decision-making across these constituencies; all are critical.
I have extensive experience leading such collaborations, including my last time serving on the Select Board.
Fun fact: What's your go-to Natick pizza place?
More than one! ;-p
Who are you and why are you running?
My wife, Lena, and I have been Natick residents for 22 of the past 25 years; we lived in Austin, TX from 2000-2002. We are the proud parents of two former NPS students, now aged 20 and 18. My first-ever involvement in local politics stemmed from preventing the closure of Johnson Elementary School in 2008 when I was active with the leadership team that created “Yes For Natick!”
I’ve volunteered in many roles in Natick ever since, notably as a selectman (2010-2013) and chair of the Economic Development Committee (2009-2015). I also worked as the CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce from 2015-2019.
I’m running for the Select Board now because I believe my extensive experience, local relationships, and clear vision for a better Natick can contribute substantially to the Board’s 2021+ priorities, including:
1) Hiring Natick's next Town Administrator;
2) Navigating the impacts of a post-pandemic economy on Town revenue and operations, especially municipal services and school budgets.
3) More effectively incorporating community feedback into policy decisions, operations, and volunteer appointments; and,
4) Examining Natick's governance model and operating norms and their impacts on the Town's ability to grow and operate more effectively and equitably.
What do you think the role of a Select Board member is and how do you plan to improve Natick in this capacity?
Section 3-2 of the Town Charter explicitly defines the role and duties of the Select Board, including limitations of its powers. The Board operates as Natick’s “chief executive office” with broad powers to create policy directives and guidelines “to bring all agencies of the town into harmony.”
There are major systemic challenges preventing “harmony” in many areas across Natick, including its governance, budgeting, operations, and community relations. My highest priority will be to advocate for the systemic and cultural changes required for Natick to do more with less and for the benefit of more people.
Fun fact: What's your favorite Natick park or trail?
Coolidge (Field/ Hill/Woods, including the Eisenmenger Trail).
There is a Climate Crisis - some towns have declared it a Climate Emergency (although Natick has yet to engage with this). What can the Select Board do to address this, and how do you see that unfolding if you are elected?
Although the Town has not officially adopted the resolution promoted by 350 Mass (source of this question), Natick has been ahead of most communities in its preparations and planning for the crisis of climate change.
In fall of 2017, the Town was one of the first municipalities in the Commonwealth to participate in the Baker Administration’s “Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness” (MVP) program. I was one of 50 volunteers that helped identify the high-risk areas in town that would/will be adversely affected by drastic climate change-related events. Members of the Select Board also contributed and adopted the plan. (learn more at: https://www.natickma.gov/1679/Resiliency)
Further, Natick Town Meeting adopted a “Resolution to Adopt a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goal” which I presented in fall, 2018. This document was the result of the tremendous work of a volunteer group called “Renewable Natick.” Subsequently, with the stewardship of Natick’s Sustainability Coordinator and the Sustainability Committee, the Net Zero Action Plan was created and recently socialized across many elected bodies by Ms. Wilson-Martin (Coordinator) and Committee chair, Leo Ryan in advance of presenting the Plan to our 2021 Spring Annual Town Meeting.
This Plan establishes short term (2030) and long-term (2050) goals to move us into a sustainable future with net zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not sooner. The Select Board can play an instrumental role in setting policies for the Town, performance metrics for the Town Administrator, and potentially advocating for tax incentives for businesses and community members that adopt technologies or otherwise promote and achieve environmentally sound practices to achieve our sustainability and resiliency goals. The Select Board should strive for policies that balance such individual benefits with ensuring equitable access to such programs and their benefits to all community members.
English Language Parent Advisory Council (ELPAC)
The amount of ELL families is increasing every year in our community. How do you think this will impact needs and priorities for Natick in the short, medium and long term?
According to recent (2015-19) US Census data, 20.9% of Natick households speak a language other than English. As we continue to grow and welcome more, and more diverse, community members, it’s important that the Town, its businesses, and our residents not simply be “welcoming,” but proactively provide resources to our ELLs. The school department addresses ELLs’ specific needs within the formal education environment, but examples of how some local municipalities augment these resources include: providing multilingual documents and correspondence from Town Hall, hiring a Citizen Participation Officer (Framingham’s CPO, Alaa Abusalah, is a great role model!), and ensuring that the coordination of Town resources with local non-profit organizations serving immigrant and ELL populations (e.g. Natick Service Council, Family Promise Metrowest, MetroWest YMCA, Jewish Family Services, SMOC, United Way, etc.) continues to inform our policies for communications, grants, and public-private partnerships.
Would you support a study or examination of the need for a police presence in Natick Schools? There seems to be a national trend towards a police-free schools movement, which seeks to shift schools’ disciplinary cultures away from control and punishment and towards a more supportive model.
Yes. This issue has been raised publicly and it is my understanding that the School Committee has discussed undertaking such a study (it’s within their purview to assess, propose, and adopt any changes relating to police officers in schools). The Select Board hires the Chief of Police, but otherwise, such policies are beyond the scope of their role.
That said, having known several of our SROs over the years and the approach they’ve taken to being present on school property, it’s important to not assume that the Natick model for SROs is a “disciplinary culture” rather than a “supportive” one; however, a study would help us understand whether the students’ and community’s perspectives have changed over recent years and if so, what changes NPS and NPD might consider.
All voices must be heard with regard to this topic. Also, if such an extreme change as “police-free schools” is considered, the Select Board would need to understand the resource, training and budget impacts of any alternative approaches as it relates to police union contracts (changes in job descriptions/expectations, etc.), the potential expansion of municipally-employed social workers, and the like. Such changes might also present new opportunities for regional collaboration with local communities.