Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In-depth Q&A with Town Council candidates from Amherst’s District 4

The election will be held Nov. 6

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In-depth Q&A with Town Council candidates from Amherst’s District 4

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

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Following the Amherst Sept. preliminary election,four candidates are in the running for the two council seats in District 4. The candidates are presented in order of placement in the preliminary election. Some responses have been condensed for publication.

Evan Ross, UMass faculty in the college of natural sciences

Motivation in running for office: “Amherst is building a new government, and it shouldn’t be all the same people as the previous one. As a first-time candidate, I will bring a new voice and fresh face to Town government. As a Millennial, I will bring needed generational diversity. And as a renter, I will ensure that tenants have a seat at the table in government.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Housing. We need to work to increase housing production to meet housing demand and stem the problem of rising rents. We also must make sure new housing production meets the needs of low- and moderate-income residents.”
  • “Schools. Amherst has strong public schools and our Town must continue to make them a priority. But the Wildwood and Fort River elementary schools are in failing condition. Town Council must prioritize funding for new school buildings to replace our deteriorating and outdated elementary schools.”
  • “Infrastructure. Amherst has several important capital projects that need funding. We also need greater investments to expand and maintain our sidewalks and bike lanes. Funding infrastructure will require increasing revenue without increasing the residential tax burden.”

Ross, a seven-year resident of the district, received 439 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“The shift in government is a big transition for Amherst. While some approach it with trepidation, it should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to build a government that is transparent, representative, and accountable. But it relies on electing people committed to making it work, open to collaboration and compromise, and who eschew rigid ideologies.

“Town Councilors must be more than just legislators; they also must be liaisons between the government and the residents. The new Council needs to ensure strong community outreach and public engagement. I commit to holding formal and informal meetings throughout the community to ensure that residents have opportunities to be heard.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“Amherst has a severe housing problem. Rents are high. Vacancy rates are low. It is difficult for student and non-student renters to find available, affordable and adequate housing. A tough rental market drives rental conversion of single-family homes, reducing our stock of starter homes for young families. And high taxes push low-income residents and seniors on a fixed income out of Town. These problems have ripple effects throughout our community. Housing must be a priority of the first Council.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“Amherst’s higher education institutions can and should be close partners in moving Amherst forward. One opportunity is collaborations between the Town, the colleges, and the private sector to grow our local economy. The colleges generate intellectual capital in educated students. We can work together to bring companies to Amherst to capitalize on this, growing our business community and diversifying our tax base.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“Students are residents of Amherst. District 4 contains numerous dorms and student off-campus rentals. Their concerns and interests must be represented on the Council. We must move beyond othering students and defining issues as between student and non-student residents, and instead look at problems as a holistic community.”

Jacqueline Maidana, Town Meeting member, coordinating committee member, advisory committee member

Motivation in running for office: “I care deeply about Amherst… As a Town Councilor I will continue to have a voice.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Affordable housing with energy efficient standards.”
  • “Capital projects.”
  • “Tax relief for homeowners.”

Maidana, an eight-year resident of the district, received 412 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“Create new Master Plan, revising zoning bylaws, appoint new boards and committees.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“Affordable, energy efficient housing, needed by students and low to moderate-income population.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“These institutions need to do more to provide affordable student housing on campus and fund other valuable services.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“With a [Master’s Degree] from UMass I know the difficulties students face.  First step [is] communication.”

Stephen (Steve) Schreiber, Town Meeting member, Amherst representative to Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, professor and chair of the UMass department of architecture

Motivation in running for office: “I’m the only candidate with a professional background in design and planning. Why do I think that’s so important? Because our town council is getting its start in the midst of a vital town-wide conversation about what we want and expect from development in town, particularly downtown.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “I support another look at form-based zoning and infill development in our village centers. Infill, if done strategically and thoughtfully, will sustainably increase our tax base, breathe new life into our downtown and other centers, and increase the diversity of our community.”
  • “I also support the implementation of a capital plan that will fund (with state and private support) necessary building projects in the town: renovation and expansion of the Jones Library, the replacement of two elementary schools, and the updating or replacement of the central fire station and DPW buildings.”
  • “It is critical that we maintain and high-quality responsive services to residents, workers and visitors.”

Schreiber, a 13-year resident of the district, received 381 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“I’ll be looking to establish a Town Council with a structure and culture that embrace multiple perspectives, and where there’s respect for all.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“How do we want our downtown to look in twenty years? How much development is too much development – and how much do we want and need in order to diversify our tax base, serve our residents and keep our downtown bustling while also preserving the trees and green space that make Amherst such a great home?  How do we encourage development that nurtures diversity and caters to a broad spectrum of residents and visitors?  These are the types of questions I’ve grappled with professionally for decades, including 10 years on Amherst’s Planning Board. I’m also the founding chair of the Department of Architecture at UMass.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“Hampshire College, Amherst College and UMass are the economic engines of Amherst. The students, faculty and staff of those institutions should participate in town government in meaningful ways.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“Well, many of my district’s residents are students. I love living in area that has a balance of student renters and permanent residents. I believe we should welcoming students into downtown and into neighborhoods, and we should maintain healthy and safe neighborhoods.”

David Reffsin, School Equity Task Force volunteer, Not Bread Alone volunteer, former Franklin County Tech High School girls’ basketball coach

Motivation in running for office: “My primary motivation for running is to ensure that Town Council has many different voices that need to be heard.  It is too important to have a one-sided council.  We need new voices from various walks of life to represent residents in our town.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Zoning… This would include analyzing how the Planning Board reviews applications for new developments in town centers and deciding if zoning laws need to be amended.”
  • “Prioritization of capital campaign projects… deciding how to rank the various capital campaign projects including the two elementary schools in need of repair.”
  • “The environment… I want to encourage the town to retrofit all town buildings to be more environmentally-friendly and require all new construction to be built with a ZERO energy policy as well as LEED certification.”

Reffsin, a 34-year resident of the district, received 271 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“The Town Council will be in charge of overseeing all boards and committees.  Members to these boards need to be thoroughly screened and interviewed in order have the best representatives of our diverse population.  All Town Council members need to make a commitment to work closely with each other to ensure that we respect each other’s opinions.  Also, since this is the first Town Council, compromise on issues of importance must be a priority.  I will work to be a guiding force to ensure that these goals are met.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“The biggest issue facing the town is how to prioritize the various capital campaign projects that are needed.  I will work towards deciding what projects are truly needed.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“The University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College are clearly involved in our town. They should be invited to participate in various town committees in an advisory manner so that ideas can be exchanged.  Of course, the Council has the final vote.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“Our colleges and university are vibrant places, and Amherst benefits in many ways from students who live in all areas of our town.  We welcome students who are respectful and want to be responsible residents.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KathrineEsten.

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