Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In-depth Q&A with Town Council candidates from Amherst’s District 5

Four candidates are competing for two seats

%28Judith+Gibson-Okunieff%2FDaily+Collegian%29
(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 seats in the third district council in what will be the inaugural Town Council. The candidates are presented in order of placement in the preliminary election. Some responses have been condensed for publication.

Shalini Bahl-Milne, PhD, local business owner, mindfulness teacher, former PriceWaterhouse Coopers chartered accountant

Motivation in running for office: “Amherst was my first home when I moved here 17 years ago from India. There are important decisions that the new Town Council will be making that impact all residents. I have the qualifications, skills, experience and energy that will be helpful in listening to diverse points of view and working together to make Amherst a resilient and thriving town that takes care of all its residents, including the most vulnerable populations and empowers people and organizations to contribute to their highest levels.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Creating policies and strategies to ensure that we have a responsive government and a safe and healthy community, especially taking care of our most vulnerable residents with a focus on healthy schools and workforce housing.”
  • “Building a sustainable economy with a diversified tax base and retaining character of Amherst.”
  • “Environmental stewardship with a comprehensive plan to make Amherst a carbon-neutral community.”

Bahl-Milne, a 14-year Amherst resident, received 773 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?

“Besides its legislative role, I see the Town Council building bridges between residents, local businesses, nonprofits, colleges and Town Committees and Boards. It will be up to the Councilors to ensure all constituents are heard and their concerns addressed when making decisions, which then need to be shared with the constituents. I will contribute to the thoughtful creation of policies for an inclusive government and resilient Amherst and help create online and offline channels to listen to and share information on a regular and transparent manner with District 5 residents.”

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

“Financing the capital projects—schools, DPW, fire services in South Amherst and Library—and infrastructure (deferred maintenance for roads, sidewalks, etc.) without burdening property owners. Of these, the schools are the priority.”

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

“I see Amherst College, UMass and Hampshire College as key stakeholders and partners in our town. They have a symbiotic relationship with the town and should be involved in decisions impacting students, residents and the building of a resilient town. I would like to see collaboration for more internships in town government and local businesses, channeling research for social innovation and start-ups….and capital investments and infrastructure.”

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

“I would like to figure out ways to reach out to students and residents to understand their concerns. One concern is the unaffordability of housing because of students. I would promote public-private housing on college campus. We can also explore successful landlord ordinances in other towns such as establishing a point system to track ordinance violations at rental properties (such as noise violations) and apps for landlords to rate students for more accountability.”

Darcy Dumont, Climate Action Now Western MA steering committee, Holyoke public schools teacher, retired lawyer

Motivation in running for office: “Making Amherst a model of sustainability (rivaling UMass), inclusion and democracy.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Climate Resilience; Authorizing Community Choice Energy to generate and use our own solar energy and target strategic energy efficiency; Improving public transportation; Involving students and/or departments in meeting town sustainability goals.”
  • “Putting a temporary moratorium on approving new private downtown buildings until Council amends zoning bylaw to preserve downtown character.”
  • “Prioritizing Fort River, Wildwood Schools and Fire Station capital projects.”

Dumont, a district resident for 23 years, received 751 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 envision it being transparent, responsive and inclusive of diverse decision makers. I would adopt a policy that appointments to committees/boards must reflect diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, including that of students.”

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

“Healing the divisions that exist due to bruising political campaigns.”

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

“Amherst can do better in working with the three institutions – to support common economic development, environmental, quality of life and other initiatives. Let’s regularly review contributions to and investments in the town and the local economy by our wealthy institutions.”

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

“Students are valued constituents. I would represent student interest in urgent climate action and social justice issues. I would contribute to finding solutions for more student housing, finding more moderately priced housing for UMass staff/students who choose to stay in Amherst, but would also support residents’ desire to preserve downtown’s character.”

Paul Bobrowski, Town Meeting member, finance committee member, Hampshire Council of Governments

Motivation in running for office: “I want to give back to a community that has given so much to me and my family.  I am concerned that our high tax level prevents young families from moving into town and missing out on the opportunities here that we experienced.  And I am concerned that older residents can no longer afford to live here.  Beyond that, there are other significant and complex problems on the horizon for our town and I feel I can make valuable contributions toward solving them.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Rebuilding our two elementary schools (Fort River and Wildwood).  Beyond improving the quality of education delivered, this is a serious health and safety issue.”
  • “South Amherst access to fire and EMT services.  Another health and safety issue.”
  • “Review, possible modification of zoning regulations for downtown to mitigate concerns over the new construction, parking, setbacks, and the look of the new buildings.”

Bobrowski, a district resident for 20 years, received 465 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 Council needs to reconstitute many boards and committees before it can get started on substantive issues.  In addition, the Council needs to establish its own rules and practices.  The Council will be under a town-wide microscope.  Transparency in this process is paramount. That’s first.  Next, I would encourage a review and possible modification, and ultimate approval of a Master Plan.  That approval will provide a springboard for modifying downtown zoning to allay citizens’ fear about development downtown, as well as other initiatives related to land use, taxes, etc.  And, certainly, the four large capital projects need to be reviewed and pursued, once the elementary school situation is clarified.  This will all happen with open forums and deep citizen involvement.  I will work to create consensus and transparency.

I feel strongly that we need to heal the divisions in town, divisions over our schools and our form of government.  I believe this new form of government can not only work, but can work phenomenally well if we all approach it with a collaborative, generous spirit.  We need to shun absolutism and give the concept of compromise its rightful, elevated place in our politics.”

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

“Rebuilding our two elementary schools.  Fort River is very near the end of its usable life and Wildwood is not far behind.  The health and safety of our children and teachers are at stake.”

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

“For specific initiatives these institutions are valuable partners and they should be at the table.  Beyond that, students and faculty are citizens like everyone else and I welcome their involvement in local government.”

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

“All residents have the potential for conflicting concerns.  Sometimes a policy that is good for the town may disproportionately impact a specific district.  As councilor I would balance the pros and cons of any policy and listen to all sides before making a decision.  Students have the right to be heard on an equal footing with other residents.  I was a student here, lived on Main Street, East Pleasant Street, Puffton Village, on Shutesbury Hill, behind CVS and at Crestview Apartments.  I understand a student’s position in this town and will represent them fairly.”

Samuel (Sam) Macleod, Amherst Youth Soccer Association vice president, UMass alum

Motivation in running for office: “I care deeply about Amherst and want to ensure that we effectively meet the needs of our residents as we advance Amherst on the path to being an inclusive, sustainable and business-friendly community… My background and experiences make me uniquely qualified to help lead Amherst at this time. I will bring a long-term perspective and independent practical voice to our council while advancing the progressive and responsive government that we all want.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Listening to the concerns and wishes of our District 5 residents.”
  • “Advancing Amherst on the path to being an inclusive, sustainable and business-friendly community.”
  • “Meeting our Infrastructure needs for Quality Elementary Schools PreK-6, South Amherst Fire Station, Spacing for Seniors, DPW and Safe Streets will ample access for pedestrians and bicyclists while supporting public transportation.”

Macleod, a member of the Amherst community for 55 years, received 460 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 provide leadership and legislative decision-making for Amherst. The town council representatives must address the concerns and priorities of our residents. The town council’s responsibilities are defined in the Charter that we adopted.  We will set priorities for the Town Manager, Approve Board and Committee members, approve budgets, determine any changes to zoning and bylaws among other responsibilities.”

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

“The affordability issue of living in Amherst, and the financial constraints that limit Amherst’s ability to meet the need for services and infrastructure improvements.”

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

“Education is by far and away the primary industry and driving force in Amherst. The town and colleges have a mutually vested interest in the long-term well-being and success of our greater community. We need to collaborate wherever possible in this regard.  The Town Council needs to listen to all of our residents and stakeholders with decisions being made by the Town Council to address the concerns of our residents.”

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

“The interests overlap in many ways.  I plan to represent ALL of our residents including our students who are an important part of our community. I attended UMass and understand the issues that arise.”

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

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