John Page: District 3
The new Town Council will need to work through many issues, old and new. What are the key dilemmas you believe the new Council will face?
With mounting capital expenses, responsible development downtown and in the village centers is necessary to increase Amherst tax base. A key part of this development must be diversifying the housing stock to meet the needs of all Amherst residents. The first Town Council must balance these economic development goals while maintaining our community character and our commitments to preservation and the environment.
Coming up with a strategic plan to address, or more specifically, fund these capital projects and other delayed maintenance to our roads and built infrastructure will be the primary charge of the Town Council.
Additionally, the first Town Council will set the precedent and establish norms using the Charter as a guide. That is one of the reason why I think it is so critically important that we have a student representative on the inaugural Town Council.
Lastly, in these particularly divisive times nationally and locally, I stand by the affirmation that we can solve problems when we come together. I seek to mend these wounds and bring people of different backgrounds, experiences, and positions to come together and move forward.
What relevant experiences and qualities would you bring to the Council that would help it work through these dilemmas constructively and effectively?
-Served as a Senator then Secretary of University Policy and External Affairs for the UMass Student Government Association, the official liaison from the student body to the Town, I served on a variety of committees including Five College Consortium, Campus Physical Planning Committee, Land Use
-Served as Studied urban governance with Mayor Alex Morse
-Studied State and Local Leadership in the Millennial Era with State Senator Eric Lesser
-Interned for Congressman Jim McGovern's Northampton office focusing on constituent services
-Participated in the SophServe Honors program which paired service learning with research and advocacy work on food insecurity, the Farm Bill, and the SNAP program
-Served as Communications Director for the UMass Democrats
-Student Manager of the Berkshire Dining Commons where I have worked for five years managing a diverse team of high school students, college students, and full-time staff. Received student employee of the year award
-President of Amherst Regional High School, Class of 2015
-Member of the Student Advisory Board to the School Committee
· The audacity to dream
· The passion to pursue it
· The hope that we can make a difference
I have a proven track record of bringing groups together to produce results.
The Town faces many challenges with inadequate and outdated public buildings and infrastructure. What are your priorities for capital improvements? If everything cannot be done at once, how would you prioritize them?
Prioritizing capital projects:
-Elementary school buildings
My first priority is the Fort River and Wildwood Schools. I proudly stand as a product of Amherst's public institutions and will work to ensure that future students had the same opportunities I did. It will be the responsibility of the first Town Council to ensure that our schools have facilities and resources they need to ensure the next generation receives the highest quality education from Pre-K through high school.
Secondly, I believe we should strategically place the DPW and the fire station together. The efficiency through economy of scale and the natural collaboration between departments would be very beneficial. Likewise, we should have a community center that serves our seniors and our children. Savings from economy of scale. Natural collaboration. Fire station become public performing arts/arts center see Easthampton City Arts.
However, I would like to note that if opportunities arrive for grant opportunities through MSBA funding, grant money for the renovation, or say federal funding for public safety, I believe it prudent not to pass up those opportunities.
Many of the Town’s competing needs and goals involve zoning, land use, and development. The Charter requires the Council to adopt a Master Plan to frame these issues, and to consider any proposed zoning changes in light of that plan. The Planning Board adopted a Master Plan in 2010 that can serve as a starting point. What key elements of that plan would you support as a member of the Council? What would you change or add?
Our community values as dictated by the Master plan:
-Maintaining Amherst’s existing community character.
-Encourage vitality in the downtown and village centers.
-Balance land preservation objectives with more intensive development in appropriate areas.
Provide housing that meets the needs of all residents while minimizing impacts on the environment.
-Provide community services to meet the needs of all residents.
-Diversify and expand the economic base.
-Enhance town/gown relations and cooperation.
-Promote an ethic of sustainable environmental and energy practices in all Town activities.
Years of careful consideration, hard work, and community input were poured into the Master plan. Since its adoption, in 2010, we have commissioned housing studies, parking studies, and continued to gather information. Now it is time to act!
Like the Charter, the Master Plan provides guidance and a framework. The inaugural Town Council must engage in strategic planning. It should draft specific 1, 5, and 10 year plan to address the goals above focusing on an action plan on how we intend to tackle these capital projects. Mindy Domb put it best, “I am not opposed to incremental change as long as the ultimate goal is clear.”
Resident engagement is a key feature of the Charter. As a member of the Council, how would you engage and communicate with your constituents, including those who have not previously been active in town politics? How would you engage constituents in understanding issues before the Council and the choices and trade-offs they represent? What steps would you take to engage low-income residents, renters, residents of color, and other underrepresented voices?
This summer I worked in Congressman Jim McGovern's Northampton Office in constituent services. My job was to field phone calls, letters, and emails of people with a question or a need and help them solve it. I provided folks all over the Valley with information, connected them with the an agency or organization to help them, or simply listened as they shared about their experience and opinions. I worked with veterans seeking help at the VA, helped new Americans navigate the process of citizenship, and worked on cases with the Social Security Agency for local seniors.
I will bring the same level of constituent based service to my role as Councilor. I pledge to be transparent and accessible. I seek to be the type of Councilor and neighbor that you can call to ask a question, challenge on an issue, or just chat.
Regarding, engaging underrepresented groups, the door knocking will continue. The burden is on us Councilors to meet people where they're at and engage them one on one. I will be out in the community seeking new people to get involved. During the campaign I was introduced to countless new organization and met hundreds of new people. In my time in Amherst, I have shown a unique ability to bring unlikely partners together and connect people of different experiences.
In 2016 and again in 2017, a majority of Amherst voters supported an override to fund the new co-located elementary school building, yet our legislature at the time, Town Meeting, did not provide the two-thirds vote needed to approve the funding, so the proposal failed. How did you vote, either as a Town Meeting member or a voter, on the proposal to fund the co-located school building? Since you are running for Town Council, not School Committee, how would you approach your role on a vote for funding if a school construction proposal is brought to the Council and supported by the School Committee, the Town Manager, and the voters?
I was not a Town Meeting member at the time of the vote. I was a recent graduate of Amherst Regional High School and supported the schools proposal.I did so because I knew the weight we place in our education system in this community from Pre-K on. Having worked with many of the members on the Student Advisory Board to the School Committee, I trusted the School Committee and knew how hard they had work with all stakeholders to create the best possible plan to rebuild our crumbling elementary schools.
If supported by the School Committee, the Town Manager, and voters it would be morally and fiscally irresponsible to not appropriate the funds and work tirelessly execute the project. I would not hesitate to put an override for the purpose of rebuilding our elementary schools before the citizens. What has lead as a Town to this juncture is an inability to have a long-term vision.
The School Committee and professional educators will put together a proposal that reflects their educational goals. Our job as a Council is to appropriate the fund. As a Councilor, I would act as a conduit for information throughout the process and engaging my constituents in the process early on. However, it would not be my place to second guess the School Committee.
What ideas do you have for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the challenges of Amherst’s being a college town?
Unity and collaboration with our institutional partners will be integral to the success of the first Town Council. I am uniquely equipped to be a bridge between the town and our colleges and university. I was a Senator for the UMass Student Government Association and the Secretary of University Policy and External Affairs the official liaison to municipal, state, and federal government. I represented students on the Campus Physical Planning Committee and worked on land use policy reform. I sat on the Five College Consortium. As a member of Homecoming Court I have been a delegate and representative for UMass to alumni and community members. I have lived, worked, and been a student in Amherst. I am uniquely positioned to share the perspective of these groups and bring them together to achieve common goals.
Regarding students, nearly 60% of our town is between the ages of 18 and 24 by population. I believe their interests should be represented on the inaugural Town Council. right now the problem is people talk about students, sometimes they talk for students, but there’s no students talking in the conversation. So hopefully, I will be able to bring that.
Anything else you would like voters to know?
My unique experience living, working, and studying in Amherst in a variety of capacities enables me to see multiple perspectives. I can serve as a bridge between too often divided groups. Whether students and permanent residence, Amherst and the hilltowns, school children and seniors. I have worked with all these communities and have a proven record of facilitating collaboration to get things done.