Paul Bobrowski: District 5
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?
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 take on reviewing, possibly modifying, and ultimately approving 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.
What relevant experiences and qualities would you bring to the Council that would help it work through these dilemmas constructively and effectively?
I have served on the Finance Committee and understand our town budget. I have served on the Planning Board, the Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority, Town Meeting, the Hampshire Council of Governments (county level) and other committees. In addition, as a land use attorney I've worked with boards and committees across western Massachusetts on smart growth and green initiatives. These efforts are not global, nor are they theoretical. They are practical, boots-on-the-ground efforts that affect development, health and safety, people's taxes, town finance, and the environment. I want to bring this expertise to our new Council.
The Town faces many challenges with inadequate and outdated public buildings and infrastructure.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?
Fortunately our town administrators, along with our Finance Committee, have been planning for 4 large capital projects for some time: the 2 elementary schools, the fire station limitations, the DPW building, and the Jones Library. They have planned by retiring our town debt down to almost zero, by packing away money in our reserves, the result of which is a top-notch bond rating (allowing us to borrow at very low rates), and by obtaining grants to help with the school reconstruction ($34 million) and the Library (up to $14 million). The plan was in place until the school co-location project fell apart, and it will take some time to know how to proceed with a new school plan (and costs). Once we know the new school plan and costs, we can re-adjust these capital projects and decide how to prioritize, realizing that these won't happen consecutively (some will happen concurrently). Personally, I put the schools first. My children have grown to adulthood so my stake is not personal, but the health and safety of today's children and their teachers are at risk daily, especially at Fort River. That school may only have a useful life of about 5 years and to keep it running the maintenance alone, without improvements, will cost several million dollars. Wildwood is not far behind. The second big health and safety issue is the fire station situation (no grants here, so this will be a town expenditure). We can move ahead now on the fire station situation as soon as a location is determined (and possibly acquired if not already owned by the Town). I would push for this to happen asap. I would listen carefully to the Fire/DPW committee's recommendations on the 3 options above. My opinion could change on this, but right now I support option 3. DPW would be third because there are also health and safety issues there. If resources are not in jeopardy for these 3 projects I would expedite the Library renovations to take advantage of state funding, possibly as much as $14 million.
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?
I generally support all components of the current Master plan and, from 2002 through 2010, strongly advocated for such a plan (then known as a "comprehensive plan"). Professionally, when acting a special counsel for other towns, I always promote a master plan for any community that does not have one. In our plan, I would add a substantive section urging form-based zoning, now only discussed briefly in the Goals section of the plan.
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?
I would reach out to unengaged constituents directly and, if unsuccessful, identify leaders of these segments of my district and challenge them to facilitate engagement. If elected, I plan to enhance my web site to be a conduit between me and my constituents, providing weekly feedback, including videos of me discussing issues that the Council has considered while explaining my positions. I plan to have a housecall request form whereby a constituent can request a visit to their home to discuss concerns. Beyond the 2 district public forums required by the charter, I would support additional forums if issues arise that merit such meetings.
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 voted for the override for the co-located schools. I would not relinquish my responsibility as a member of the Council with regard to budgetary matters by rubber-stamping any proposal from anyone. I would ask tough questions regarding any future proposals in order to fulfill that responsibility. Having said that, I absolutely recognize that the School Committee is the subject matter expert in these proposals and I would give their recommendation(s) great deference, as well as the Town Manager's recommendation and any voter outcome on this (or any) topic.
What ideas do you have for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the challenges of Amherst’s being a college town?
I would pursue projects like the Gateway project, which would greatly benefit both UMass and our town. These types of projects are win-win. I would also pursue Town/Gown annual activities involving students, activities that do not center around alcohol, in an attempt to create strong two-way cultural respect. I would promote the development of housing downtown and in village centers to take the stress off of neighborhoods that are inundated with rental housing.
Anything else you would like voters to know?
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.