Sharon Povinelli: District 1
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?
Amherst has forward-thinking ideas about sustainability, Complete Streets and Affordable Housing. However, we also have people that work in Amherst, but can’t afford to live here. Closing the gap between the values we project and the costs of those ideals--while keeping Amherst, Amherst--is the main work ahead for our town and it’s governance. The need to slow the increase of our residential property taxes is one of the keys to addressing this challenge: it affects our schools, our neighborhoods and our village centers—including the downtown. Our creativity in finding new revenue streams and relieving the tax burden of the individual homeowner will determine how we are able to prioritize our capital projects and our continued level of municipal services.
What relevant experiences and qualities would you bring to the Council that would help it work through these dilemmas constructively and effectively?
As a small business owner for over 15 years (A.J.Hastings), I have become proficient in continually managing change with resilience. In the small details and large-scale work of running a business, I have learned to take calculated risks - when needed - to encourage innovation, while also sustaining the relevance of our business and the livelihood of our employees. In addition, I am a current active member of town government, including the Amherst Finance Committee, a multi-term Town Meeting Member and part of the Amherst BID executive team since 2011.These roles have given me direct experience of parsing complex information, working constructively with diverse groups, and long-range town planning. As a result of my work and public service, I am confident I can balance a long-term vision with a pragmatic approach to problem-solving.
The Town faces many challenges with inadequate and outdated public buildings and infrastructure.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?
The Elementary School project is at the top of my Capital Projects list. I believe it is a great disservice to our children and educators to ask them to learn and work in the conditions present at the Wildwood and Fort River schools. Having a facility which reflects our commitment to education will be an incentive for young families to choose Amherst over our surrounding towns, and is a generational commitment we must make to our own future.
The next priority for me is the Department of Public Works Building. The main structure was built in 1915 and the most recent study completed in 2016 (Weston & Sampson) rates the condition of the building as “moderate to poor.” The list of issues include: “water in the walls, roof rot, minimal insulation and inadequate ventilation.” The DPW is critical to the efficient functioning of our town, and the neglected state of its physical facilities currently put constraints on the ability of the DWP to properly serve our citizens.
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?
Economic vitality in the downtown/village centers, enhancing town-gown relationships and diversifying--while expanding--our economic base are three intricately related and essential parts of the Master Plan. Maintaining the character of Amherst while encouraging economic development requires us to preserve open spaces knowing that we will need to densify others. These are too often set up as diametric opposites in competition with one another; but, a commitment to community character can be reflected in densely developed neighborhood centers through--for example--form based code, while accessible wild places can draw tourism and connection to Amherst as a past and present farming community reflecting our commitment to sustainable agriculture. I believe we must also support our current and developing cultural magnets--including the Amherst Cinema Center, the Jones Library and the Emily Dickinson Homestead--by providing destination parking which allows for both high attendance events and day to day use of the town. The Town Council should also work to enhance the symbiotic relationship with UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College; coming to the table as partners invested in and investing meaningfully toward the health and welfare of our community.
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 believe our town’s governance must provide access to timely information, encourage viable, meaningful participation from its residents, listen to what it hears and act in accordance. The new Town Charter is designed to support this through District meetings, the Participatory Budgeting Commission and the Resident’s Advisory Committee. These are the starting places to engage citizens in governance but we need to delve deeper and more closely examine the concrete barriers to participation. We should look to where community volunteers have been successfully engaged and replicate those models.
While diversity has many implications for issues of representation and fairness in governance in general I am especially aware of the diverse needs of our town on economic terms. At this moment, as we find ourselves forming a new government, it is critical that we set procedures, policy objectives, and goals which can engage with and address the needs of the full spectrum of residents of Amherst.
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?
As a citizen, I voted yes for the school overide on both ballots. I was not a Town Meeting member at the the time of either vote. If elected as Town Councilor it is my duty to enact the will of the voters especially if this is supported by the School Committee and Town Manager.
What ideas do you have for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the challenges of Amherst’s being a college town?
Education is our biggest economic driver and, by consequence, students are an essential part of life and business in Amherst. Embracing and expanding this concept to include our early and secondary schools allows us to see that we are truly a community of education and educators. We can encourage students to connect with our community through arts and through agriculture while undergraduates and give space to those relationships with the goal of retaining a younger demographic to our town. Looking forward, we can position Amherst as a postgraduate scene for business incubation, worker-collaborator hubs and think-tank spaces.
Anything else you would like voters to know?
I am excited to begin working on year round government for Amherst. We have a complex environment composed of three institutes of higher learning—including the state flagship university campus, an $86 million Town budget, and population ranging from sustainable farming to tech start-ups. We also have a struggling downtown and a high residential homeowner tax burden. I am looking forward to working with fellow Councilors, the Town Manager, our partners at Umass, Hampshire and Amherst College and our citizens to further position Amherst as a cultural, academic and innovative place to thrive.