Town Council Hopefuls Discuss Building Support, What Inspires Them

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On Nov. 5, Watertown voters have a choice of seven candidates running for the four Town Councilor At-Large seats, which are elected by the entire town. To find out more about the candidates, former Town Councilor At-Large Aaron Dushku asked each a series of questions about what they would if elected, with the answers to be published by Watertown News.

This is the fifth in a series of five pieces featuring the answers from the Watertown Councilor At-Large candidates. (Note that Michelle Cokonougher declined to submit answers).

The candidate answers have been reordered from the previous post, then reversed for the second question.

  • What can town councilors do to win the support of the majority of other councilors on an initiative? What about the support of the administration and town employees?

John Gannon: My answer to the first part of Question 9, with respect to winning support for my initiative from my colleagues on the Town Council was previously addressed in Question 8. With respect to the involvement of town employees, I would seek their input at the earliest stages of my consideration of my initiative. I’ve been a Watertown Assistant Town Attorney and acting department head in Watertown earlier in my career and having served as in-house City Attorney for the City of Somerville for six years so I am acutely aware of the training, knowledge and expertise that town employees possess. In my first public employment role as an Assistant Town Attorney for Watertown, I made it a point to ask every department head what they do for Watertown. The questions I received informed my 25-year career as a municipal attorney because I learned to trust the judgment of professionals, and accordingly, I’d seek out ways to make them part of the process every time an issue affected their work. It takes a special kind of person to serve a community like ours, and I think we should honor that service.

Anthony Donato: Doing one’s research and being as knowledgeable on a topic as possible is the first step in winning the support of other Councilors, the administration and town employees. In fact, this may require consultation with the administration or town employees or residents. With this knowledge and within the confines of the Open Meeting Law, a Councilor may be able to demonstrate to other Councilors why a particular initiative is in the Town’s best interest. I think the second step is to rally the support of residents.

Jimmy Mello: By getting to know one another and listen to their concerns and voice your own concerns.What about the support of the administration and town employees? Discuss the initiative with the administration first and then with town employees if and when it’s appropriate.

Tony Palomba: Discuss the initiative with individual councilors prior to formally presenting it to the Council for consideration. What about the support of the administration and town employees? Similarly, discuss the initiative with the department head(s) that would be responsible for implementing the initiative. In addition, use committee meetings as a way to receive feedback from councilors and department heads about the initiative, and seek the input and support of the volunteer-based Town committees like the Environment and Energy Efficiency Committee and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee.

Caroline Bays: I have found the easiest way to influence other town councilors is to voice my opinion while initiatives are still in the formulation process. There are usually many committee meetings before an issue comes up for a vote. I try to go to these meetings, even if I am not on the committee, so I can have a voice in the final outcome decided by the committee. Once the committee brings an action item to the full town council, we have to be careful not to violate open meeting law, but there are still ways to persuade other town councilors, such as asking constituents to speak up, writing letters to local publications, and of course, there is always arguing my case at a town council meeting, as I did recently regarding the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program. It became clear when it came to a vote that initially the majority of the town councilors were against it, but several of us argued our case and we were able to persuade our fellow councilors to change their vote. What about the support of the administration and town employees? It is essential that we have the support of the town employees and administration for any ordinance or policy we develop and implement. When we design policies it is usually with the help, input, and advice of town employees. They have the deep, hands on experience that is so important for us to learn from and understand as we discuss complicated issues. Watertown employees are also the ones who will ensure an initiative is a success by supporting it through their hard work. It is really the actions of the hard working people in town government that will make our vision a reality. We could not do our job without the support and input of the town administration and employees and through these joint efforts, we can ensure the success of our initiatives.

Clyde Younger: It is important to gain consensus.

  • Aside from policy-making, is there another aspect or responsibility of being a town councilor that really inspires you?

Clyde Younger: Interest in serving and giving back to the community that has been so kind, caring and accepting of me.

Caroline Bays: Yes! The most rewarding part of my job is talking to constituents and helping them resolve their issues. Our residents most immediate and intimate contact with government is, not at the federal or state level, but through the town where we live. Watertown is where our lives are centered and when something goes wrong, it can fundamentally affect our happiness and peace of mind. So when constituents call me, frustrated, angry, or upset, I find it deeply rewarding when I can help them find solutions to their problems and improve their quality of life. Constituent services is one of the most important parts of this job and the one that I find the most fulfilling and gratifying.

Tony Palomba: I am inspired by working with community organizations in developing policies and programs that can be considered and passed by the Town Council. We have talented organizations and individuals in Watertown who can contribute to the creation of policies that directly affect the quality of life in Watertown.

Jimmy Mello: Working with members of the community to make sure that their concerns are being addressed. After all we are their representative on the council.

Anthony Donato: I believe constituent services is just as important as the policy-making role of a Town Councilor. There is nothing that inspires me more than being able to help a resident address an issue they may have, no matter how big or how small. We serve as a vital link between the residents and the Town Administration and departments.

John Gannon: Constituent service will play a key role in how I would define my role as a Town Councilor At-Large. I have a background in how federal, state and local government impacts the lives of local residents. My background as a local government attorney has provided my with a tenacity and resourcefulness that I have used to match personal concerns of residents with the proper governmental resolution of their issues. In the months I’ve been going door-to-door during this campaign, I have had the honor, as a candidate, of solving individual resident concerns related to such issues as building code enforcement, senior citizen tax exemption options and the local residential exemption application process. Residents have issues that are not always being heard and are important to them, and I want to raise up their concerns to the town level. Giving a voice for those who don’t know where to turn is a role that I would be honored to serve if I am elected to be your Town Councilor At-Large.

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