Town Council At-Large Profile: Michelle Cokonougher

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Background

I’ve been involved in Watertown’s government for about 4 years now. I’ve attended meetings, spoken on a number of issues, done significant amounts of research on issues facing Watertown, and have been responsible for changes that have been made. Here are some of the things I’ve accomplished in my time advocating for Watertown:

I provided research to members of the Town Council that led to us increasing our LEEDS Requirement on new developments to a Silver Level, initially in the RMUD District, and that eventually led to a town-wide requirement. I found a discrepancy between Watertown’s Zoning Ordinance and the state law that I brought to the attention of one member of the Town Council and the discrepancy was eventually corrected. During the process of creating the RMUD, the town-wide requirement for the affordable housing set aside was 12.5%. I was one of the people who advocated for the requirement within the RMUD to be 15% and it passed. Less than a year later we raised the requirement town-wide to 15%.

Recently, I’ve written up a Zoning Ordinance Amendment Proposal that will increase our Affordable Housing set aside on new developments and will set aside some of the units to be affordable to people who are considered low income, people whose incomes are at or below 50% of the Area Median Income. Currently, we do not require any units set aside for low income people and a majority of the units are calculated at 80% of the Area-Wide Median Income. For many, 80% of the Area-Wide Median Income is not affordable. We need to make sure units are affordable to those who need it the most. There are many other things I’d like to change in Watertown’s Zoning Ordinance, from adding protections for trees, to expanding our definition of Open Space, to adding a Green Space definition and requirements, and much more. I am currently working on proposals to make these changes.

I have regularly been involved in efforts to prevent the loss of trees in Watertown and have advocated for the planting of new trees. I have been a longtime supporter and volunteer for Trees for Watertown. In 2018, on behalf of Trees for Watertown, I coordinated Watertown’s Arbor Day Event at the Commander’s Mansion, which brought attention to this important issue. I continue to advocate on this issue. One thing that I would really like to see happen soon is that we add in protections for trees to our zoning.

In 2016, I campaigned for the Community Preservation Act. After the passing of the Community Preservation Act, I attended meetings to write the ordinance that would dictate how members would be chosen for the Community Preservation Committee and strongly advocated for an open, public process. I made a number of suggestions that where included in the
draft that was eventually sent to the Town Council for a vote. Unfortunately, a majority of Council Members voted against the drafted ordinance. Going forward, I will be strongly advocating that Watertown work towards more public and transparent processes in all aspects of Watertown’s government.

In 2016, in an effort to ensure that the public and our government officials had a full understanding of the State’s Open Meeting Law, I contacted the Attorney General’s Office and arranged for Watertown to host an Open Meeting Law Seminar. Watertown was one of 8 cities and towns to host a seminar that year.

Candidate Statement

I’m running for Councillor-At-Large because I want to see real changes in Watertown. I’m sure many of you have heard me speak at meetings and I’ve had a lot of discussions with residents regarding issues facing Watertown. Residents aren’t happy and they want to see real change. I’m the candidate who will really push for needed changes. I believe in action, not just discussing the problems. Not enough has been done to effect real change in Watertown. I have a lot of ideas about how we can improve life for the people of Watertown.

There are so many problems that we need to address in Watertown: the lack of affordable housing, a disappearing green infrastructure, not enough open space, over-development, a lack of quality transportation options, and the need for more transparency from Watertown’s government.

I want to ensure that we have quality, appropriately sized development, that is respectful to residents and that is properly mitigated. I feel that we are not getting enough from developers and that we should be asking for more. I want to see improvement to public transit and want the Watertown TMA shuttle to become a reality.

I want to ensure ease of access to information, making more information available, and encouraging resident participation in Watertown’s government. There are many avenues to accomplishing this; one of them is improving Watertown’s website, so that more residents will be aware of changes happening in Watertown. Our website went through a recent upgrade and I was very disappointed with the results. Unfortunately, many of the same problems that were there before still exist and it is very difficult for residents to stay informed.

I’d strongly support making changes to the Home Rule Charter. There are a number of things that need to be considered. Watertown has changed a lot since 1981, but the Charter has changed very little. As Watertown grows and changes, so should its’ Charter. What worked in 1981, doesn’t really work 38 years later. It’s time for some big changes.

One thing that needs to be considered is whether Watertown needs a Mayor; I want us to have a very lengthy discussion on whether we should change over from Town Manager to a Mayor form of government. I would like to see us change to an all At-Large Town Council. Historically, in Watertown, district seats have gone unopposed. Voters should always have a choice. Whether you like your district councillor or not, lack of opposition is never a good thing; every member of the council should always be fighting for your votes. I would also support increasing the number of members on the Town Council. There are many other aspects of the Charter that should also be reviewed and discussed for potential changes, such as changes that will increase transparency.

I’m not the wealthy candidate, I don’t own a lot of property, I’m not the one that’s connected, and I’m also not a lawyer, but I am the one who will get things done.

Here are just some of the ways you can learn more about me:

2019 Candidate Forum: https://wcatv.org/presenting-the-candidates-2019/town-council-at-large-forum/

2019 Candidate Interview: https://wcatv.org/presenting-the-candidates-2019/council-at-large/michelle-cokonougher/

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