Town Council Candidate Q&A: Caroline Bays


Caroline Bays is running for Town Councilor At-Large.

Caroline Bays is running for Town Councilor At-Large.

Watertown News reached out to candidates running for Councilor At-Large in the Watertown Election on Nov. 7, 2017 and asked them the same six questions. Here are the responses for Caroline Bays:

1) Tell us about yourself, and why you are running for Councilor At-Large.

I moved to Watertown almost 20 years ago with my husband and two small children. We fell in love with this town. We had the advantages of living in a small community while having all the amenities of a large city nearby. It was idyllic. I’m running for town council because I want to pass that on to the next generation.

2) A common thing to hear around Watertown is that it is getting more expensive, and more difficult for people who already live here to stay in town. What would you do to try to help people remain in Watertown?

I have been speaking with some of the people who are struggling and the answers to this problem will require a multipronged approach.

  1. Fixed income programs – We need to make citizens on fixed incomes aware of the programs for tax deferrals, interest free loans for home improvement and the many other services and opportunities for seniors that are already in place

  2. Raising the residential exemption – I would like to see the residential exemption raised in Watertown. If there is a way to stagger it so that it could help people with limited incomes, I would be in favor of pro-rating it based on ability to pay.

  3. Building different kinds of housing stock in Watertown – Increasing the number of units available in Watertown will have a depressive effect on housing prices. But we also need to change the kinds of units we build and make sure some are not just made for people who qualify for the affordable housing units, but smaller more affordable units for young urban professionals should also be considered when we look at the housing stock we are building.

3) Development has been a big issue the past few years. How would you like to see the Town handle new proposals for major building projects?

The town already requires that developers of larger projects hold community meetings and they certainly have meetings with the planning board. These community meetings should be structured so that constructive dialogue can take place.  Often the qualities sought by the community can make a development better for both the project and the citizens.  It would help if we could use community dialogue to operationalize some of the components and characteristics that would benefit the town and find ways to encourage developers to include these elements such as credits or subsidies.  We could use these to encourage independent and local retailers, openness and integration with the abutting community, spaces that invite congregating and mixing, and public art.

Any discussion about development should include the impact it has on traffic. Right now, the town needs more input on traffic impacts than conventional traffic studies provide.  Currently, many areas of traffic impact are not thoroughly covered such as speeding on side streets, alternate routes, and longer overall travel times between destinations and therefore prevents looking at mitigation opportunities.The town has been unable to hire a transportation manager and should be looking for options to fill these transportation planning tasks.

4) As a Councilor, how would you communicate with residents to find out their needs and concerns?

I think communication is one of the areas where our town government needs the most work. Throughout this election, I have been speaking with residents all over Watertown and it is clear they are very unhappy with the communication from town.

Passive communication does not work – posting the information online and waiting for the citizen to find it is not a solution. People are too busy and have other concerns in their life. Active communication is the only answer. This can be anything from using sandwich boards in the Square much more than we do, to using robocalls to inform residents about important meetings or policy changes in town. I think a monthly robocall to all residents – like a monthly newsletter via the phone, that would act as a quick update on what is happening in town could be an effective way of communicating to people.

If we can push information out – communication back will happen automatically. We can give people the emails and phone numbers they need to enable them to contact the right people with their responses. We could also establish an online “suggestion box” where people could post ideas and comments.

5) Do you support making changes to the Town Home Rule Charter that spells out how Watertown’s government operates? If so what changes would you make?

I know there is a big demand for us to change from a council and town manager to a council and mayoral system.

I have investigated switching over to a mayor form of government. There are advantages and disadvantages. The strongest argument for a mayor is that he or she would be directly accountable to the people who elected him or her. This would ensure an executive branch that was responsive and listening. It would also ensure that we had a leader who had a vision for this town.

However, a more independent executive can also be a strength. When hard choices need to be made for the health and well being of the town— especially financial choices—a town manager is freer to make decisions than an elected mayor, who depends on popular opinion and thus might make decisions that help them in the short-term while hurting the town over the long-term. There is less opportunity for corruption to occur in a town manager form of government as well. And since the town manager is ultimately answerable to the council, there is less conflict between the two branches of government. The council passes laws and budgets; the manager implements those statutes as an employee of the town.

Although I’ve investigated these issues, I think it would be premature to make any decision. The town will be appointing a commission that will make recommendations on the home rule charter when it comes up for renewal in 2020. I think it is important to keep an open mind about how we might change the government until they present their findings to the town council.

6) What will be the next big issue in Watertown that is not yet on the front burner?

When the question of becoming a safe community comes before town council it will definitely be controversial. Right now there is work going on behind the scenes, but after the police chief finalizes his policy, the question of whether to formalize our status as a safe community will come before town council.

I support the adoption of a safe community resolution or ordinance. We are all safer if we adopt this resolution. Chief Mike Lawn has already pledged to follow many of the procedures that define sanctuary city status. Our town government would just be formalizing the current practice. Many police officers are supportive of safe community policies, because not only does it make us all safer, it is easier for police to do their job. If an undocumented immigrant has been victimized by a crime and feels at risk of deportation if he or she were to report it to the police, the criminal remains free to commit another crime, making us all less safe.

By joining the growing number of safe communities in Massachusetts, Watertown also makes a clear statement to all immigrants, including immigrants here legally, that we do not support hate and prejudice and that every person, regardless of their race or religion is welcome in our city.

6 thoughts on “Town Council Candidate Q&A: Caroline Bays

  1. “But we also need to change the kinds of units we build and make sure some are not just made for people who qualify for the affordable housing units, but smaller more affordable units for young urban professionals should also be considered when we look at the housing stock we are building.”

    Developers build what is going to bring them the maximum return and in large multiunit complexes, they are compelled to follow state and federal guidelines. If the town starts dictating housing desires beyond established guidelines, it opens itself up to potential costly lawsuits.

  2. Ms. Bays obviously doesn’t understand the difference between property taxes which are based on the value of the property and an income tax which is based on the ability to pay.

    When one purchases a home, they make their decision based on their ability to pay the mortgage and the property taxes. So ability to pay is already factored in. If they can’t pay the taxes on a particular home, then find a home that they can afford to live in.

    But Ms. Bays would punish some people in order subsidize others. The true sign of a Marxist.

  3. A Marxist would probably move to abolish private property as a legal construct altogether and then collectivize the housing under the purview of a board elected by the proletariat. That doesn’t seem to be what Caroline is suggesting. It is the 100th anniversary of the October revolution though, so I can understand why Marx would be on your mind.

    Taxes, on the other hand, are both fully American and entirely capitalist, dating back to
    the tithe of the premodern theocratic era. In point of fact, it was a special excise tax on liquor, levied under President Washington, that paid for the debt incurred during the revolution. Taxes literally made the American experiment possible. Three cheers for taxation with representation!

    Now, the regional housing market has inflated beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. There simply are not enough homes or apartments. It’s why the median home price in Watertown has risen more than 20% in the last five years alone. This dynamic has caused many, many serious problems—among them are the de facto mass eviction of people on fixed incomes, an entire generation being locked out of long-term prosperity, working families being driven further and further away from centers of opportunity and employment. These are not issues of balancing the household budget. They’re large-scale systemic social problems that, by definition, demand a political response of some kind.

    Any one Town Council obviously has limited tools to relieve these ills. But common ethics, as well as their role as public servants, seem to demand that they employ the tools they do have. I have no doubt that a program which assists our less fortunate neighbors and improves access to home ownership would be welcome by the vast majority of Watertown residents. This is simply the responsibility we bear for the privilege of a stable democracy.

  4. Housing is driven by the market. Tinkering with it or downright trying to control it leads to epic disaster. Does anyone at all remember what happened during the time of rent control in the people’s republic of Cambridge? Landlords let their properties go to pot and the city could not keep up with inspections and fines. If rent control had continued, Cambridge would have ended up like Lawrence or Fall River, excepting the areas around Harvard which would have probably built the wall that Trump likes to go on about.

  5. The market is already (and always) structured by law as well as the forces of demand and production. In the case of housing, the market is structured by zoning and building codes, health and safety regulations, tenants’ rights, and taxes, among many others. So it’s really a matter of what policies encourage the greatest good for the most citizens in a given context. I guess that’s always the challenge.

    Rent control is an interesting case, actually, since its implementation coincided with the rapid hollowing out of urban centers across the U.S. Cities large and small faced all those issues related to decline regardless of their local policies—it was driven in large part by white flight to the suburbs and exurbs. It’s a very different situation today. But rent control has been outlawed in MA since 1994, so it’s a moot point.

    The question today isn’t whether politicians should be involved, because they already always are. There’s no functioning economy in the world that isn’t structured by a strong legal scaffold. Our question is: what can be done by elected local leaders to encourage the common good?

  6. Bays should be made to step down from her position. She is not fit to represent our great town. Seems she wants attention good or bad !

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