Councilor At-Large Q&A: Megan O’Halloran

Megan O’Halloran is running for Town Councilor At-Large.

Tell people about your background — family, professional background, volunteering, government, activism — and how that will help you as a Town Councilor. 

I have lived in Watertown my entire life and I understand what a special community Watertown is. I am fortunate enough to be raising my children in the same house that my grandparents lived in when they arrived in Watertown in the early 60’s. My husband Brian Hazelwood has lived here for almost 20 years, and we have two girls: Charlotte (11) and Catherine (7). I come from a family with strong ties to the community. My grandfather Charlie Aubin worked in the Watertown Public Schools. My mother Patricia Aubin taught at Watertown High School and was also the Head of the English Department. Some of my earliest memories are of wrapping hot dogs to sell at football games for the Gridiron Club and attending a variety of sports events, including some fantastic field hockey games.

I have worked in healthcare my entire professional life. Starting with Tufts Health Plan, I continued with Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA, and later athenahealth. Currently, I am working with a small startup healthcare organization which allows me to work from home full time. I am passionate about healthcare and providing access to all.

I have taken my personal and professional interests and have made a contribution to Watertown. As a part of the Watertown Rotary Club, I was an active volunteer and helped to raise money for their various initiatives. Recently, I joined the Board of Directors for the Watertown Boys and Girls Club. A highlight of my time on the board was working on the youth of the year project. As a judge I listened and met with candidates, and I was impressed with the accomplishments of our youth. I also serve as a member of the Watertown Commission on Disability where my health care background has proven beneficial. The work of this commission is to improve the quality of life for all members of our community including those who may require certain accommodations. Finally, like many of you, I am very active in Watertown Youth Sports. My husband coaches soccer and my girls participate in a wide variety of recreation- sponsored activities throughout the school year and summer months.

I will continue my involvement within the town, and I look forward to finding additional ways to serve my community. It would be an honor to serve as a Councilor-at-Large for the town that I have called home my entire life. I want to be a voice for our community, and this would provide me the platform to do so.

The pandemic has created some trying and difficult times for residents and along with that for local government, and in other towns elected and hired officials have stepped down. Why during these challenging times did you decide to run for office? And with a robust group of candidates running in 2021, why do you think Watertown has so many people stepping forward to serve?

This is a pivotal time in Watertown, and I think people realize that with our current town manager retiring there is a wonderful opportunity to be apart of something very special in Watertown. Being apart of the decision as to who will fill the role would be an honor. Another reason that I thought about running was when Ken Woodland stepped down. I respected the work and the commitment that Mr. Woodland had done on the council for district D and it sparked an interest in what my next steps would be to get involved with the town. There are so many other reasons that I have decided to run but honestly this just seemed like a great time to become more involved in my community. The pandemic was never a reason to move ahead or not move ahead with me becoming a candidate in the 2021 election.

Being a new town manager is difficult enough, but following such a long-term and successful Town Manager will be a tough task. What do you look for in the new manager and how will you, as a councilor, help the new Town Manager get established and be successful?

The single most important issue the next council will deal with is selecting a new town manager for Watertown. This is going to be a tough loss for our town. The financial stability that we are fortunate to have in Watertown has set us apart from many towns within Mass. Watertown is getting 3 brand new schools and the renovation of the Lowell all without a tax override. Fiscal responsibility is a key skill that the candidate would need to have. Having experience in town management is important I do feel that since we have opened the position to non-residents, we will get a good pool of candidates. Other qualities would be accessibility and accountability ensuring they understand how important it is to maintain transparency with both the community and the Town Council. In depth knowledge of how a town is run would be a skill set that I would also look for. I also want to ensure that the new Town Manager understands that they can and should make this role their own. I will make sure that the new manager would know I am available to talk about anything and will support them as they start the new journey as Town Manager. I want the new manager to ensure stability and to continue the success we have had in the past years.

Do you think the voters should pass the changes to the Town Charter? Explain why you feel that way. 

The Watertown Charter is something done every 10 years that helps us define and determine how our local government’s legislative & executive branches work. Since October of 2020 the Charter Review Committee and the residents of Watertown have been focused creating a meaningful Charter. All residents of Watertown received a mailing that they can review prior to Nov. 2 explaining key points of the Charter and there have been several informational meetings sponsored by the committee which provided everyone information needed so each resident can form their own opinion. Key points that struck me as positives are:

  • Lifting the residency requirement for the new Town Manager. This will allow for a wider search and guarantee a strong pool of candidates.
  • Providing Guidance on the roles and responsibilities for the Town Council.
  • Having the council will hold an annual forum to hear from residents about Watertown’s policies.
  • The Council President & the Town Manager will give a annual address on the condition of Watertown & upcoming plans for the following year.

I would like to thank The Charter Review Committee and the residents for the time and effort
that has been put into this process.

Police funding and the services provided by the Watertown Police have become a big topic of discussion. Should the funding be increased, decreased or is it just about right? And, would you like to see how the Police in Watertown operate (please explain your answer)? 

Having lived in Watertown my entire life and seeing the interaction that the police have with the residents of Watertown I would at a minimum not want to take any funds away. If we were to reallocate funds and or defund the police, we would lose 20 police officers this would not be a risk I would be willing to take. I have seen firsthand in good times and in bad times how valuable our police officers are. Any trauma my family has suffered the police were first to walk in the door with a smile. My 7-year-old also loves the officers she has met playing street hockey in Watertown (youth sports). Cutting the budget would put our community at risk. We live in a very safe environment, and I would hate to see this change due to the loss of staff and or funds.

We also need to acknowledge that our town is growing both from a commercial standpoint as well as a residential standpoint. With this growth in Watertown, I would think that more funds/ resources would need to be reviewed for not just our WPD but other departments as well.

The WPD has been very transparent in their communications with our residents. The data that has been shared at various meetings highlights the successes as well as provides insights into what the police are doing within the town. This information has allowed people to understand how the police are operating. Chief Lawn has reported and shared:

  • A breakdown of arrests made within Watertown
  • A list of programs that WPD supports and is involved in
  • A list of 2021 (this will move to 2022) of the pillars that the Police will focus on to keep improving their skills and making the department better one entity
  • Highlighting that our WPD is one of 95 cities / towns that is accredited by the State

These are all items in my eyes that need to be discussed/celebrated. A lot of these could go away if we were to no longer support the police. In today’s world coming out of the pandemic there is unfortunately a spike in crime, but I know that the WPD recognizes this and is committed to keeping our town safe. We can always improve but we are lucky to be in a town with a highly trained police force willing to learn and always improve their own skill set within their roles. The WPD also hosts a Citizens Police Academy where residents can get an even more in-depth look at what it takes to be a Watertown Police Officer. I would love to be apart of the next session when it is offered.

What issue in Watertown that might not be getting enough attention would you want to work on as a councilor, and how would you like the Town government to address the issue?

I think one key population that I have not heard a lot of candidates talk about is our elderly population. Allowing our senior citizens to age in place and have the comfort of knowing they will not be forced out should be a priority. Watertown housing prices are on the rise, and we are not seeing this end. We also need to focus on current residents within the town. I want to ensure people that reside here can stay here without getting priced out.

I would also like to see us focus more on accessibility. Ensuring that all of our programs provided to the community are accessible. I want to ensure that I am an advocate and keep pushing that accessibility is a key focus on all of the new developments that are happening for both residential properties as well as commercial properties.

Watertown has taken a lot of steps to become more green and to address climate change. Do you think the Town has done enough, or would you like more to be done — if so what would you like to see?

Watertown has done a wonderful job with becoming more energy efficient. I think you can never do enough and especially dealing with our environment there are always new innovations to keep the progress moving. As a town we are off to a fantastic start. Having a senior environmental planner on staff is a great way to ensure we are always keeping our environment top of mind! I know as a town when new companies come in/developers we always look to get connected with their environmental champion. We have instilled a lot of guidelines for developers as far as the need to keep green space etc.. The two new schools that have been built are both net zero facilities and we are one of the first towns in MA to accomplish this.

Keeping on this path and being ahead of the curve is something that I do not want to see change. We need to keep innovating and ensuring that we are as energy efficient as possible. But I do think we are currently doing a very good job and I know I want to see this continue.

What is something that people may not know about you that residents would find interesting?

I am pretty straight forward and always want to be as approachable as possible. I am dedicated to my family and trying to do everything to make every day count! I am an avid runner and I walk every day with my mom and when she is home my daughter Catherine. So those of you who may not know me I am sure you have seen me walking around town. My love for running has pushed me to run 13 Boston Marathons and I am hoping to run a few more over the upcoming years!

Having the opportunities that I have had with in Watertown has provided me with a unique insight into the needs/concerns of people living in Watertown. It is because of all the people I have met and the conversations that I have had I am running for Town Council. I care about Watertown and care about our future this is the next step in continuing my involvement/commitment with the town. I want to be a voice for our community.