Councilor At-Large Q&A: Tony Palomba

Tony Palomba seeks re-election as 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 been a Councilor-at-Large for 12 years and have served on nearly every Town Council Committee. This has given me an intimate knowledge of how the Council works, its relationship to the Town administration and most importantly its role as the legislative branch of our government. I have lived in Watertown for 27 years and I am the father of two children, one who graduated from Watertown High School and one who went to the Middle School. I have had a 17-year career in the field of public and community health and have served as the policy advisor for Boston City Councilor Rosaria Salerno for six years. I also served as the staff person for a non-profit community-based organization focused on U.S. foreign and domestic policy. I presently work part-time as a supervisor at UPS. I have been in leadership position on many local, state, and national electoral and issue-based campaigns and coalitions. I serve on the steering committee of Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, Forward Watertown, and the Watertown Youth Coalition. In addition I am a member of Watertown Cares and the Watertown Transportation Task Force. I played a leadership role in passing the Community Preservation Act in Watertown.

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?

I am running for re-election because I want to continue to represent the residents of Watertown at a time when Watertown is changing and growing. During my tenure on the Council I have learned the value of listening, respecting, and including the opinions and ideas of residents and the indispensable role community engagement and public participation play in shaping change and making improvements. Also, I wish to play a role in shaping the Town’s response to the climate emergency, in implementing the Public Arts Master Plan, and in continuing to advocate for affordable housing through the newly established municipal affordable housing trust and an amendment to our Zoning Code that would allow for accessory dwelling units. The funding for a town-wide public health and human services assessment, the Human Rights Commission, and the Community Engagement Officer are some of my priorities if re-elected. Finally, as a councilor for 12 years, I want to bring my experience and insight to the task of selecting a new Town Manager.

It is wonderful to see so many candidates running for office this year. In part this is due to the open seats on the Council, Board of Library Trustees and School Committee. But I also think it is because there is renewed interest among many people to participate in the democratic process and share their talents and experience for the greater good.

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?

I would look for a Town Manager who has experience in municipal finances and the ability to support and hold accountable senior staff. Someone who takes community engage seriously and will reach out to residents, business owners, and community groups to learn about Watertown –its strengths and what needs to be improved. I want a Town Manager who is willing to pursue, in cooperation with the Town Council, new ideas to address the challenges we face. Replacing our Town Manager is similar to replacing a founder of an organization or business. I want someone who has the confidence to be a leader during this critical time of transition.

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

Yes, I think the voters should vote “YES” on the two Charter questions that will appear on the November 2 ballot. The Charter Review Committee (CRC) met for 9 months to diligently review our existing Charter. They debated, made compromises, and listened to residents during their deliberations. They took seriously the community’s desire for more accountability, transparency, communication, and engagement. The amendments to the Charter will improve the management of the Town, strengthen the role of the Town Council, and empower residents to take a more active role in Town government. Finally, the question asking voters to change how the Town is identified from the “City of Watertown Know as the Town of Watertown” to the “City of Watertown” recognizes that Watertown has been a city with a city form of government since 1980.

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)? 

I believe the current level of funding, as proposed by the Town Manager and approved by the Town Council, for the Watertown Police Department is adequate. It is impossible to predict the future but there could be a point when the funding for the two clinicians was reallocated from the Police Department to the Health Department with the understanding that the Health Department would expand the program to be 24/7. There also could be the possibility that the budget is increased in order to create new programs required by the state Police Reform Legislation that was signed into law in December 2020.

I would like the Watertown Police Department to revisit the suggestions of the Joint Police Reform Group with particular attention to the ideas related to the collection of data, the establishment of a community advisory group, and the possibility of police training that is based on the Kingian curriculum.

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?

One issue that I believe deserves more attention is the unprecedented amount of commercial development for life science tenants. I would like to see the administration recognize that there are both benefits and downsides to this level of development. I imagine a series of community meetings sponsored by the Town to discuss mitigation, requirements for an energy audit, increased environmental standards, and zoning changes that would require local retail businesses on the first floor of these development. In addition there should be a public meeting with the Watertown Biosafety Committee to explain the purpose of the Committee and its role in regulating the type of research that is allowed in Watertown.

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?

I think Watertown has made great strides in addressing climate change and becoming a more green community. Just two examples of this are our zoning ordinance requiring solar installations on certain developments over 10,000 square feet and the fact that our two news elementary schools are net zero emissions. Discussion of purchasing Walker’s Pond as open space and plans to plant 200 new trees are two examples of the effort to become a greener community. The pending creation of a solid waste reduction advisory committee and consideration of a pilot curbside composting program are other examples. However, more must be done to address the climate emergency. The creation of a robust Energy and Climate Action Plan is critical. The initial draft of the Plan created by the Resilient Watertown Stakeholders Working Group shows promise as it proposes action in the areas of buildings and energy, infrastructure and waste management, natural resources, transportation and mobility, and public health and community preparedness. However a significant draw back in the Plan is that the date for actions to happen is 2050. This is too long. We need to implement the suggested action steps well before 2050, hopefully by 2030.

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

Tough question! I am more of an introvert than people might imagine. I enjoy quiet time alone reading. Also, I was a tri-captain of my high school football team.