Responses to questions posed by the League of Women Voters of Bedford to each of the candidates on the ballot for the Town’s 2021 election.
Two candidates for one position
Margot R. Fleischman (incumbent)
Korben Elliott Whitt-Leitner
In what ways do you think the pandemic will shape the future governance of Bedford?
Fleischman — The pandemic has created challenges and opportunities regarding town governance. Overall, our democratic institutions have held up well: Town Meeting was successful; despite significant logistical hurdles and heat and health concerns, turn-out was robust. Although our Town Caucus was canceled, we have many contested municipal races. Public participation in remote meetings of boards and committees has increased. Our future governance model, constrained by state law, should to the greatest extent possible retain the elements of increased access and transparency that we have experienced during the pandemic and leverage technology to ensure that these gains are not lost once normalcy returns.
Whitt-Leitner — The way I see the pandemic shaping Bedford’s future governance should be a return to the Tabula Rasa. Our residents don’t need an overreaching municipal body interfering in their lives anymore. Epically, this year-long pandemic has seen vulgar abuse of power, both state and federal, over an individual choice. My policy moving forward is to make Bedford a more relaxed town where the individual has the final say over their life and family. Often, we have seen throughout generations that the government is the problem, nor is it the solution. So, in the future, I think it’s best for all forms of government and organizations to relax once we can end this dammed pandemic and let the person rule their ultimate destiny rather than the state. Also, coming to the future comes to the safety risk outside this pandemic, especially around the new progressive movement across the country that comes from this pandemic. If I am indeed elected, I will 100% stand behind our law enforcement to maintain our way of life from these new interferences brought on my mobs and maintain the rule of law that our country has preserved for some 250 plus years.
Given the Select Board’s responsibility for the town’s municipal facilities and infrastructure, how you work with the Planning Board to ensure changes to the municipal infrastructure are integrated into the Planning Board’s comprehensive long-term plan?
Fleischman — I’ll work with the Planning Board to update and expand the goals in Section 9 of Bedford’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan to include:
Climate Change/Mitigation Net Zero Plan
- Municipal microgrid
- Composting facility
Transportation Infrastructure and Streetscape
- Complete Streets implementation
- Investment in healthy tree canopy
- Expand trails/easements network to enhance bike/ped circulation
- Public/private partnerships to increase transportation choices
- New fire station, renovated police station
- Reuse of existing fire station
- Activate public spaces like Narrow Gauge Trail, Fawn Lake for cultural events (artwalks, performances)
Create new goals relative to aging
- Align facilities and services to achieve Age- and Dementia-Friendly Community designations
Whitt-Leitner — In terms of infrastructure, I will hear the planning board’s advice and incorporate that into my decision-making. The residents of this town’s voice also must be heard as well; with Bedford growing in demand for homeowner’s and everyday workers, a new infrastructure plan must be achieved. This becomes essential for traffic in our town grows by there, and we must make our town safe and effective to travel through.
One candidate for one position
Daniel H. Brosgol (incumbent)
What do you identify as the key determinants for the mental and physical health of students to return to a classroom setting? What resources inform your position?
Brosgol — Data and evidence shows that the risk of in-school transmission of Covid-19 is negligible in the Bedford Public Schools and that our safety protocols have effectively limited the spread of Covid-19 in our buildings. The School Committee has affirmed its commitment to a full in-person return for all students this fall and has continued with a deliberate, phased reopening of school buildings since late Fall in partnership with our faculty and staff. This position is informed by research and guidance issued by the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
What additional resources does the School Department need to address any lingering issues in student academic growth as a result of pandemic?
Brosgol — The School Committee has proposed a Covid-19 recovery budget for FY22 that is a 7.2% increase over FY21- substantially higher than the 3.5% guideline that the School Department received from the Finance Committee. This request allows for a full K-12 in-person return in September with a particular emphasis on reduced class sizes in our elementary schools to allow for more individualized and small-group instruction. This request also adds additional staff at JGMS and BHS to support English, Math, and Special Education instruction for our older students and introduces a new mathematics curriculum at the Lane School.
Three candidates for one position
Bryan Paul Jean
Armen Matthew Zildjian
Traffic congestion is often cited by candidates as an issue they would address if elected. What ideas would you bring to the table and how would you work with the Select Board to implement changes to address this issue?
Gittins — Reducing traffic congestion requires reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips people take. Better public transportation to reduce passthrough traffic would be most effective but that requires state-level action. Here are three things we can do locally:
- Allow more housing to be built near retail areas so more people can walk from where they live to where they shop and eat out,
- Support construction of amenities near where people work so they can walk to them,
- Require Transportation Demand Management plans of new business development to encourage use of public transportation, ridesharing, walking and biking to work.
Jean — Something needs to be done to address this issue. Reducing traffic congestion on Great Road will be difficult without adding lanes or alternate routes. The blinking left turn yellow arrows have been helpful. Restricting left turns on to Great Road during rush hour, from Bacon Rd for example, would help. I think it’s important to strike a balance here though. I would not want to block business development along Great Road. With more options, perhaps commuters would patronize a local business on their way home. I’m also open to suggestions. I’d like to hear more ideas from other residents.
Zildjian — Traffic throughout Bedford, especially on Great Road has been a hot topic since I moved to Bedford in 2002. There have been some projects to help resolve problem areas but it’s clear that formidable action must be taken to do more, we owe it to our neighbors to address this issue. The Planning Board should acknowledge that while it may be beneficial to expand business and housing on Great Road, it may not be feasible with the current constraints of traffic. It does not take a traffic study to know that expanding in already busy areas will worsen issues.
How would you work toward greater housing equity, i.e., assuring that Bedford offers opportunities that will attract residents of all ages and socio-economic status?
Gittins — Bedford is ‘built out’. We no longer have undeveloped half-acre lots where people can build moderately-priced single-family homes like they did in the mid-20th century. We need to adapt accordingly. Expanding housing options will require accepting modest increases in housing density, e.g., lowering the barriers to constructing Accessory Dwelling Units in appropriate areas so homeowners can downsize on their own property or rent to folks saving for their first home. Mixed-use zoning helps too – allow apartments in some primarily-commercial areas, see, e.g., Blake Block. Mixed-use could also work in the vicinity of Stop & Shop in the future.
Jean — I would like to see more modestly priced homes in town, more options for people to downsize and stay in town. I’m in favor of allowing the construction of more Accessory Dwelling Units that could allow two families to live in one home or provide some extra income for a family struggling to stay in town. Bedford is an expensive place to live. My wife and I live in a duplex in the Bedford Gardens neighborhood. Without the rental income from the other unit, there is no way we could afford to live here.
Zildjian — I was fortunate enough to move to Bedford when a middle-class family could afford to live here. Nowadays, that is rarely the case. Increased opportunities for housing is on the forefront of my priority as a member of the Planning Board. However, the conversation surrounding housing equity is often proposed as a dichotomy, benefitting one sub-group over another. We should look to serve all groups equally, regardless if they are a family seeking a community that has quality education for their children, or our senior citizens who wish to downsize, or whatever other situation they may be in.
Three candidates for two positions
Dennis Ahern (incumbent)
Michael Anthony Pulizzi (incumbent)
How do you foresee the Trustees might tap into the experience of the past year to enhance services and outreach to the community? Do you envision greater services to different segments of the population?
Ahern — It’s a miracle of human evolution that the squiggles you see before you have meaning. Letters become words. Words become sentences. Sentences convey information. You need to exercise your brain to form ideas based on this data. You can also derive information from images or from the spoken word, but as your brain does not have to be engaged to absorb this information it’s all too easy to accept misinformation as fact.
Our experience of the past year has shown us that our democracy is a fragile thing, dependent on the participation of an informed citizenry. As a free public Library, we must do everything possible to enhance access to information.
Alden — Working from home has shown that maintaining a clear and quiet workspace is a formidable task, and securing a change of scenery can be invaluable. Providing patrons with space to work in the library (while keeping them safely apart from staff) is a helpful and low-risk policy if done correctly. Reservations can be made through an online portal, with mechanisms that ensure equal opportunities for securing time slots. I will prioritize clear messaging on our safety and sanitation practices to maintain confidence in our system, and ensure that the registration process is visible and accessible.
Pulizzi — The Bedford Free Public Library staff has done a tremendous job over the past year in response to the reality created by COVID 19 and the necessary safety protocols that have been implemented by our state and town governments. The curbside pick-up system and the virtual programming that the library has implemented has allowed library patrons, from Bedford and its surrounding towns, to continue to access the many resources offered by the library. As we envision moving toward a post-COVID reality, I hope we will continue to use this creative approach to meet the needs of all our patrons.
As a community hub, the Library has no equal but there are features that could make it an even more welcoming place. What “dream big” ideas would you suggest, even if they are not achievable at the moment?
Ahern — Many of our seniors have become even more isolated due to the pandemic. While the Library has managed to continue circulating material through curbside pickup this leaves out those who are shut in. I would like to look into partnering with Meals on Wheel to deliver books to those who cannot get out on their own. Who knows, some day we may be delivering by drone.
Alden — My biggest dream would be to roll out printing services, and make them available through pickup. We already have curbside pickup for book circulation; adding printed materials to this program would provide a useful service that existed pre-pandemic. This would be compatible with our existing pickup system. Access to printers has dipped during this pandemic, and this difficulty obtaining printed materials is a problem that demands a forceful response from our leadership. Children learn better using paper and pen, and we should do our part to help them succeed.
Pulizzi — I have always viewed our library as a community hub. Located near other town buildings and ball fields, it has always seemed like a natural gathering space. As a trustee, I believe we should focus on equity and accessibility. Everyone should be able to benefit from the library’s resources. With this in mind, I hope the library will continue to offer virtual links for its programming so that everyone can access these experiences. Also, it would be wonderful if we could offer delivery service for patrons who cannot travel to the library to pick-up books or other materials we offer.
BOARD of HEALTH
Four candidates for 2 positions
Alison Theresa O’Connell
Anita Raj (incumbent)
Catherine VG Van Praagh
What would you identify as lessons learned in Bedford’s response to the current pandemic in relationship to the role of the Board of Health?
O’Connell — Having made Bedford our new home just a few months ago, I’m looking to serve on the Board of Health with a fresh, unbiased perspective, informed by clinical best practices. With a desire to become a contributing member to my new home town, and provide leadership-by-example to our young son, I’ll be leveraging my professional expertise to ensure we make clinically sound, efficient decisions that serve the greater good of the Bedford community.
Raj — As the incumbent, I learned many residents want their voices heard and do not understand how our elected boards interact with our professional town staff. This crushing, rapidly changing crucible of a pandemic has destroyed our normal lives, and we residents need our elected representatives to know how it is impacting us. While the Board has worked exceptionally creatively to protect and serve Bedford during the pandemic, it is obvious that I need to keep educating and involving residents so that you know that I am listening and working hard to be your voice during our meetings.
Richichi — These lessons represent my hands-on experience and observations as a resident:
- The better prepared you are, the better you respond. Bedford’s emergency preparedness planning, training, and infrastructure need to be maintained for successful crisis response.
- The best decisions result from use of evidenced-based data, public input, and reaching consensus.
- In crisis situations, additional community resources can be marshalled to solve problems, such as establishing a Medical Advisory Team in a pandemic or an ad hoc representative community-wide task force to address an issue.
- The most useful lessons will be learned from reviewing performance and outcomes, e.g., a town-wide post-COVID-19 postmortem.
Van Praagh — As a general whole, the Board of Health has responded well to a very difficult situation. When Bedford became one of the earliest sites of infection in the state, their rapid response, development of the COVID dashboard, and the sensible guidance provided to our community and businesses was impressive. One of the primary things Covid has highlighted is the need for more and better platforms of communication. Many folks are unaware of how to get the information they need or who to contact to address concerns, which can cause unnecessary confusion and anxiety.
What resources will you use to inform your decisions as a member of the Board of Health?
O’Connell — Professionally, my experience in public-sector healthcare compliance, strategy and consulting will be useful in ensuring the BOH operates efficiently, objectively, and evidence-based. I will leverage my skill set in making clinically informed, purposeful and, highly efficient decisions. Speaking specifically about COVID, we are in a particularly time-sensitive period where continued access to testing, and, broad adoption of vaccination as soon as it is available will be critical to improving our community’s overall quality of life. Our collective goal must be remaining nimble with our evolving protocols to create a healthy balance between safety, and reasonable, informed flexibility.
Raj — I use thoughtful and deliberate inquiry to deliberate on issues. I ask myself and the Board “What is the issue?”, “What is its impact on Bedford”, “What options and actions are available to us”, “What actions have other communities taken?” “What does expert advice recommend?”, “What would benefit stakeholders?”, “Who else can help us?”, “Can we collaborate with other towns?”, “What else could be true here?”, and “What is the most responsible action the Board can take?”. Emotions and “fad” solutions make easy, flashy actions seem the best route, but thoughtful, deliberate inquiry makes decisions that last for years.
Richichi — As a member of the Board of Health, I will use the following resources to guide my decisions:
- research-based evidence augmented by expert advice;
- practice-based evidence of interventions that have been shown to produce desirable outcomes in improving health in real-life settings (e.g., CDC Database of Interventions);
- public health guidance and directives from federal and state levels;
- knowledge about public health issues based on my 40+ years as a health professional in community health and school settings; and
- local context and community input.
Van Praagh — The CDC, MA Department of Public Health, and peer-reviewed studies will inform my decisions as a member of the Board of Health. I will apply my education in microbiology and my knowledge as a lab manager to understand the issues at hand. I will use my experience from working in both a long-term care facility and a public health clinic to find practical solutions to real life problems. Having both aging relatives in town and children in the school system, I am aware there are a broad array of needs in Bedford that require different approaches to address them successfully.
One candidate for one position
Kim K. Lovy
Why are you interested in serving the Bedford community as a member of the Housing Authority?
Lovy — I am excited to begin serving the citizens and the Town of Bedford; this will be my first experience in local government. I believe each and every human has a right to adequate housing, and that it is the responsibility of a community to help provide housing when needed. When I saw there was a vacancy in the Housing Authority, it seemed to me a perfect place to start.
What issues are of particular interest to you?
Lovy — I’m just beginning; I have a few pie-in-the-sky ideas for connecting with the tenants and getting to see how the BHA can continue to fulfill its goals and possibly improve. There will be issues that seem more or less important once I’m working with the authority.
BOARD of ASSESSORS
Two candidates for one position
Joseph Alan Gilbert
What is your understanding of what an Assessor does?
Gilbert — The Board of Assessors is responsible for making sure assessed property values are determined fairly and accurately. They do this by overseeing and certifying that the determination of assessed value of property in Bedford is fair, accurate, and in accordance with state-approved methods; relevant information should be collected and recorded in a transparent and ystematic way. Additionally, after assessments are made, the Board of Assessors hear and make determinations on applications from individual taxpayers, who believe that the value of their property has been incorrectly assessed.
Lovy — The responsibilities of a town assessor are well defined by the Bedford town charter. The board’s primary purpose is to assess the value of real estate and personal property within the town of Bedford. I have read over the minutes from prior Board of Assessors meetings, and through several of the annual analyses of tax bill changes prepared and published by the board. So, I have come to an understanding of an assessor’s role in certification of tax rate calculations in accordance with the Massachusetts department of revenue, and in preparing recommendations for tax classification distribution to the town.
What is your position on the proposed change from having taxpayers elect the Assessors to having the Selectmen or Town Manager appoint them?
Gilbert — I adamantly agree with outgoing Board Chair, Ron Cordes, that independence is integral to the Assessors. While the Select Board is always aligned with our town’s greater interests, they may not always directly align with those of the individual taxpayers, and all interests should be heard, represented, and balanced. This balancing of interests is an important check on the Select Board and is the primary reason the Assessors should remain independently elected by the people. The feeling of paying our tax bill should be weighed against Bedford’s great services – both perspectives are important, and both should be considered.
Lovy — The Board of Assessors determines the fair market value of all town property. The town budgeting process wrestles with all the other factors in calculating the town’s property tax rate. Whether an assessor offered their service to the town, or they accepted an appointment, their duties and responsibilities are the same. Just as we expect judges to recuse themselves, not because we think them incapable, but to ensure full confidence in the system. Bedford prefers an independently elected Board of Assessors, not because we think an appointed board would be corrupt, but because we want full confidence in the system.
REGIONAL SCHOOL COMMITTEE
One candidate for one position
Brian C. O’Donnell
Bedford’s enrollment at Shawsheen is significantly lower than the other participating communities. What would you do to increase Bedford’s enrollment?
O’Donnell — I would work to facilitate using all available media to make prospective students and their families more aware of the many stories of success and satisfaction realized by Bedford students who have chosen Shawsheen (and incorporating them in telling those stories). We need more dialogue about the factors which influence decisions to attend vocational school and make sure that all parties have complete information regarding the academic and extracurricular components of contemporary vocational programs, the compatibility of attending a vocational high school with any long term college goals, and the advantages of vocational schools in providing for experiential learning.
How do you perceive your role as a representative of Bedford on this School Committee where decision making is shared with four other communities each with a significantly larger enrollment?
O’Donnell — My observation of the SVRVTS School Committee (where each of the five member towns has two representatives) has been that key decisions on personnel and policies are equitably shared by representatives of all the communities, regardless of the enrollment component they represent, and I would hope to continue in that tradition. One issue with a specific Bedford focus I would be exploring is how the traditional outreach and recruitment efforts by Shawsheen may need to be amended to expand attendance by students from Bedford.