The Town of Wellesley depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Wellesley has 11 Boards and Committees on the ballot at the Annual Town election each year in March. The 2021 election will be held on Tuesday, March 2.
There are three candidates running for two open 3-year seats on the Select Board, which serves as the chief executive board of the Town, and as such, oversees all matters affecting the interest and welfare of the community. The 5-member Board exercises the authority vested in the Town not specifically assigned by law to any other board or office.
The Select Board candidates are Colette Aufranc; Odessa Sanchez; and Ann-Mara Lanza.
The Swellesley Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Wellesley.
Wellesley candidate for Select Board—Colette Aufranc
The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Colette Aufranc: I am a current Select Board and Town Meeting member, former Audit Committee chair, an accountant, and have extensive experience in volunteering and civic engagement.
Now, more than ever, being a trained accountant with several years of in-depth review of the town’s financial statements through the Audit Committee is incredibly valuable. Much of the work of the Select Board involves pouring over budgets and fiscal policies and setting guidelines to make ends meet while maintaining services for our residents.
I have built an understanding of Wellesley’s unique and complex town government structure through my work on the Audit Committee, as an engaged TMM, as a neighborhood representative in the redevelopment of Linden Square and as an advocate for numerous issues affecting our schools over the years. This work has involved attending and engaging in Town Meeting, as well as with a number of town boards – Select, Advisory, Planning, Design Review, Zoning, and more. Understanding how Wellesley’s government structure works, and how all these boards interact with each other, is critically important to being an effective Select Board member as the Select Board is the executive body of our town.
I have the right personality and working style to be a successful Select Board member. I define my personal working style as persistent, reasonable collaboration, and it has been successful for me. I am a listener and a bridge builder, and I understand that compromise is often necessary to move forward.
Finally, I have experience sitting on the Select Board in a uniquely challenging time for local government. I have spent the past several months immersing myself in the details of the current fiscal climate and economic outlook. I have supported initiatives aimed at assisting local merchants. I continue to learn about municipal strategies to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I have taken on committee assignments in mobility and transport at a time when the norms of mass transit are upended. I have advocated for Wellesley and built relationships with municipal organizations and peers throughout Metrowest. I would like to continue that work and leverage the momentum I have gained.
TSR: The Wellesley business district has faced challenges recently, as evidenced by several empty storefronts. How can the Select Board and the Town further support existing businesses and encourage new ones to come into Wellesley?
Aufranc: The economic impacts of the pandemic have indeed been challenging for our merchants. The town and the Select Board have engaged in several different initiatives aimed at supporting local businesses, including outdoor dining support like parklets, take-out liquor licensing, free parking, “shop local” media campaigns and more.
The Select Board was successful in our project request to Babson College’s Office of Experiential Learning. Starting in March, graduate student consulting teams at Babson’s Strategic Analysis Consulting Program will focus on finding innovative solutions and insights into some of the business challenges we are facing as a result of the pandemic, as well as changes in consumer behavior in areas such as e-commerce. We hope this project will provide insight into ways to address issues such as vacant commercial storefronts and high turnover rates, and to better understand what types of businesses would be successful in Wellesley. We have asked the student consulting team to aid us in identifying potential barriers to attracting new business and retaining existing ones. The Select Board has also sought out a business development summer internship in collaboration with Babson College.
The Select Board is currently considering changes to regulations on the minimum number of seats for a restaurant to obtain a liquor license. I am very interested in pursuing discussions with local restaurateurs and getting input from residents on this matter. Liquor licenses are considered an essential tool for economic development in communities, small and large, seeking to revitalize economically disadvantaged areas. Such changes could help bring new vibrancy to our business areas.
Wellesley recently joined the Newton Needham Watertown Regional Chamber of Commerce. This group is highly organized, financially strong and effective. The collective voices of businesses and not-for-profit organizations within the multi-town Chamber can be an effective advocate for local business interests. The Select Board can partner with the Chamber where appropriate as part of its work to support local merchants.
TSR: How can Wellesley more effectively engage in acting on the concerns of its residents of diverse backgrounds?
Aufranc: Recently, Wellesley applied for a grant through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to develop a Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan (REMAP). Unfortunately, our grant request was not approved. Instead, the town has begun exploring ways to embark on this process ourselves. We have approved funding for a consultant to aid in establishing a representative task force or working group. I was very supportive of the funding for this initiative. Building a strong foundation for this work and ensuring we begin the process in a thoughtful way is critical to long term success.
Wellesley is not alone in exploring ways to address racial inequity. We can learn from, and leverage the experience of, peer towns and community partners. The Select Board will soon hold a forum to learn more about the REMAP program and have invited an MAPC representative and a manager from a local town that is currently developing a REMAP plan. This is the first step in developing a strategic plan to engage with residents of diverse backgrounds, hear their concerns, and be responsive. Wellesley Public Schools (WPS) recently hired a director of diversity, equity and inclusion and she has spent her first year doing the foundational work necessary to build a strategic plan for the schools. As we go through this same process on the municipal side, forming a strong partnership with WPS will be a priority.
TSR: How can Wellesley manage the financial implications of the pandemic going forward? Already a plan has been put into place to cut Wellesley’s capital spending 25% across the board. In addition, some Free Cash Reserves money has been tapped to cover items such as public safety and snow removal. What else can be done to manage the financial implications of COVID-19?
Aufranc: Managing the financial impact of the pandemic takes a willingness to engage in discussions with all town boards about capital and operating expenses – what is necessary, what can be reimagined, what can be delayed and the impacts of delays and cuts. We need to think creatively about funding sources, write grants, perhaps bundle some moderate capital projects together for potential debt exclusions and keep an eye on what is funded inside the levy as debt service and cash capital expense. If we manage the next phases of the school building projects in an effective and timely manner, we have the ability to include feasibility and design expenses in the debt exclusion – thereby freeing up space within the levy to catch up on delayed cash capital expenditures. It will take thoughtful planning and communication with Town Meeting and residents to responsibly and successfully move these projects forward and pass debt exclusion votes.
Budgeting during this time is an exercise in managing many unknown elements. Since I joined the Board, we have slowly had confirmation of funding sources such as Chapter 90 Funding (for capital projects such as roads). The recently signed Governor’s budget included good news for Unrestricted Government Grants and Chapter 70 funding for education. We are waiting to hear more about further federal aid in the form of a second round of COVID relief for municipalities. At the same time we have made assumptions, such as the return to school in the fall, which will be dependent on several variables, not least the success of the vaccine roll out.
When all is said and done, it is fair to assume we will have drawn down on our reserves and will need to rebuild them. Our town’s long history of conservative planning and good fiscal policy prepared us well for the financial impacts of this pandemic. A period of reflection and review would be valuable to ensure we remain prepared for any future shocks.
TSR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Aufranc: I respectfully ask for your vote to continue to serve the Wellesley at this challenging time. I would like to leverage the momentum I have gained since joining the Select Board in September 2020, and to continue the important work I have begun.
TSR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
Aufranc: I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a lot of information about my background, qualifications, current work on the Select Board and more—visit my website at www.electcoletteaufranc.com.