Jonathan's Issues & Priorities
The state of our town generally is strong. Our finances are stable, the Wakefield Public Schools and other town departments provide needed services, and we have seen our community come together in good times and bad. Yet there is so much more we must do to move Wakefield forward. As your Town Councilor, I'm focused on working for progress in the following areas:
1. Making Wakefield More Livable for All Residents
Our community has undergone a great deal of change over the last several years, and further growth and development in our town is inevitable. As your Town Councilor, one of my priorities is to assure that Wakefield remains a vibrant, accessible, and affordable community for all residents.
A key part of promoting a livable community is building thriving business districts downtown and in Greenwood. As your Town Councilor, I support hiring an Economic Development Officer for the community. Part of this individual’s role would be to recruit businesses and cultural organizations that can round out the great businesses we already have, including “pop up” businesses that will give residents and visitors new reasons to shop and dine in Wakefield.
I’m also working to improve access to the downtown district by assuring that we do a better job of collecting data so that we can make evidence-based policies on parking. As a former member of the Finance Committee, I understand the importance of using facts to inform policy, and I believe that having access to more complete information will help us make effective decisions when it comes to parking availability, enforcement, and signage. In addition, as the Envision Wakefield project moves forward, I'm pushing for a continued focus on walkability and accessibility, particularly for residents with disabilities. Downtown only will succeed if people feel safe walking through the area.
Promoting livability also means focusing on affordability. As home values increase in Wakefield, we must redouble our efforts to assure that our most vulnerable residents are able to stay in their homes, and that young people have the opportunity to put down roots here. I'm working with our legislative delegation to secure approval for our local senior property tax credit, and I will push to expand this credit as individual tax burdens change. As your Town Councilor, I will do more to actively promote the Town’s existing tax abatement programs and other benefits for veterans and individuals with disabilities. Finally, I'm committed to finding new opportunities to help our residents facing financial challenges stay in their homes, including partnering with the Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department to identify energy savings programs targeted to seniors and other vulnerable residents.
Hiring an Economic Development Officer will help promote affordability in Wakefield. Our community has over two million square feet in commercial real estate currently available for lease. My vision is that the Economic Development Officer would work with property owners to find long-term commercial tenants for these properties, which would help reduce the Town’s reliance on residential property taxes. The Economic Development Officer also will allow the Town to take a proactive approach in promoting development projects that will bring a diversity of housing options to our community, including affordable housing and senior housing.
2. Promoting Openness and Good Government
Town government is the purest form of democracy — through Town Meeting, all citizens can participate in making the decisions that will shape Wakefield’s future. But too often, it’s difficult for residents to find information about the key issues facing our town, and too often, town government does not operate in as open and professional a manner as it should. As a Town Councilor, I'm focusing on improving how the Town communicates with residents, assuring that we follow recognized best practices in every aspect of town operations, and giving residents a voice in town government.
I believe that the Town Council has a critical role in promoting better communication from our government. As your Town Councilor, I advocate for improvements to the Town’s website and Facebook page so that information is posted in a more timely and complete way, and that content is clearly indexed and easily searchable. I also am exploring other avenues for communicating with residents, such as the inclusion of information in utility bills and the use of the reverse 911 system to notify residents of key town events and meetings. Finally, I'm promoting the development of a standardized and consistent process for soliciting citizen volunteers for Town boards and committees so that we can recruit a broader and more diverse group of participants.
Wakefield should consider reforms to the way that Town Meeting operates to promote more meaningful and robust citizen participation. I'm committed to investigating the possibility of holding public forums prior to Town Meeting to allow citizens additional time to learn about the key issues that will be up for debate, to ask questions and better understand the alternatives beforehand. I also believe we should explore alternative days for Town Meeting and the possibility of proxy or electronic voting to increase participation from residents who have challenges attending in person.
As the executive branch of town government, the Town Council must assure that our government functions effectively and efficiently. As your Town Councilor, I'm continuing to work with Town departments to explore creating a performance management system for key appointed officials, assuring that there is a process of setting performance goals and a mechanism to conduct regular performance reviews. I also am focused on making sure that the Town to collect data on key performance metrics so that we can continually work to improve the service we provide to residents. Please click here to learn more about my ideas for creating an effective performance management process for our Town government.
The Town must adhere to a professional hiring process for all significant vacancies in town government. As a parent, I served on the interview committee that selected a new Walton School principal in 2017. That process included an opportunity for parents and teachers to share their feedback about what they wanted to see in a new principal, a defined recruitment committee and formal interview process, and a public job posting that allowed us to attract highly qualified candidates from inside and outside the district. Town government must follow the lead of the School Department in using a similar process to fill critical jobs.
3. Investing in Wakefield's Future
Improving the quality of life in Wakefield requires that the Town effectively maintain and enhance its public infrastructure. As your Town Councilor, I'm working to assure that Wakefield takes its first steps to develop a much-needed long term plan to continually invest in our community resources so that we can effectively serve the needs of Wakefield’s residents now and in the future.
One of the most pressing issues facing our community is the condition of Wakefield Memorial High School. The building has structural and safety issues that will cost more than $70 million to address and is set up in a way that is wholly inadequate for a 21st century education. As the father of four young children, I believe that a new high school is critical to give Wakefield’s students a safe environment that is conducive to learning. Wakefield has submitted to the Massachusetts School Building authority (MSBA) a Statement of Interest that would allow us to access state funding for a new high school. This is the fourth consecutive year we have submitted this application, but we have made minimal updates to these applications in prior years to improve our chances of getting selected. The lack of effort to improve our application prior to this year represents a failure of leadership on the part of the Town Council. I will assure that if Wakefield isn’t selected by the MSBA this year, we rewrite future applications to address deficiencies in what we previously submitted. I also am working to see that the Town Council partners with the School Committee to continue the public dialogue that the School Committee initiated a few weeks ago to educate residents about the deficiencies in the current building and collect feedback on the options available to us.
Underinvestment has played a part in the deterioration of Wakefield’s roads. I have supported increasing funding for road maintenance and resurfacing for the last two years, but more money isn’t sufficient by itself. We need to offer better customer service to residents, by utilizing and promoting telephone and electronic options that allow residents to easily report poor road conditions and analyzing the data around reported problems to better identify repair needs. In addition, we must do a better job of developing a long-term plan for road maintenance and communicating repair priorities with residents.
We also must develop a long-term plan for the Public Safety Building so that our police officers can do their jobs in a safe and effective way. Regardless of whether you supported the renovation proposal on the ballot last year, there are deficiencies in the current building that need to be addressed, and it’s disappointing that it’s taken a year for the Public Safety Building Re-Assessment Committee to be formed. I am committed to working with the Committee to make sure that the Police Department has a facility that meets their needs. As a Town Councilor, I also will continue to advocate for the Town to work with developers to identify potential opportunities to include police sub-stations in major projects to help our first responders meet the needs of a growing community.