The Town of Natick depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Natick voters on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 will cast their ballots for candidates running for Select Board, a contested race.
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, is vested with all the municipal authority not specifically retained by the Town’s legislative body, Town Meeting.
The Select Board candidates in ballot order are Kathryn Coughlin, Bruce Evans, and Cody Jacobs.
Natick Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Natick. Below is Kathryn Coughlin’s Q&A.
Kathryn Coughlin, Select Board candidate
Natick Report: Please introduce yourself to Natick Report‘s readers.
Kathryn Coughlin: My husband and I moved to Natick from Washington, D.C., where I was working on a doctoral degree in Islamic History at Georgetown University, specializing in comparative law and gender. I hold a BA in History from Berea College and a MA in History from Georgetown University. My mother-in-law, Dr. Shipra De, joined us and our two dogs, Muddy and Truman, from Kolkata in 2019. I worked in academic administration at Harvard for ten years and then in 2017, I purchased Sherborn Wine & Spirits, which I owned until last May. I have served Natick as an appointed member of the Natick Zoning Board of Appeals and an elected Town Meeting Member. I think that my demonstrated experience in town governance, my small business experience, and my years of research will serve me well on the Select Board. I love Natick, and I hope to earn your vote so I can begin work on behalf of you and our neighbors in town. I humbly ask for your vote on March 29, 2022.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in your 3-year tenure as a Select Board member?
Kathryn Coughlin: If elected, I want to contribute to the town governance committee and continue the work of the Select Board in developing a fiscally sustainable budget. The town faces a number of post-pandemic challenges both on the revenue and expense side and, it will take dedicated collaboration with a focus on creative solutions to ensure that we emerge strong and financially sound. I look forward to working with the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer in bringing new voices to town governance, reaching out to traditionally marginalized communities here in town. Should the Community Preservation Act be approved by the voters, I would like to aggressively seek to expand our affordable housing options for all sizes of families, so that our police officers and DPW workers can live in the town that they serve. I’d like to work on expanding our commercial tax base, especially in the downtown mixed-use zone. When our businesses, especially restaurants and hotels succeed, tax revenue rises and reduces the tax burden on our residents. And I would like to work with EcoNatick, the town’s Sustainability Coordinator and other interested stakeholders to move Natick to 100% renewable energy by 2030 in the home and municipal energy aggregation programs.
NR: Natick through the Town Governance Study Committee is taking a look at how the town is governed. What changes in town government do you think would benefit Natick?
Kathryn Coughlin: I think that the representative town meeting as a form of governance should be reviewed. We rarely have contested races or full slates of candidates running for town meeting; and some members are chronic absentees. The most oft-heard complaint is that town meeting takes too long; many other peer towns are able to complete business in two nights. Natick’s annual town meeting can run several weeks and is usually three hours long each night. We need to look for efficiencies and possible town meeting rules and practices reform to ensure that we have an engaged electorate. I would not want to prejudge the outcome of the town governance committee’s findings in asserting a charter change review.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Kathryn Coughlin: The single most important issue facing Natick is the town’s fiscal sustainability. Without ensuring that, we cannot make progress on the other serious issues facing us: sustainability and the environment; capital planning; economic and commercial development; helping our town’s elderly to age in place; expanding our affordable housing stock; addressing social and economic inequities. Before committing to an operational tax override, I will examine all of the available data, ask the hard questions and work with our town administrator and school superintendent to ensure that they have the resources they need. Supporting our commercial businesses is key: when they are successful, tax revenue like local option taxes increases. To that end, I support a single tax rate for both residents and businesses. While some other communities have split tax rates, with higher commercial rates than residential rates, they often have to lure big businesses, like MathWorks and Cognex, with Tax Incentive Financing (TIFs) and other tax reductions. This is precisely how Natick “lost” BJs to another town which promised little to no taxes for the first ten years. BJs’ corporate headquarters is moving again, lured by another TIF agreement. This means that these unpaid corporate taxes fall on the backs of the residents. I understand the economic pressures that Natick residents are facing now with rampant inflation and higher fuel prices, which is why I propose a means-tested tax exemption for the first $100,000 of assessed value for owner-occupied residences.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?