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 Bruce Evans’ Q&A.
NR: Please introduce yourself to Natick Report‘s readers.
Bruce Evans: Natick is a remarkable town with challenges that call for proven leadership. That’s why I’m running for a seat on the Select Board: to make Natick the best community it can be.
I was raised by parents who were community volunteers, and I’ve followed that path since moving to Natick with my wife Terri in 1995. In over a decade on the Natick Finance Committee (FinCom), I’ve reviewed Town budgets and all matters brought to Town Meeting. As Education Subcommittee Chair, I bridged the gap between school and town budgets. As Fincom Secretary, I’ve co-produced the Town Meeting Recommendation Book and have been a Town Meeting member for 11 years. I’m a long-time youth baseball and basketball coach, and a regular volunteer at TCAN, the Morse Institute Library, and the PanMass Challenge. In 2015, Terri and I were honored to receive the Natick Education Foundation’s Harriet F. Siegel Shining Light Award for “sustained volunteer contributions that have increased the quality of life in Natick.”
Between FinCom and Town Meeting, I’ve acquired a depth of knowledge about Natick’s structure, resources, constraints, and capabilities. Now I’m ready to utilize this expertise by serving the town on the Select Board.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in your 3-year tenure as a Select Board member?
Bruce Evans: My priority areas are fiscal sustainability; affordability; smart economic development; transparency in town government; environmental sustainability; diversity, equity and inclusion; and the delivery of excellent town services. If we are to make progress on the issues facing Natick going forward, we must start by addressing the budget deficit. If elected, I’ll work collaboratively to tackle a projected FY24 funding shortfall and a likely override in order to make informed decisions that balance short- and long-term needs. We must also plan for major capital costs such as a possible replacement Memorial School. Financial stability ties directly to other priorities, including improving the quality of town services and town roads.
I plan to make progress on governance and diversity, equity, and inclusion in town government. That means understanding barriers to participation and increasing engagement at Town Meeting, on boards and committees, and as individual participants. I want to solidify our commitment to smart economic development, recognizing that a thriving commercial sector is vital to a financially healthy community. I will take forward the goals set out in the NetZero 2050 (carbon-neutral) plan, not only for municipal buildings and services, but in partnership with residents and businesses.
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?
Bruce Evans: Natick’s Charter and Bylaws were developed in the 1970s. Though they have been altered since, they don’t reflect the accelerated pace of life today and the pressures of competing priorities.
It’s time to reexamine how we conduct Town Meeting, including how we use a “hybrid” in-person and online model. Today, we struggle to have a full complement of 180 members. When Town Meeting met virtually during COVID, we saw increased participation by members under 50, especially those with young families. We may also want to consider reducing the number of Town Meeting members to reflect typical turnout. The Town Meeting model can make it difficult for Natick to respond nimbly to business opportunities, as we’ve seen on more than one occasion.
I expect the Town Governance Committee to provide a range of options, drawing from the experiences of other communities. Should it recommend the creation of a Charter Commission, I would support doing so.
We’re making some changes now. Last year I helped broker an agreement on the floor of Town Meeting to shift the Town budget due date from January 1 to February 1, giving the Town Administrator more time to get key information needed to prepare a solid budget.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Bruce Evans: I’d like to talk about affordability. I’ll work to keep taxes from driving residents away and seek strategies to increase diversity in housing options. Even when the tax rate went down this year, rising property values meant higher tax bills, making it difficult for seniors and others on limited incomes to remain in Natick. For seniors, there are tax deferral and tax work-off programs, but we need to improve communication about them and offer assistance in applying for them. The Town should also investigate the feasibility of a means-tested property tax exemption.
Finally, I support the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which has been adopted by more than half of Massachusetts cities and towns, including most of our neighbors. Natick property owners today already pay into the state CPA Trust Fund through a statewide surcharge on all real estate transactions at the Registry of Deeds but receive no benefit.
The current proposal coming up at Town Meeting would add a 1% surcharge to tax bills, an annual average of $70 per household. Voting to adopt the CPA can generate funds to support a number of our shared priorities, including securing open space, preserving historic buildings, and creating affordable housing.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
I ask for your vote on March 29. Thank you.