Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tina Powderly answers 3 questions

2 years ago, Tina Powderly and I got together to do this interview when she ran for Town Council for her first term in 2009. Now running for re-election, we got together again to answer 3 questions.

FM - Tell me a bit about yourself, your family and your life here in Franklin?

TP - I am the daughter of an Army soldier so my childhood was very transient. We moved around all over the US and we even lived in Germany for awhile. I went to college at Georgetown University in Washington and received my bachelor’s in business. After college I worked for a health economics and health care industry consulting firm. Then I came to Massachusetts to study for my Masters in Public Health at Harvard. I worked as the Manager for Community Health Center Affiliations at Partners and then moved to Franklin about 10 years ago. Now, all three of my children are enrolled in the Franklin public schools.

FM - What experience or background will help you to serve in this role? or What do you think makes you a good candidate to fulfill this role?

TP - In terms of experience and background and what makes me a strong candidate for this position, I would divide it into two buckets: personal and professional.

From my personal background, again, my father was an Army pilot and my mother was a nurse. The two of them instilled in me the importance of serving your community. My father did it on a national level but it is just as important to do that on a local level. They really ‘walked the walk’ in their everyday lives. They also taught me to respect the differences of others. I believe it is imperative to success to have differences between people. Whether it’s in one’s background (something you can see - age, religion) or in one’s philosophy or temperament, in order to foster solutions that are well rounded, one needs to consider all the viewpoints of everybody involved.

From my professional background, my work and educational experiences in finance and management in health care and public health are key. In Franklin, I was on the Finance Committee for a year and I am finishing my first term on the Town Council. While on the Council I was on the budget subcommittee, the liaison to the Long Range Planning Committee and Chair of the Senior Outreach Committee. Being Chair of the Senior Outreach Committee has driven some of the most rewarding work I have done. Something as simple as the Senior Center Breakfast, which I absolutely enjoy, has introduced me to a great group of people. With my personal life centered on the school system and my young children, I have to actively reach out to gain that perspective.

This past year, the Town Council did a pretty large expansion of tax credits and tax breaks for Seniors. It is not often that you can see something from the start to finish and that was very gratifying. The tax assistance programs also appealed to my public health training. You can have great policy but there is a whole soft side to the implementation of policy. A lot of it has to do with the stigma of receiving assistance. It is not enough to have the right numbers and long term goals. You have to do outreach. You have to manage the perception. You have to market it well. It’s accomplishments like this that make me feel I have a nice mix of experience and yet a fresh perspective and energy to bring to the Council.

FM - What do you see as your role’s biggest challenge and do you have any suggestions on how we can resolve it?

TP - I would say in general it is our limited resources, which stems from a few different places. We have a trajectory of declining state aid that is not going to turn around, and we have residents living with this huge burden of the recession. It is tough to deal with these two factors at a time when we are facing one of the most important capital investment decisions before Franklin in decades – the high school. The original rational for investing in the high school started around accreditation and what we need to do to be compliant. The particulars of Franklin High School led us to the point we are at now, which is an invitation to participate in the new model school and receive up to 58% reimbursement from the state for the costs.

In addition to compliance and the physical building, addressing the high school is also about bringing Franklin’s children into the 21st century. Renovating the existing building doesn’t address the constraints of our excellent teachers to really teach their craft to their best of their ability. You can look at outdated science classrooms or academic classrooms that are smaller than ideal. There is a lot of wasted space in hallways. When your high school doesn’t have a gathering place and you have to use the middle school auditorium, and then you talk about the technology limitations, if you are really going to prepare our students for the world that is out there, the building at Franklin High is inhibiting that. Our teachers do an amazing amount with very limited resources but they can only do so much. The new model school has more classrooms and more academic space and is designed in a way that our administrators and teachers believe is more beneficial to the student’s experience.

For me, with the high school in the background, and all the limited resources, figuring out how to meet my priorities of education and public safety is really the key. So how would I address that and resolve that? I do believe that one of the best things an elected official can do is commit to communication and transparency. I take responsibility for anything I could have done better in these last 2 years. Very specifically, I was on the Town Council budget subcommittee. Being the new kid on the block I wasn’t really aware of how the Joint Budget Subcommittee worked. Who called the meetings, how often did they normally meet? I could have been more proactive and I will take that lesson into the future. Recent events have shown that having that group meet faithfully is really important. I spent a lot of time as a new councilor trying to improve communications and transparency with the residents. If you email me, I will write back. If you call me, I will call you back. That is a really important piece. I have a website and a Facebook page. I am committed to continuing that. I know also that communicating with your peers is also important and I need to do a better job at that.

While you’re doing all this, you need to have an eye on both short term fixes and long term fixes. One option to increase revenues is to explore PILOT payments (PILOT - Payment in lieu of taxes, generally focused on non-profits who are tax exempt). This is a very sensitive issue. Whether we do it or not, you owe it to the residents to examine it. A subcommittee was just formed that I am on and I’d like to spend time during the next term to really examine the pros and cons of it.

There are long term fixes to focus on as well. I am the liaison to the Long Range Financial Planning committee and they are looking at legislative changes. One big ticket item is around EPA storm water regulations. There is a push for legislation to require non-phosphorus fertilizers. The municipalities would save lots of money trying to manage their storm water if phosphorus was out of the equation. Supporting that, advocating for that helps us on the back end. This legislation could help us avoid tens of millions of dollars in the long run. It is about thinking long term and strategically. Sometimes it is easy to think only within Franklin and focus on that. How do we plow the roads and get the kids on buses to their school? But you also have to balance that with this long term piece, like state level legislation. I’d like to be a little more active on that front.

For additional information from Tina you can visit her website
http://www.tinapowderly.com/ and her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TinaPowderly

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