FM - What is your Franklin story?
Tara Gurge - I can tell you that my husband and I have lived in Franklin since 2001 (moved to Lincoln St. in Franklin back in Sept. 2001 to be exact.) I was born and raised in North Reading. I went to college at UMass Amherst. After graduation and earning a Master of Science degree in Public Health, I got a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in Morgantown, WV. That was a good experience seeing what was done at the Federal level in public health. As that was finishing, I was looking to come back to MA and found the position at the local Public Health Department posted in Needham. The director there at the time also had spent time at NIOSH so that was a huge connection.
So I had done the commute from North Reading to Needham for 6-9 months and I said no more, there’s got to be another way. I got married and my husband and I started looking for a house. He’s from Connecticut so we wanted to find something between the two family homes. We looked in Bellingham and found the place in Franklin.
We have loved it here and are currently raising our 3 kids in this wonderful community. I have worked in the Town of Needham for the past 15 years (and have worked very closely under our current 3 member elected Board of Health (BOH), and want to help to provide a different perspective to the Franklin BOH.
I feel I want to start making a difference it the community that I live in, and I feel I have a wealth of experience in the field of public health that I can provide! I still plan to continue to maintain my full-time position in Needham, since I really enjoy what I do – it’s a rare feat to actually go to school for something and have it be exactly what I do in my job. I love helping people and protecting the environment. I always learn something new each day in my job, that’s what makes it so exciting.
FM - What do you see as a challenge for the Board of Health?
Tara Gurge - I want to share the strategies have worked very well in Needham. For example, one method of tobacco substance abuse prevention that has been widely successful, is conducting local, quarterly routine tobacco compliance checks. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in sales to minors, and the high school smoking rates have dramatically decreased in Needham as a result.
My background is I like to work with people. I am not out to get people. In changing the tobacco age to 21, we went there in stages. From 18 to 19, from 19 to 20, and so forth, moving gradually. Working with the vendors. At first it wasn’t received very well. We were able to take their comments and suggestions, we revised the regulations. I think it's giving everyone the confidence and making them realize that this isn't really as hard as everyone thinks it is. It ended up being an easy transition.
I am one of those people that find resources to help the existing Board. I also conduct policy and regulation reviews, to stay on the forefront of public health and prevention. This is important to refine the process to protect our kids. If you can keep them from getting started, from high school up to 21, then the rates of addiction drop dramatically. When we implemented that in Needham, our smoking rate dropped 50%. They thought all the kids will just go to the next town around and buy their product. But that actually wasn't the case, it was the smoking rate that dropped 50%. It was just amazing. So that is one of my passions. I don’t want to say it is going to be all that. It does help to highlight the approach I would take to implement something. I hope to be able to add to the Board to make a difference.
FM - What do you bring to the position that would set you apart from the other candidates?
Tara Gurge - You can see from my resume that I have been in Needham as a Health Agent for the past 15 years. We are structured very much like Franklin. I am very familiar with the structure and the way the day to day operations are run at the local Health Department. Reading the minutes of the Board online, I see you are dealing with the same things we are in Needham. So I have this experience, I have worked with a Board, and I can give back to my own community. I talk with David (McKearney, Franklin’s Health Director) frequently. I bounce ideas off him, he off me, on what we are doing to address this issue or that.
One of my main goals in Franklin is to focus on substance abuse prevention. Having 3 kids in the Franklin Public School system (my oldest just started middle school this year!), I am interested in helping to curb this opioid epidemic so that we can continue to find strategies to protect our kids and ensure that more prevention methods and education is out there in the forefront.
I’ve also received feedback from Franklin residents on other on-going public health concerns that need to be looked into. Some Franklin parents are scared with what’s out there. It is huge. This epidemic hit home for me, it hit my family. To sidetrack this runaway train, that is one of my big goals. I think it’s time to have a new face that can offer a new and different perspective.
If you have any follow up questions for Tara, you can contact her via email at TGurge@needhamma.gov
Noteworthy: This information is intended to help the Franklin voters when we all head to the ballot box on November 3rd. The interview candidates have had an opportunity to review the text before publishing to ensure the accuracy of our discussion.