Friday, October 30, 2015

Franklin Candidate for Town Council - Sean Slater

Sean Slater and I met recently via phone call to talk about his campaign for Town Council. This is the summary of our discussion.

FM - What is your Franklin story?

Slater – I am a first time candidate running for Town Council. I have an amazing wife Kerry and an adorable son, Devin. I have a deep commitment to my family and my Catholic faith. Kerry and I consider ourselves very fortunate to be living in a great town like Franklin. After searching for a house on the North Shore and in neighboring towns around Franklin we came to the conclusion that Franklin was the best choice. The small New England town charm and character combined with all Franklin has to offer convinced us that this is where we wanted to be. 
I want to work with people who want to keep Franklin one of the most sought after towns in the state to live in. The collective voice of the Franklin citizens is more important than anything else in terms of how Franklin’s future should be planned out. I am fiscally conservative when it comes to my own household spending. I think it is reasonable for the average Franklin resident to expect that same fiscal discipline from their town officials. 
I believe our town officials should not lose sight of the fact that they are spending the public’s money. I am running for this seat so Devin can grow up in a community that is as safe and affordable tomorrow as it is today. I want the current generation of Franklin citizens to have peace of mind knowing that their children and grandchildren decide to stay in Franklin for the same reasons that we all chose to move here. 
I have worked in the financial services industry for over 22 years; specifically at State St Bank, Bank of America and Fidelity. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Stonehill College. I have an MBA from the Sawyer School of Management. I am employed as a Senior Project Manager with Fidelity Investments responsible for coordinating and delivering multimillion dollar IT projects on-time and on-budget. While at Fidelity, I received my Six Sigma Black Belt certification in 2006 and my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in 2008.

FM - What do you see as a challenge for the position of Town Council?

Slater – I think the biggest challenge is the lack of transparency and the relentless pursuit of overdevelopment. 
The perception, right or wrong is that there is a groupthink mentality to how decisions are made and how public information is or is not shared with residents. There are too many unanimous votes on the Council. Let’s try to bring some critical thinking and fact based analysis into the Chambers. I want to know how the town is defining a “growth” strategy. I will not be a rubber stamp for every real estate development that comes across the desk but I will not vote down every proposal either. 
The accountability is on the interested party proving to me how this will benefit the entire Franklin community, not the selective few, in the short term and long term. Proposals need to be vetted with as much deep dive analysis as required in order for us, as Council members to make better informed decisions. Those proposals over a certain dollar amount should require another level of scrutiny. 
Any growth or five year investment plan regarding Franklin’s future needs to be balanced and conservative and requires full disclosure on how it will impact not only the industrial, commercial, residential portfolio mix but more importantly how that mix impacts the taxpayer’s wallet. 
I certainly understand the need to bring in more revenue, especially as a resident tax payer but we need to tap the breaks a little until unknowns becomes knowns. Trust, then verify. 
Traffic studies are great but they are almost irrelevant in the big picture. You need a comprehensive infrastructure analysis that deals with the demand and supply side. This needs to be done before any voting or fast tracking of decisions. Full disclosure on what the financial burden of the development will demand upon the existing town resources, this is your baseline. 
What is the demand on future or net new services? That gap between current state and future state is what needs to be solved for from a revenue as well as an expense perspective. You take that current state and the future state assessment, document and validate it and hold people accountable to it. 
This is not mind blowing stuff here, this is about transparency and accountability. I do not know if this is happening already or if all of the relevant decision makers are part of the process but we owe it to our residents to ensure that it is. Too many times, the most common knee jerk reaction is to identify a single source of revenue to solve for some or all of that gap; the residential taxpayer. 
Another significant challenge will be the $93M unfunded liability for Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). This is a non-pension guaranteed benefit entitlement. We are accounting for it, it is on the books and we are allocating dollars to it each year. What we need to be doing is solving for how we control the costs that are not only inevitable but will ultimately be unsustainable if we have to write that check someday. 
Those that have contributed and are entitled to that benefit should have peace of mind knowing that those dollars will be there when they need it. The taxpayers should equally have peace of mind knowing well in advance that we as a Council are accountable for coming up with solutions to reduce that tax burden, by reducing (not eliminating) those interest costs within the scope of our town charter and bylaws. 
I mention costs going up as inevitable because health care costs will move in one direction for the foreseeable future. It is like paying only the interest on a credit card or mortgage, the principal balance isn’t going anywhere but the total loan balance only gets bigger. 
We are limited on what we can do because of state regulations and reporting requirements but what we are not limited to is thinking outside the box. We should address this and not ignore it. We have to find a way to make this sustainable. If it needs to funded and fully on the books for 2028, according to the current accounting rules, it will be a big challenge to deal with.

FM - What do you bring to the position that would set you apart from the other candidates?

Slater – First thing I want to get on the record is that for me there is no conflict of interest in my motivation to run for this position. I am not looking to gain any political favors by getting elected. I am not looking to gain financially or grow my business from the votes that I would take on the town’s behalf. I am running with a clear understanding that my first priority is the resident of Franklin. I would not compromise my integrity in achieving that goal. 
What I bring to the table is 22 years of problem solving expertise in the private sector. I am bringing a relentless effort to improve the transparency which is suspect as of today. I am dedicated to ensure that I and my fellow Councilors are proactively engaged in really keeping our community more informed, not just on votes and decisions, but on the overall process leading up to those votes and decisions. I am by default, trained to understand, reject and revise budget items that look questionable at best and completely unreasonable at worst. 
At my current job I demand accountability from people I work with and they demand the same of me. I do not have the luxury of throwing money at a problem to solve for it. I will not get into the override debate here because I could write endlessly on that topic. Know this, to ask the Franklin resident for more taxes in the form of an override is to insult their intelligence. The inconsistent and sky is falling override rhetoric would not change whether we had a $113M budget or a $213M budget. 
On transparency, we need to do better than allowing 3 minutes for residents to express their concerns. Right now it does not do anything to inspire confidence when meetings are a one way conversation after a three minute allowance. We can do better than that. The Town Council does abide by the open meeting law, lead time rule or whatever we call it next month, which is 48 hours but we as TC, accountable to about 33,000 residents should aspire to a higher standard. 
For “special business” or something that has a sweeping impact to the community, those notifications should be done with significantly more lead time notice. I know we are not able to force people to show up but what I am talking about is engaging the public well beyond the Town Council meetings. The citizens need to have a Town Hall style format or at least a forum where there is a more collaborative model with the Town Council. The TC still drives the meeting, agenda and the majority of content in order to keep the meetings efficient but the opportunity for the collective citizen voice to engage requires a reset. I think that open collaboration is vital to getting where we need to be. 
One of the other things that I would suggest; our names should be attached to everything we vote on and posted publicly. Reading 9-0 or 8-1 really provides no insight into who is doing what. We should have our names on each of the votes. It builds trust, period. It will allow citizens to focus on who to engage, who to compliment, who to voice concerns with during meetings or in informal interactions. 
The voters have a pretty clear choice to make with the 14 of us. With the level of engagement between us the last three weeks, it should be clear by now where I stand on issues that I introduced or issues that were introduced to me. I have no problem speaking my mind on anything. 
What I will do is bring a taxpayer focused mindset to the Council. I will bring an objective and common sense approach to every decision I make on the resident’s behalf. I will not accept something as validated based on assumptions. 
Lastly, I will reinforce that crazy idea that fiscal discipline is not optional when the dollars are coming from the taxpayer’s wallet. I will work closely and reasonably with fellow Town Councilors in keeping Franklin a town we will always be proud of calling home. 
I humbly ask for your vote on 11/3.

If you have any follow up questions for Sean, you can contact him via email at

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.

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