Meet Wellesley candidate for Board of Selectmen, Tom Ulfelder

The Town of Wellesley depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Wellesley has 11 Boards and Committees on the ballot at the Annual Town election each year in March. The 2020 election will be held on March 17.

Tom Ulfelder is one of three candidates running for the two open 3-year positions on the Board of Selectmen  (BOS) The BOS serves as the chief executive board of the Town, and as such, oversees all matters affecting the interest and welfare of the community. The 5-member Board exercises the authority vested in the Town not specifically assigned by law to any other board or office.

Tom Ulfelder, Wellesley Board of Selectmen
Tom Ulfelder, candidate for Board of Selectmen

We invited all the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Wellesley. Candidate Tom Ulfelders’s Q & A is below. Ron Alexander‘s Q & A has already run, and Beth Sullivan Woods‘ Q & A will run in a subsequent post.

The Swellesley Report: Should it be Board of Selectmen or Select Board or something different?
Tom Ulfelder: I support the change to Select Board and voted to put forward Articles 37 and 38 on the Warrant for the 2020 Annual Town Meeting. These Articles propose changing the term “Board of Selectmen” to “Select Board” and offer accompanying changes within the Town General and Zoning Bylaws. An increasing number of communities within Massachusetts have made this change, which is consistent with gender neutral terms for other political positions (e.g., President, Senator, Governor, Representative), and recognizes the longstanding tradition of women serving in elected and appointed positions throughout Town government in Wellesley. Through this simple change, the Board is affirming the importance of gender neutrality, equality, and respect.

The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Tom Ulfelder: I am presently completing my first term on the Board of Selectmen. I am the current Vice Chair of the Board and of the School Building Committee, and I served as the Board’s appointee to the Sustainable Energy Committee. I have developed excellent working relationships with individuals throughout our many Town departments, boards and committees. During the past three years, I have had an opportunity to work on numerous issues and projects including developing balanced annual budgets and five year financial and capital plans, the feasibility studies for the Hunnewell and Hardy-Upham school building projects, and sustainable municipal building guidelines. I negotiated the use of beneficial electrification for the Wellesley Office Park residential housing project, which will result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions, and worked on developing and securing approval of Wellesley’s Housing Production Plan and the Unified Plan.

My professional experience as a trial attorney, hospital administrator, senior healthcare consultant solving complex cost and service delivery challenges, and business owner gives me a breadth of experience and skills that are directly applicable to the challenges of serving on the Board of Selectmen. I have an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a Master of Public Health from Yale, and a law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

I have been a resident of Wellesley for 21 years. In addition to serving on the Board of Selectmen and as a Town Meeting Member, I served on the Wellesley Town Government Study Committee, the St. John-St. Paul Collaborative Parish Council and as a board member of Wellesley Friendly Aid.

The Town Government Study Committee provided me with in depth understanding of Wellesley’s government and finances. I also served as a Trustee of the Vincent Memorial Hospital Corporation, a foundation related to the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and as a Commissioner of the Town Planning and Zoning Commission in Glastonbury, CT. Public service is a privilege and has been a consistent focus of my professional and personal life.

SR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your three-year tenure on the Board of Selectmen?
Tom Ulfelder:  I hope to build off of prior accomplishments from my first term and one such goal is the need for continual evaluation and improvement of our approach to budgeting and municipal financial management. Whether it is the quality of education in the Wellesley schools or Town services generally, our residents and commercial base expect a high level of service. At the same time, the Board of Selectmen bears the responsibility to balance service with the resulting tax impact of the operating budget and long-term capital plan.

The Board has invested considerable time and resources in the Housing Production Plan and recognizes that we must find opportunities to develop housing for our older population, for residents seeking to downsize, and for our middle-income work force, as well as increasing our housing diversity.

Sustainability and a commitment to the environment has been one of the most significant issues within Wellesley as it is throughout the world. There has been a rapidly expanding awareness that successfully addressing these issues makes economic sense and makes us better citizens within the larger community beyond Wellesley. Reductions in carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels through beneficial electrification are two important measures of our success. To this end, transportation remains the most challenging and stubborn factor. The Board of Selectmen must continue to support and participate in ongoing efforts to address this single greatest contributor to carbon emissions.

Wellesley faces important decisions regarding economic development and the need to ensure that there is a widely supported vision for Wellesley’s future There are new opportunities for tax revenue, commercial growth, and the right kind of residential construction. But what does that look like and what will Town residents support? To answer these questions, the Board of Selectmen must engage in an extensive public process through which the Board can have confidence in making choices that will shape our Town and our future quality of life.

SR: What is the most important issue in Wellesley right now? How should this issue be handled?
Tom Ulfelder: The Town has experienced a significant decline in civil discourse and the increasing incivility makes it difficult to have constructive discussions that lead to a consensus on important issues. To be effective, our decentralized form of government requires collaboration between multiple boards, committees, and constituencies. This in turn requires trust and an open and transparent process through which diverse points of view are welcome and validated in the sometimes-lengthy process through which we as a Town study issues and reach decisions. We must put this issue of civil discourse squarely on the table and ask the community to participate in a discussion through which we can accept that diverse opinions are often strongly held, confirm that we can listen to each other, and re-establish a willingness and ability to collaborate in order to arrive at decisions that benefit the greatest number of people. A failure to do otherwise will lead to poor decisions and a pervasive mistrust and unrest as we face very important decisions with long-term consequences.

SR: What are your thoughts the third Monday in October? Should it be changed in Wellesley from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day?
Tom Ulfelder: As with any citizen petition, I, as a Town Meeting Member, look forward to hearing the proponents and the deliberations at Annual Town Meeting. As a member of the Board of Selectman, I appreciated the opportunity to hear the many different viewpoints represented at our meetings. However as a general matter, the Board does not take a position on citizen petitions. Citizen petitions are a valuable and important part of our democratic process, allowing citizens direct access to the Town’s legislative body, Town Meeting. As a Town Meeting Member, I will carefully study the motions the proponents bring to Town Meeting, listen to their presentations and the subsequent deliberations, and make a decision and cast my vote at that time.

SR: Your thoughts about the HHU project?
Tom Ulfelder: I am the current Vice Chair of the School Building Committee (SBC) and I am very proud of the work to date and all that has been accomplished on two very different and complex elementary school projects. The SBC concluded the Hunnewell School feasibility study and Town Meeting voted to authorize funds for the next phase involving schematic design and permitting. The Hunnewell project, now before the Permanent Building Committee, will be the subject of a future vote for construction funds at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting. The SBC currently is conducting the feasibility study for the Hardy-Upham project. There is a great deal of detailed information to come related to site selection criteria and I look forward to receiving and evaluating of this information as we continue with the Hardy-Upham School feasibility study.

Sw: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
Tom Ulfelder: Voters can reach me by email at tulfelder@wellesleyma.gov or by phone at 781-431-1019, ext. 2201