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 2021 election will be held on Tuesday, March 2.
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, 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.
The Swellesley Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Wellesley.
Ann-Mara Lanza, candidate for Select Board
The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Ann-Mara Lanza: I have the financial expertise, town government experience, and collaborative leadership style to allow me to effectively address the complex issues that come before the Select Board. For over 15 years, I’ve served Wellesley: Library Trustee (13 years), Town Meeting Member (7 years), League of Women Voters Vice President (Board, 10 years), social action, racial justice, and education leadership at Temple Beth Elohim, Schofield PTO, Scouting and, most recently, advocate for housing affordability. I have a strong financial background, with a MBA from The Wharton School and a career in management consulting. My husband and I have lived in Wellesley for 25 years, raising two children. I got involved in town politics to work for all families. In 2006, I co-chaired a successful fundraising campaign to reopen the doors of our two branch libraries. Later, as a Library Trustee, I supported the creation of budgets, led strategic planning efforts, helped with the transition to a new library director, and secured town funding for the upcoming interior renovation of the main library, ensuring that patrons will effectively be served for the next 25 years. I was also the Library liaison to the School Building Committee and served on Wellesley’s Unified Plan Steering Committee. I co-founded Building a Better Wellesley, which advocates for policies and actions that will enable seniors, young families and our workforce to call Wellesley home.
TSR: The Wellesley business district has faced challenges recently, as evidenced by many empty storefronts. How can the Select Board and the Town further support existing businesses and encourage new ones to come into Wellesley?
Lanza: Revitalizing our downtown should be a town priority. There is no reason why Wellesley cannot have a thriving downtown, similar to our neighbors. We need good ideas and customers. I believe that the Select Board can assist our landlords and merchants through partnership and changes in regulation. We need to look to similar communities, such as Concord, for inspiration. We also need to listen to our residents to hear what establishments they would support. One resident recently posed the question to FaceBook users. The responses are a gold mine. One of the concepts most mentioned is a hang out spot with live music. Imagine the vibrancy that this would create! I support current efforts to loosen the town’s liquor laws to allow for smaller restaurants to serve alcohol through an article at this Annual Town Meeting. The Select Board should consider what additional changes in regulation might encourage entrepreneurs to choose Wellesley for their businesses. The Town also needs to consider ways of bringing more customers to our retail areas. I support the reimagining of our downtown, with the potential of adding housing options, public transportation, and safer biking and walking routes. I’m thrilled that the Newton-Needham Chamber will now support our Wellesley businesses, opening up a new partnership opportunity for the Select Board.
TSR: How can Wellesley more effectively engage in acting on the concerns of its residents of diverse backgrounds?
Lanza: The first step is to be ready to engage in dialog by educating ourselves. There are many important components to our human diversity. Race and racism can be particularly difficult for some to hear and discuss, and still we must have these conversations. As a leader in our community, I will continue my efforts to create opportunities for these difficult conversations. We must understand that addressing racial injustices, past and present, isn’t about blame or shame; it’s about understanding that we live together, in a society, with hundreds of years of systemic racism and oppression. If we are to be effective in addressing the concerns of residents of diverse backgrounds, we have to be willing to work hard to understand, and be open to change. I strongly believe in the value, b’tselem elohim, that all people are created in the image of God. We need to approach all of our neighbors from this perspective. Listening. And, responding. Last summer, BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) students courageously shared their difficult experiences living in Wellesley, and asked for support. This is an opportunity to show our better selves; to demonstrate what we value. Instead of turning away from these difficult stories, we need to turn in, acknowledge their experiences, and work hard as a community to ensure that Wellesley is a wonderful place for all families to raise their children.
TSR: How can Wellesley manage the financial implications of the pandemic going forward? Already a plan has been put into place to significantly cut Wellesley’s capital spending across the board. In addition, some Free Cash Reserves money has been tapped to cover items such as public safety and snow removal. What else can be done to manage the financial implications of COVID-19?
Lanza: I am a fiscally rational person. I believe in addressing challenges in the community in the most cost effective way possible. When creating an affordable, balanced budget, we need to make difficult choices. Sometimes, this requires that we put off investments that are important, but just not quite as important as other priorities. However, I also believe we have learned the hard way what happens when we fail to invest properly in our infrastructure: the current state of our elementary schools is a prime example. At the national and state levels, we are seeing targeted increases in spending to help citizens and the economy get back on its feet. Our residents are stressed. Our families are struggling after a year of limited time in school for our children. This isn’t the time to ask for further budget cuts. We have Free Cash Reserves for times like these. This is our “rainy day.” We need to understand that financial guidelines are guidelines, and prioritize the wellbeing of our citizens over extreme fiscal conservatism.
TSR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Lanza: One of Wellesley’s biggest challenges is housing affordability. Skyrocketing housing prices, and loss of starter homes, are changing the face of our community. Too many of our seniors have had to downsize to Needham and Natick, because there are simply no affordable options for them in Wellesley. We risk losing our neighborhood schools, due to our declining enrollment, because young families have been priced out of the Wellesley market. This isn’t just a housing issue, but also a climate issue, as we force our town workforce to drive long distances to reach their jobs in our schools, police force, fire department, local shops, and our homes. And, it is also an economic issue, because we cannot expect to have a thriving downtown, without more customers. In 2019, I founded the group Building a Better Wellesley to be the positive voice for thoughtful housing development in our community. I’ve spent 2 years building an understanding of Wellesley’s particular housing situation. I want to help our community figure out how to create appropriate and affordable housing to address these challenges.
I believe that my values, my experience in town government, my financial expertise, and my passion for problem solving are what we need in our town leadership. I ask for your Vote on March 2.
TSR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?