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.
Wellesley candidate for Select Board—Odessa Sanchez
The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Odessa Sanchez: I am a wife and hard-working mother of a blended African American/Puerto-Rican family of seven children. A 12-year resident, I have found Wellesley to be a welcoming community. Working in Wellesley’s private and public schools as a teacher and coach has given me a wealth of experience collaborating with school departments, WPD, Board of Health, Celebrations, local businesses, and other committees/boards. I’ve gained important insight into town affairs. I previously worked in research technology, where I developed analytical skills and learned to delegate effectively. My volunteerism includes serving as a room parent, PTO secretary, School Council Parent Elect (WHS), Dance Committee Chair (WMS), Cheer Director and founder, Wellesley Housing Tenant Association VP, community advocate, and Neighborhood Fridge Founder.
TSR: The Wellesley business district has faced challenges recently, as evidenced by several empty storefronts. How can the Select Board and the Town further support existing businesses and encourage new ones to come into Wellesley?
Sanchez: My campaign stands out for its strong support of local businesses, so seeing all the empty storefronts in and around town saddens me deeply. I have built relationships with the business community, and their voices matter to me. The Select Board and the Town have already made efforts to alleviate the recent challenges facing our business district by adjusting licensing fees, allowing outdoor dining during the warm weather months, and providing free parking at meters.
To continue in this direction, I would like to see more collaborations like the Wellesley Business Alliance joining the Newton Needham Regional Chamber. This is a specific effort on the part of Wellesley to create education and advocacy to strengthen local businesses in town. I would like to work to encourage new businesses to come to Wellesley. I also would also like to see a diverse group of businesses that will serve residents of different cultural and financial backgrounds, so let’s get creative with potential shop keepers. Let’s start with a survey to residents that pinpoints the exact void in services that would be welcome here. I would like to see more pop- up shops that give residents and owners an opportunity to test the waters before breaking ground on a permanent storefront.
TSR: How can Wellesley more effectively engage in acting on the concerns of its residents of diverse backgrounds?
Sanchez: We have all witnessed a purposeful effort on the part of Wellesley to address the concerns of residents from diverse backgrounds. Specifically, the Select Board is discussing the possibility of hiring a consultant to help the town create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) task force. Your question mentions “acting-on the concerns.” To me, the words “acting-on” signify actually doing something: making a decision, taking positive action, having an impact. I realize that this topic is sensitive and complex and that nobody wants to rush in, but starting somewhere is necessary for initiating the changes that we need to consider making. Start conversation groups with each other to share experiences and find common ground. Start opening dialogues and creating occasions that bring diverse groups of people together. Let’s consider partnering with our churches and synagogues to bring people together in inter-faith community groups that honor our common humanity. Lastly, how can Wellesley’s arts community help us to express and visualize diversity, equity, and inclusion?
TSR: How can Wellesley manage the financial implications of the pandemic going forward? Already a plan has been put into place to cut Wellesley’s capital spending 25% 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?
Sanchez: The most challenging part of managing the Town’s financial implications during the pandemic is the fact that its ongoing and the true ramifications have yet to be felt. Outside of what Wellesley has already done, the Town may want to increase the accountability of each department and committee to provide cost-effective solutions for all current and future projects. I would also recommend an honest review of all departments that have been forced to cut budget items due to COVID-19, to see if these cuts have exposed items that the department can function without or switch capacity. Many of us have experienced this very situation with some of our household budgets. How can we learn to live on and consume less for the greater good?
TSR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Sanchez: As a coach, I would describe myself as a team player, a good listener, and as someone who has the courage of her convictions. As someone who knows how to stretch a dollar, I would bring sound financial analysis skills to the Town budget. I have a strong sense of compassion and believe in being of service to others. I would bring key leadership, life-experience, and relationship-building skills to the Select Board. It would be a great honor to serve the people of Wellesley.
TSR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?