Candidate Profile: Burlington Equity Committee, Shari Ellis

Campaign NewsBurlington News

Economic Development

Burlington is home to businesses of all sizes, from our thriving small business sector to larger corporations. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted our economy, and much work is needed to rebound from its effects. To recover the economy, what is the most important area of focus for the Economic Development Coordinator?

The key for Burlington’s economic recovery will be the ability for the town to facilitate, wherever possible, the efforts of all our community businesses to reopen safely, rehire and adapt to the new norms. The Board, in collaboration with our Economic Development Director and Chamber of Commerce, must first engage in a public forum, to hear and understand the specific challenges our businesses face as they get back to work. During the past year, we were fortunate to have our new Economic Development Director on the forefront of seeking out resources and retaining multiple means of support, both programmatically and financially, to assist our community partners. The Board must continue to provide support to these endeavors going forward. As an example, the recently announced MassDevelopments “Site Readiness Program” grant was awarded to Burlington for the Mall Road corridor. Other state supported initiatives such as “Business Improvement District” or “Commonwealth Places and Placemaking Initiatives”, are additional examples of supportive programs and financial resources for municipalities. Ultimately, implementing a communication and marketing plan for Burlington’s business revitalization will be critically important to the success of our community’s recovery.

Transportation

Many of our residents have no access to reliable transportation. Seniors, students, individuals with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged, are especially impacted. Additionally, residents are increasingly concerned with Burlington’s traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. What is your vision for the future of public transportation in Burlington?

What I envision for a well-developed local Public Transit System includes a multi-modal system of rideshare, buses, vans, and shuttles, where all residents’ needs may be met. As we emerge from COVID, we will need to assess our transportation needs given the realities of our diverse population, as well as how people now work, shop and socialize. Once the appropriate transit system is established, it will be critical to develop effective communications to maximize participation.

In the development of this local transit system, it is particularly important for the town to investigate public/private partnerships to leverage our combined resources to the benefit of both our town and our commercial partners. Burlington’s Public Transit System, would be part of a comprehensive Transportation Plan which would also include walkways, bike routes and bike share systems, thereby reducing the use of single use vehicle trips around town. I believe that Burlington should take advantage of all available resources, programs and initiatives such as “Safe Routes to Schools” and the “Complete Streets Programs” to create more walkable/bikeable paths which would better connect our residential and commercial areas. An efficient and comprehensive Transportation Plan will benefit the town by minimizing environmental impacts, reducing congestion, improving our communities’ character, and most importantly assuring that transportation in Burlington is available and accessible to all our residents.

Equity

Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported the need for a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the schools. Despite a similar need, there is currently no corresponding role in town government.

Over the past year I have been advocating at the Board of Selectmen meetings for a town wide action plan to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our community. Upon learning of the ongoing efforts of many in the school system, including parents, students, and the District Equity Committee who were already developing an action plan to move our school community forward, I added my support. As a result, I spoke as a proponent of the funding for the DEI Director for Schools at Town Meeting in September, for inclusion and accessibility for all of Burlington residents, employees, business partners and visitors. I believe that adding this new Director is an important first step in beginning the education process of our Town.

That being said, the role of the Selectmen is to set the strategic policy and plan for the future of the Town, and this current Board has not placed a similar conversation about diversity, inclusion and accessibility for our community on the forefront of their agenda. That needs to change. My goal is to engage with our residents and our community partners, and to elevate the importance of this conversation, and leverage the example of the School system to develop a plan of action for moving the entire Town forward. Increasing the accessibility of information in town communications, including language translation, close captioning, and remote participation are some of the basic, yet impactful steps we can take in the initial stages that will benefit many in our community.

Community Involvement

Every 10 years, Massachusetts communities are required to go through a Master Plan process, during which community input is solicited regarding the community’s goals for coming years.

How do you plan to ensure that community input is representative of all Burlington?

Communicating through established channels is the best way to engage residents and receive input. Our Council on Aging, Veterans and Disability groups, existing community coalitions, faith leaders, and parent’s groups are all currently available avenues that will ensure a diverse and broad representation of ideas.

For a Master Plan to be effective as a strategic planning tool of the town, and promote future plans for the community, it needs to be reviewed and updated as the Town continues to implement the recommended actions. To that end, our current Master Plan, although only in its infancy, should be updated to reflect the impacts from the pandemic on our community.

In your view, what would be the best way for the Select Board to integrate these community-defined visions into their work?

For the town to realize the benefits of the Master Plan, it must establish a standing Master Plan Committee to regularly review the Plan to adapt to the needs of the community. As an advisory group to the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen, this committee should consist of representatives that reflect the diverse residential and commercial populations of the town, as well as, members of our professional staff, including the Economic Development Director and the Planning Director.

Sustainability

The issues of trash and recycling pickup and water conservation are frequently a topic of discussion on social media and elsewhere.

What can Burlington do to ensure the town is on track to be compliant with the state’s 2030 plan for solid waste management?

I plan to work closely with the DPW Director in assuring that there is a strategy and plan in place to address both important issues. Although on the surface, these issues may appear to be strait forward, they are complex and require thorough investigation and knowledgeable advisors in the development and implementation of a meaningful plan.

With regard to the waste management, it would be beneficial for the town to proactively engage in a conversation about compliance with future state requirements prior to our current waste management contract expiration; thereby allowing the necessary time for any new plans or policies to be adopted.

Now that the town has contracted with MWRA to ensure a larger water supply for our community, should Burlington continue water conservation measures?

With the transition to the MWRA (Massachusetts Water Resource Authority) water supply, Burlington has agreed to 13 specific conditions specified by the WRC (Massachusetts Water Resource Commission). One of those conditions is the requirement for maintaining community education on water conservation. As such, the town must use all available multi-lingual communication resources such as BCAT, direct mail, town website, print and social media, to increase the awareness and benefits for the future of our community.

Engagement with Residents

What is your plan to listen and engage with Burlington Residents?

Transparency is critically important in Town Government and I believe Burlington can do better. As a member of the of the Board of Selectmen, I will continue to be as accessible as I am today as a Town Meeting Member. During my preparations for my candidacy, I have reached out and had conversations with many in our town, including residents, community leaders, and business partners. I want them to know that I am available to listen and hear their thoughts, ideas and concerns. My contact information is, and will remain publicly available, for anyone who wishes to reach out to me, but I won’t stop there. I will develop a plan to do community outreach through such things as “coffee chats”, social media forums, or traditional media programs open to all in our community.

My vision is to have the BOS become more welcoming and engage with the community through various means. One basic example is to modify the BOS agenda, where regularly citizen’s time is listed as the last item. I feel it would be more respectful to our residents to move that item to be the first order of business; thereby eliminating the need for residents to sit through the entire meeting before they are able to discuss their item of interest.

Other Critical Issues

In addition to the issues listed above, what other critical issues do you feel specifically equipped to handle or passionately care about in Burlington?

In addition to my key focus areas of economic health, environment and open space, communications, and community character, I view housing in Burlington as a critical issue and one in which I am passionate. Although discussed at length at numerous municipal meetings over the course of the last several years, I believe that the Town currently has no assessment as to the housing needs of its seniors, Veteran’s, and individuals with disabilities. I have heard from many about the lack of quality affordable housing options and the ability to access resources for those who choose to stay in their own homes. Before the town can address the regulatory process of planning for more diverse housing opportunities, the community needs must first be identified, quantified and benchmarked, to take appropriate actions.

As a Town Meeting Representative on the Northwest Park Housing Committee, I am currently working with relevant stakeholders, including both representations from the Town representatives and the developer to develop one such housing option that will include a local preference.

Moving forward, the Town must proactively reach out, by various methods, to identify all the communities needs and develop a strategic plan to expand housing opportunities and resources necessary.