Mandi responded to the wide-ranging questionnaire from the Progressive Coalition of Amherst, as they consider making candidate endorsements for the Town Council. Below are her answers.
Have you accepted/will you accept endorsements from other groups? If so, please list the groups:
Yes. I have a policy of responding to all endorsement surveys, which, as of now include Sunrise Amherst, Amherst Forward, Progressive Coalition of Amherst, and Amherst Climate Justice Coalition. As of now, I have been endorsed by the Amherst Firefighters Local 1764 and Amherst Forward.
Please explain your positions and the policies you intend to advocate for regarding the following topics:
1. Public health, safety, and emergency services
Keeping every resident in Amherst safe is one of the primary roles of municipal government. As a Councilor, I have consistently supported re-evaluating the meaning of community safety and how the Town approaches it.
I supported the steps taken to change the way the Town ensures the safety of its residents. I co-sponsored the Resolution in Support of CRESS and voted to create the CRESS department. As a Town, we need to better serve our residents who are experiencing crisis situations and our residents who do not want armed officers responding to non-violent, non-criminal situations, especially our BIPOC residents. I worked to ensure the adequate funding of the CRESS program over at least 18 months (fiscal years 2022 and 2023) to ensure that the Town has sufficient data and information to determine how many calls can be appropriately transitioned away from police response and into CRESS response. This will allow the Town to determine an appropriate level of armed policing in the future, which is essential to the successful transformation of what community safety means in Amherst. Although the initial evaluation will need postponed due to delays in integrating dispatch and CRESS, I will continue to support gathering sufficient data to be able to determine appropriate levels of staffing for all of our public safety departments.
However, community safety isn’t only about the provision of police and mental health services. It also includes fire and EMT services. Our Fire Department is stretched to a breaking point due to inadequate staffing. I advocated for and supported increased staffing at the Fire Department, which was made permanent through funding in the Strategic Partnership Agreement with UMass. However, we must find a way to add more Fire Department personnel over the next 5 years, as well as increase ambulance staffing on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, something UMass used to fund, but does not anymore.
2. Capital spending, borrowing and local property taxes
Amherst’s neglect of its major capital infrastructure over the past decades means that several capital projects (schools, library, public works, and fire station) are equally necessary.
The Finance Director has presented the Council with a plan to fund all four within a short period of time. That plan includes: use of the Capital Stabilization Fund; sound fiscal management that results in large borrowing capacity and low borrowing costs; wise use of state building grants (for schools and libraries); spending limits on projects that result in suitable buildings; and a request to the taxpayers for tax increases to pay for the bond of only one project.
I am proud to support the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library and the Elementary School Building project, two projects that are moving forward and mean we are halfway to our goal of funding all four projects.
I eagerly await the Manager’s proposal for a site for a new DPW building. Both our Fire Department and DPW employees are working in buildings that do not allow them to work to their best potential. I hope that in the next two years the Town Council will be able to vote to move both of these projects forward.
Yet, these projects do not represent our only capital needs. We must continue to fund capital maintenance projects such as road paving, sidewalk repair (and building), building repairs, and vehicle replacement. I believe the plan put forth by the Finance Director is sufficient for maintaining a base-level of capital spending while paying borrowing costs for these major projects.
Finally, we need to carefully consider all capital requests against the realities of a warming climate and our Climate Action Goals. My vote to fund the Jones Library expansion and renovation is a great example of leveraging state and municipal funds to remove fossil fuel use from a major public building. Further, the Council was able to fund a capital project to switch the Munson Memorial building off heating oil and onto electric heat pump systems, another major step in meeting our Climate Action Goals. Capital spending must continue to emphasize and fund these projects that will help us address our climate crisis.
3. Operating budget and use of municipal funds
Budgeting is about tradeoffs. There are many constraints on our budgets – including legal limits on how much property tax revenue the Town can collect, the residents’ desire for many, many services, and the need to split revenues between operating essentials and capital requests.
The annual operating budget for the Town must be for the benefit of all residents. These municipal funds are intended to allow the Town to maintain high-quality services that are essential and desired. Sometimes we focus too much on “maintaining level services” and not enough on what the trade-off of starting with that focus means, which is that nearly all of the increase in revenue each year is subsumed by increased salaries, thereby rarely allowing enough money to begin new programs or hire new people.
We should consider using zero-based budgeting every few years. This is an approach to budgeting that involves developing a new budget from scratch (i.e., starting from “zero”), versus starting with the previous year’s budget and adjusting it as needed. This would allow the Town to assess what funding is actually necessary to provide suitable services, contrasted with a budget that would provide above adequate or below adequate services. If done right, the Town, the Council, and the Manager would be able to finally discuss the funding of each department rationally, instead of always starting from a “level-services” outlook, without regard to whether “level-services” is actually what we want or need for each program, and then determine appropriate funding levels based on those conversations.
In addition, we cannot continue to ignore the detrimental effect on our municipal finances that the large swaths of non-taxable land have. This is not just a problem created by the presence of three institutions of higher learning in our Town. It was also created by our own municipal government purchasing so much land in Town for open space, agricultural preservation, and recreation. We must acknowledge that part of our inability to raise enough revenue is of our own doing and the choices we have made in constraining land use. I support diversifying the tax base by growing businesses.
I also support the recent Strategic Partnership Agreement with the University of Massachusetts which provides contributions for K-12 education services provided to students living in tax-exempt housing.
4. Downtown development and zoning policies
I am seeking re-election to the Town Council in order to continue to implement the master plan that the Council adopted. I look forward to enacting Form-Based Zoning (Design Guidelines), in order for the Town to better regulate the look of buildings that are being built, so that new buildings fit the character of their surroundings.
I support the Master Plan’s overall goals of addressing the issues of growth and development while preserving and enhancing Amherst’s community life. There are too many specific elements of the current Master Plan for me to list as supporting, but some specific goals and objectives stated in the Master Plan that I particularly support are (this is not exhaustive):
- guiding new housing growth to areas that minimize the impact on Amherst’s open space;
- creating dynamic downtown and village centers that are walkable, attractive and efficient;
- identifying an inventory of key locations for business development;
- encouraging a greater mix of housing types, sizes, and prices to serve a wider range of income levels and special populations;
- promoting infill development;
- encouraging new development in an environmentally sound manner;
- public-private partnerships for student housing;
- strengthening, diversifying and growing the economic base; and
- preserving and protecting our cultural, open space and recreation resources.
If re-elected, I hope to work towards proposing and implementing some of these goals and objectives in the next two years.
In addition, we must utilize zoning and building policies to address climate change. This not only includes many of the goals listed above, but also measures such as incentives for zero energy building, for rain gardens and other means of limiting run-off and irrigation requirements, and car charging stations in large, multi-family buildings.
5. Town government’s focus and priorities
I support the priorities the Council has set for the Town Manager through the Performance Goals, which have become the Council’s priorities. The policy priorities are Climate Action, Community Health and Safety, Economic Vitality, Major Capital Building Investments, Housing Affordability, and Racial Equity and Social Justice. In addition, I support as priorities ensuring the Town’s strong financial and fiscal health, maintaining and managing the Town’s capital and public assets, and increasing positive relationships and communications with residents and institutions of higher education.
6. Racial equity and social justice
Amherst faces many social justice challenges. A significant portion of our residents do not feel safe in the community. We have residents who do not have homes and many other residents who are cost burdened in the homes they do have. We are facing a climate crisis that will disproportionately affect our most vulnerable residents. Some of our residents do not have access to broadband internet or computers at home.
Fortunately, the Council is addressing these issues. I co-sponsored the Resolution in Support of CRESS and the Resolution in Support of H.R. 40 / S. 40 Bills in Congress (national reparations bills). I have consistently supported re-evaluating the meaning of community safety and how the Town approaches community safety. And, I have made addressing our housing needs a priority. That work must continue.
I support the Jones Library project, which will provide necessary additional meeting space for the ESL tutoring program, a dedicated teen space, and additional computers for accessing the internet and computer programs. All of these additional benefits support equity and social justice, especially for those that are new in Town, whose primary language is not English, who do not have the funds to hang out after school at a business, and who do not have access to broadband, or even a computer, in their home.
The zoning legislation I co-sponsored with Councilor De Angelis aimed to remove the exclusionary single-family only zoning practice in Amherst. Historically, these zoning rules have been used to exclude BIPOC and low-income individuals from neighborhoods. If re-elected, I will continue to propose zoning legislation that seeks to dismantle racially and economically motivated exclusionary zoning in Amherst.
These actions are only the first steps. We must continue working together to address climate action, housing costs, and community safety in a holistic manner, so that we can make Amherst a better place for all.
7. Housing and affordability
Addressing Amherst’s housing crisis is one of my top priorities, as can be seen in my answer to a previous question. Expanding on that response, in order to address the affordability crisis, we need to keep three goals of the Comprehensive Housing Policy at the forefront of discussions: promoting a variety of pathways to homeownership, increasing the supply and variety of housing types; and finding resources to support affordable housing.
If re-elected, I intend to propose legislation and other measures that will address each of these Goals, beyond what I have already done. As a Councilor, I co-sponsored resolutions supporting state legislation to provide funds for creating, supporting, and developing deed-restricted affordable housing, to levy a fee on transfers of property to support affordable housing, and to seal eviction records so residents can better maintain housing security. The Council must continue to advocate for bills such as these at the state house.
I have also co-sponsored legislation that would allow Amherst to impose a fee on property transfers that would provide funds for affordable housing in Amherst. This law will provide funds to our Affordable Housing Trust and Town operating and capital budgets for developing deed-restricted affordable housing in Amherst.If enacted at the state level, I will sponsor the local bylaw to enable the special legislation.
The Master Plan provides a good framework for some of the zoning changes Amherst should consider:
- guiding new housing growth to areas that minimize the impact on Amherst’s open space;
- encouraging a greater mix of housing types, sizes, and prices to serve a wider range of income levels and special populations;
- promoting infill development; and
- public-private partnerships for student housing.
This term, Councilor De Angelis and I proposed a set of zoning revisions designed to provide more pathways to homeownership and increase the diversity of housing types in Town. Our proposal contained ideas drawn from the Master Plan, including duplex development by-right, increasing infill development, promoting triplex development, and increasing the locations in Town where town houses can be built. Unfortunately, we needed to withdraw the proposal, but if re-elected, I plan to propose new legislation that learns from the legislative efforts and continues to address the Goals of the Comprehensive Housing Policy. Other options include net-zero and green building requirements for both new buildings and retrofits; guiding new housing growth to areas that minimize the impact on Amherst’s open space; and collaboration and partnerships for student housing in appropriate locations.
The Council also needs to identify surplus property that can be used for affordable housing, support funding affordable housing developments, and monitor and provide funding for the development of the old VFW site for shelter opportunities.
8. Review of the Amherst town charter
The Town Council has adopted a Committee Charge to create the Charter Review Committee. It will be their responsibility to seek community input, study the charter and ultimately propose revisions, if they believe revisions are appropriate. If re-elected, as a Councilor I will need to vote on those revisions. I look forward to offering input as a resident, former Charter Commissioner, and person who has served on the Council, in the same manner all residents will have the opportunity to.
9. The business community and distribution of ARPA funds
ARPA fund distribution is within the purview of the Town Manager. As a Councilor, I have offered my thoughts when the Manager has sought it. I support the use of ARPA funds for solar on the High School parking lot, as long as the Town’s investment is properly protected, since such installation would not be on Town-owned property, as well as funds for a public restroom at Kendrick Park and upgrades to the Bangs Community Center.
10. Investment in climate justice initiatives
The good news is that the Town has made significant progress in reaching its 2025 Climate Action Goal of reducing carbon emissions by 25%. But, we’re not there yet. The Council needs to continue to monitor progress on implementing Community Choice Aggregation, continue closely evaluating yearly capital expenditures to ensure the Town is purchasing electric vehicle technology where available and capable for its intended purposes, and find ways to promote and/or fund retrofitting for heat pumps existing housing stock in multi-unit buildings.
It must also continue to support and fund major building projects like the Jones Library Expansion and Renovation Project and the Elementary School Building Project, which leverage state and municipal funds to remove fossil fuel use from major public buildings, helping us make major strides towards our Climate Action Goals.
The Council must continue advocating for state legislation that will provide additional state and municipal funds to help move our housing stock onto more efficient and carbon neutral systems.
Further, the Council can also support the Manager’s proposed use of American Rescue Plan funds for projects that would help meet our Climate Action Goals. This includes supporting the installation of a solar canopy on the Amherst Regional High School parking lots.
As a Councilor, I regularly propose resolutions and legislation that further our Climate Action Goals. One example this term is the dark-skies streetlighting policy I co-sponsored with Councilor Devlin-Gauthier. If re-elected, I will continue to look for opportunities to bring measures forward to the Council that further action on our climate goals.
What do you see as the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the Town Council and its procedures?
The Council has many strengths, including that it functions year-round, thereby providing more time for deliberation and decision making, its ability to address matters when they arise (COVID temporary zoning and out-of-cycle CPA allocations are just two examples), the legislative ability of the members to see a problem in Town and propose a solution (waste hauling legislation and rental permitting reform are just two examples), and the sub-committee structure that has permitted more deliberative decision making, more collaboration with Town staff and other boards and committees, and more transparency with the public.
The Council fell short this term in addressing the housing crisis. For housing, the Council talks a lot about the need for more attainable housing in Amherst. However, it tends to leave the specifics up to others, including showing a willingness to wait for other’s proposals, instead of actively proposing solutions. The Council needs to find better ways to deliberate on these issues, choose steps to take, and then ensure those steps are taken. Right now, it struggles choosing steps to take because of the wide variety of options available, the diverse views on which options are acceptable or most effective, and still learning how to navigate these conversations within a 13-member body.
What would be your top priorities if elected? What steps would you take to accomplish your goals?
My top legislative priority would be housing. We must address our housing crisis. Our housing is too expensive for many residents and potential residents to afford without being burdened. And we do not provide the variety of housing types that our residents desire. Our housing crisis (high tax bills, lack of affordable housing for families, low housing-supply as compared with demand, public-private partnerships, etc.) causes many spill-over detrimental effects in Town. It is why families cannot afford to live here and our schools are suffering from declining enrollment. It perpetuates inequality and hampers the presence of a more diverse Town. It causes town-gown strain.
The Council and Town have begun addressing this crisis. As a Councilor, I voted for the Comprehensive Housing Policy, a smart revision of the Inclusionary Zoning bylaw, allowing Accessory Dwelling Units by-right, and revising the Residential Rental bylaw to require town inspections of all rental units. I have supported funding for purchasing land for and constructing affordable housing projects.
This term, Councilor De Angelis and I proposed a set of zoning revisions designed to provide more pathways to homeownership and increase the diversity of housing types in Town. Unfortunately, we needed to withdraw the proposal, but if re-elected, I plan to propose new legislation that learns from the legislative efforts and continues to address the Goals of the Comprehensive Housing Policy. Other options include net-zero and green building requirements for both new buildings and retrofits; guiding new housing growth to areas that minimize the impact on Amherst’s open space; and collaboration and partnerships for student housing in appropriate locations.
The Council also needs to identify surplus property that can be used for affordable housing, support funding affordable housing developments, monitor and provide funding for the development of the old VFW site for shelter opportunities, and advocate for passage of state legislation I co-sponsored with Councilor Devlin-Gauthier to impose a property transfer fee to help fund affordable housing development.
Other top priorities are finding a fiscally responsible means of funding the remaining two major capital projects amidst rising construction costs and interest rates, and a desire to have all projects completed as soon as possible; and moving Amherst towards being a carbon neutral Town by 2050.
What steps would you take to promote unity and solidarity within the Amherst community?
Amherst rightfully celebrates its diversity. We need to continue celebrating our differences, while working together for the good of all residents. As Councilors, this requires us to be respectful, recognize the many different policy positions our diversity creates, keep the focus of comments on topics and not people, and remember that all of us are advocating for what we believe is in the best interest of the Town. We should strive for consensus, but must appreciate that in a Town as diverse as Amherst, consensus may not be possible.
Describe an effort to bring about change in your community in which you played a major role, including the overall goal, the process, and outcome.
During my term as President of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, the Symphony expanded to include a Youth Orchestra. Previously, the organization had served only adults, with a symphony orchestra and chorus. The goal was to create a musical group that served children in Hampshire and Franklin Counties, locations where very few public schools offered symphony orchestras for their students to play in. The Board recognized that students had no close location to experience the joys of playing in a symphony, and that there was a need, especially for those who could not travel to Springfield on a regular basis. As President, I facilitated all the work that goes into creating a new musical group in an organization. The process included communicating with local organizations that served young musicians to ensure there was adequate interest, seeking grants, setting up policies, including fee policies, fee waivers, and protection of minors, hiring a conductor, and, for the first season, recruiting musicians and organizing auditions. As President, I was specifically in charge of bringing all relevant matters to the Board for discussion and adoption, which included the formal creation of the group, the hiring of the conductor and the adoption of policies, which are much more detailed for a group that involved minors than they are for adults. The outcome has been a successful launch of the Pioneer Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra, which has supported itself, brought symphonic music playing opportunities to Franklin and Hampshire County students no matter their ability to pay, and provided mentoring opportunities to our adult symphony players. It has been 8 years since it was founded during my term as President, and is a successful addition to the organization. Throughout the pandemic, it continued to provide in-person music making opportunities to students from Franklin County and beyond.
Why should the Progressive Coalition of Amherst support your candidacy?
I believe my voting record in Amherst, as well as my legislative proposals, demonstrates that I am a consistent supporter of progressive policies at the municipal level. I reliably support and propose measures that would aid working people, families, and small businesses, prioritize climate action, and aim to make it easier to live, work, and do business in Amherst.