My name is Debra Waller and I have lived in Newton's Ward 5 for 27 years. I am running for Ward 5 City Councilor because I care about Newton and am concerned about the growing power of private interests in controlling Newton's government.
We are at an important juncture in our beautiful Garden City with many changes happening at once. How do we assess these changes? How do we ensure our residents’ voices and concerns are heard? How do we balance residents’ everyday lives with solutions to larger problems such as affordable housing and climate change? I am running because I want to help Newton have a future that benefits everyone, not just an increasingly small and powerful financial elite.
To that end, I have three primary goals to help Newton become a more democratic and responsible city. Each of these goals contains simple specific steps that can be easily understood by residents and can be achieved in the near term by the City Council. I stand firmly against complex grandiose schemes because they too often contain hidden benefits for the few and costs for the many.
Goal 1: Support Rezoning Objectives that Residents Understand and Want
In the summer of 2018, Mayor Fuller’s staff abruptly rewrote Newton’s entire zoning ordinance – and the Planning Department has been trying to force this rezoning ordinance through the City Council ever since. As written, the proposed rezoning takes power out of the hands of residents and the City Council and places it permanently into the hands of the mayor and the mayor’s un-elected staff and boards. Also, a deeper look into the proposed zoning shows an extreme anti-resident/pro-developer bias because the proposed rezoning is unfair to owners of smaller or older single-family homes. The proposed dimensional standards would make most single/two-family homes in Newton nonconforming, thus requiring more, not fewer, special permits. And, not surprisingly, after requiring more special permits, the proposed rezoning then also changes the Special Permit Granting Authority to Mayor-appointed boards, rather than the City Council. These proposed rezoning changes do nothing to address the need for truly affordable housing in Newton but instead focus on the reallocation of power from the City Council to the Mayor. My opponent supports the Planning Department's proposed rezoning. I do not.
Goal 2: Depoliticize the Police
There seems to be a deliberate political effort to make the Newton Police appear a lot worse than they are. It's not that the Newton Police are perfect, or that they should be believed no matter what they say. It's that some political groups have used name-calling, bullying, and anything-but-evidence, to produce grandstanding opportunities for themselves instead of producing a critical and fair view of law enforcement and its needed changes. The Newton Police Department does a pretty good job, but it could be improved, primarily in the crucial area of record-keeping - including the use of body cameras in "use of force" situations. A detailed look at the specifics of the "Tim Duncan Incident" illustrates these issues. My opponent generally supports the "Defund the Police" movement. I do not.
Goal 3: Restore Public Process Integrity
Public process integrity is essential to ensure that unseen private interests are not the guiding force in governance. Public process integrity in Newton needs to be improved in three ways:
- Improved Record Keeping: The records kept by the Newton government are grossly inadequate: many records, especially resident-supplied hard-copy records, are missing; the ZBA does not always record the approved drawings for 40B projects; meeting records often don’t match video/audio recordings of meetings; public notices of public hearings do not adequately describe the legislation to be voted on. This needs to change.
- City Council Legal Staff: The City Council needs its own legal staff. Because the Mayor and City Council often have different goals, the City Council should not be relying on the Mayor’s City Solicitor staff for its legal guidance.
- Effective City Council Committee Meetings: Committee meetings have become places where councilors are often made aware of proposal details for the very first time through lengthy PowerPoint presentations. Because of time constraints and because the material is presented verbally for the first time, the Councilors often can't engage in meaningful discussions. All technical material for committee meetings should be supplied in written form at least 72 hours ahead of the meetings - and meeting-time PowerPoint presentations should be kept to a minimum and present no new material.
(More Information Coming Soon)