For as long as I can remember, my goal in life has been to change the world — for the better. I started off my career focused on clean energy and sustainability in the built environment because it was the most interesting way for me to change the world. After a couple of decades, I realized that the obstacle to a sustainable future was no longer technology or money, it was people.
That’s when I decided that the more impactful and interesting lever for change for me was people, not projects. So, I switched careers, re-entered politics and here I am in 2022. As I reflect on 2021, it’s ever more evident to me that people — you, me, our friends, our foes — must remain a focus if we are to change the world for the better. It’s one reason I like politics: it’s all about people.
For the Board of Trustees, our focus in 2021 started off being our response to COVID, redefining community policing, launching Chart Carbondale, exploring a new aquatics facility and improving communication. Our COVID response morphed from the Task Force to prudently investing relief funding, and now responding to the post-traumatic stress COVID continues to cause. 2022 is bringing new curveballs, so COVID will remain a focus for as long as necessary. The upside is that heading into 2022 we are far more informed on how to stay safe if we choose to and we now have easy access to vaccines that are working extremely well.
While redefining community policing had been a focus since we hired Chief Wilson, it became a much more immediate focus after the incident involving Michael Francisco. As I have written before, the incident highlighted my personal shortcomings with respect to communication and it reinforced the trustees’ focus on communication, as well as assessing what’s working and what’s not with Carbondale’s approach to community policing. I am encouraged and very grateful for the thought and effort Chief Wilson and his outstanding crew put into this effort this year, despite COVID and being very understaffed at times. I look forward to us rolling out our new approach to monitoring continuous improvement in 2022.
We launched Chart Carbondale in 2021 because we knew development pressure was mounting and I applaud our staff for managing such a comprehensive process while the daily grind of responding to development projects was so intense. We also tried some new communication approaches and we soon learned that some have room for improvement, while others have knocked it out of the park. I think our Spanish-speaking forum was wildly successful — again, thanks to a dedicated staff and community.
While we have taken a few baby steps in addressing workforce housing in recent years, the extreme influx of affluent, and in some cases investment-only homebuyers, knocked us back a few giant steps. Thanks to Community First Carbondale, a group of concerned, informed and motivated community members, the board is pursuing some strategies to address short-term rentals which is a small, but rapidly growing part of the housing crisis. The next public meeting on this will be Jan. 18. I am also excited about a significant housing opportunity that is emerging for the town, but more on that as it evolves.
We wanted to keep the ball rolling on the aquatics facility dream and in the upcoming April election you the voters will get a chance to decide if we should continue to pursue it, by choosing to authorize or not the town’s ability to borrow money for the project using existing sales tax. I personally think it’s exciting that we could replace/enhance a beloved town facility without raising taxes. Of course, that depends on construction prices remaining somewhat stable, so time will tell.
In addition to focusing on the issues above, the town, like all businesses, needed to quickly respond to rapid inflation and its devastating impact on living wages. Fortunately, we were able to allocate increasing sales tax revenue to our most valued resource — our staff. We implemented a mid-year tiered wage increase and budgeted for another in 2022.
Another somewhat expected but nonetheless impactful curveball was the resignation of Jay Harrington, our former town manager. We knew the new hire would be the most important decision that this board would make, but we didn’t expect it to be quite so difficult. Fortunately, with phenomenal community and staff support, we hired Lauren Gister who will start on Jan. 17. I can already tell that her presence will be one of 2022’s greatest highlights.
As for me, my current stint in politics will end in April. In my last few months, I will continue to focus on people — including helping Lauren settle into her new role, and helping identify, elect and orient new trustees and a new mayor.
Especially given the PTSD we all are experiencing from the past two years, I personally will look for people dedicated to people, as opposed to issues, those with an open mind who are committed to finding the common ground on all issues, and perhaps most importantly, those who speak and act with integrity and respect. I see electing people like this as the best chance we have to change the world for the better.