Town COuncil

Term: 2 Years

Cobi Frongillo (incumbent)

Candidate Website/Social Media Address

Candidate Biography

One year ago, I ran for Franklin Town Council to bring the energy, passion, and commitment to public service we need to build the Future of Franklin.

My passion for serving my community and decision to volunteer for the Franklin Town Council is rooted in a belief that Franklin - and our country - works best when more constituents are actively engaged. The desire to give back and take action was instilled in me by my family, who has served Franklin for three generations.

Throughout my life, I have been active in our community, from founding the Soccer for Smiles tournament for local charities to conducting a graduate study on the sustainable economic development of Downtown Franklin. Since completing my Master’s in Public Policy, I have pursued a career in state and local policy research (currently with the Massachusetts State House of Representatives) and continue to volunteer with numerous Town organizations (including the Franklin Downtown Partnership, Franklin Bellingham Rail Trail Committee, and Neighbor Brigade, among others).

Since 1961, Franklin has supported my family’s businesses, educated our children, and protected our safety. I care deeply about the people and character of Franklin, honoring our past and leaving a better town for the future.

Will you support putting the override on the ballot this term? If not, how do you propose addressing the fiscal challenges set out in the FY2021 budget message?

As a product of two generations of Franklin public servants and an advanced student of public policy, I remain actively committed to community engagement, protection of Franklin’s character and quality of life, and strategic planning around long-term sustainable development.

Simply put, in order for our beloved community to continue operating in a way that meets the needs of its residents, it must ensure that the use of its 27 square miles of land produces enough income to cover the expense of servicing that area. Unfortunately, in Franklin - as in most suburban communities across the nation - that math currently does not work out. In road maintenance alone, for example, Franklin is facing a $40 million backlog, a number that is only growing every year.

The options, then, are two-fold: cut expenses or increase income. My parents have passed along their parents' frugality so I will continue to seek opportunities for reducing unnecessary expenditures, but I am afraid the remaining luxuries are running low. If/when it comes time to further reduce critical services, like infrastructure maintenance and educational quality, Franklin residents deserve an opportunity to elect whether they would prefer to invest in their community.

I would caution, however, that an override - while certainly an important step in ensuring short-term provision of adequate service - will not alone solve the structural deficiencies inherent in our current development pattern. We must continue to reexamine land use policies to curb harmful development and instead promote productive places that generate sufficient income to sustain the services they rely upon.

How do you propose supporting Franklin’s small businesses? What actions Town Council should take to attract more small businesses to Franklin?

Watching my father found and operate three small businesses in town, I have seen first-hand the power of community support in overcoming tight budgets, as well as the opportunities for Franklin to further ease the creation and operation of local businesses. This is why my vision for Franklin includes being community-oriented: increasing foot traffic Downtown, innovatively supporting small business development, and expanding community events.

To that end, I am proud to have made great strides over the past 10 months. As a community advocate and member of the Economic Development Committee, I have worked to reduce structural and financial barriers to entry, fund innovative community development solutions, and expand cultural amenities.

These initiatives have laid the groundwork for accelerated progress in supporting existing small businesses and encouraging new entrepreneurs. The ongoing Downtown Zoning study will encourage adopting measures that further reduce barriers to entry while increasing local foot traffic. We also need to revisit entrepreneurship conversations, including residential production for small-batch artisans and the effectiveness of pop-up shops as market-testing grounds for local entrepreneurs. Community branding, digital marketing, and wayfinding signage should also all remain on the short-term docket, as should both land-use and street safety policies that massively impact consumer behavior.

What accomplishments are you most proud of during your most recent tenure? Or, if you are a new candidate, what achievements make you most qualified for the position?

I am immensely proud of what we have been able to accomplish in 10 short months.

To support community development, I have worked to publish a New Business guide, expand opportunities for food trucks, remove taproom limits, launch a Downtown Zoning study, fund pop-up shops and shared streets, host new cultural events, and increase public art.

To promote natural areas and healthy living, I have championed the Maple Hill property, adopted a Complete Streets framework, and found a temporary home for recreational cricket.

To pave the way for Franklin voices, I have published frequent updates through engaging mixed media, hosted four Community Conversations on race, organized online and in-person feedback opportunities on street accessibility, attended a diverse set of Town events, and helped launch the Franklin Freedom Team - a coalition of town leaders prepared to respond to instances of hate in our community.

To promote a strong education system, I ensured a majority of new revenue went toward schools, successfully defended the school budget from further cuts, and helped launch a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee with student involvement.

What do you believe the Town Council’s priorities should be for the upcoming term?

I have tried to embody the Strong Towns mantra that successful community leadership includes 'humbly observing areas of struggle, determining the next small step that could be taken to relieve that struggle, taking that step, and repeating.' This entails actively seeking feedback from town residents about where they are struggling and what the town can do to help.

That being said, I have generally identified three larger buckets of action steps needed to alleviate struggles I have observed and heard over this past year.

First, we must reexamine land use policies to promote long-term fiscal solvency. The grant money and Council allocation for the Downtown Zoning study is a great first step toward identifying how to ensure continuous support for our prosperous places, while also improving housing affordability, walkability, and environmental sustainability. From there, we will need to expand the scope through a revised Master Plan, Complete Streets implementation, and other opportunities to improve our planning guides and policies.

Second, we need to continue to invest in ourselves. In my first Town Budget process in May, I am proud of having stood up to protect Franklin's education budget when a colleague said they were "embarrassed" by the performance of our school department. The immediate community support for our schools was overwhelming, pointing out that our Town boasts a strong educational system despite continued underfunding. Though still not enough, we were able to allocate 70% of this year's additional revenue toward schools - while also returning the Recreation Department, Senior Center, and Buildings to pre-pandemic funding levels and making critical investments into our emergency services.

In funding open space and recreation, the townspeople’s strong support for the Community Preservation Act last November also paved the way for the Council voting for the first time ever to exercise our "right of first refusal" on the sale of the Maple Hill property - 70 acres of trail-laden, old-growth forest that abuts numerous neighborhoods, schools, and public lands. The Council’s recent adoption of the Complete Streets framework opens the Town to state funding for safe and accessible transportation improvements, presenting an urgent opportunity to examine the pedestrian, biking, wheeling, and public transportation impacts of future infrastructure projects. The Town also has a great opportunity to extend the Rail Trail to downtown, and I will continue working tirelessly with our town administration, Rail Trail Committee, and State Representative to move forward on this project.

Third, we should continue to practice placemaking. As the world reemerged this year, our cultural organizations rejuvenated the community with new murals, a wonderfully successful cultural festival, a downtown ArtWalk and StoryWalk, and a ladybug trail. The Town also received first-time state grants to invest in two priorities of mine: community pop-up shops (temporary spaces Downtown where entrepreneurs can test out their business idea) and shared streets (temporarily opening up Main Street to pedestrians, bikes, and on-street dining). I will continue to champion community branding, investment into public arts, community events, and slow streets that breathe life into our Town, giving residents a place to call home and neighbors a reason to visit.

In its 2020 update to implementation of the 2013 Master Plan, the Department of Planning & Community Development (DPCD) recommended two goals related to housing in Franklin, the first goal is to provide an appropriate mix of housing alternatives for middle income workers. The second goal is to support development opportunities for low, moderate and middle income households preventing many in Franklin from being able to find affordable housing. Are you in support of these goals? Why or why not?

The stories that have arisen during the Council’s production and passage of the Housing Production Plan have been humbling. Families and individuals in our community - from long-time residents to college graduates to young families - are struggling to find adequate housing at a price point they can afford. In the pandemic-induced economic recession, more and more community members face housing insecurity or are forced to leave Franklin. And the backlog for our public housing remains well over 1000 regional residents. We, as a Town, have a duty to ensure our housing stock reflects our values of inclusivity and life with dignity.

The first step is to ensure the passage of the Housing Production Plan - currently stagnated at the Planning Board - which lays out the goals and possible solutions for ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing over the next decade. The next step is to begin implementing solutions, including but not limited to: a policy that encourages the continued production of subsidized housing units and gentle densification measures that allow for the production of ‘middle housing’ (i.e. duplexes and triplexes, accessory dwelling units, basement apartments, etc.)

In the FY22 Budget Hearing, the Superintendent of Schools presented data showing Franklin falls in the 22nd percentile statewide for Net School Spending (state aid + local contribution) and 75% of districts in Massachusetts spend more, per pupil, than Franklin. Do you believe Franklin's local contribution to education should increase? Reference:

Franklin remains, and should remain, a Town for families and the best way to aid the next generation of Franklin residents is to strongly invest in their education. Prioritizing education – which includes sufficient budgeting for counseling and other support services – breeds stronger community members, attracts regional attention, improves the home value of existing residents, and further encourages families to town.

The fact that Franklin is amongst the bottom 25 percent of Massachusetts communities in per-pupil expenditure is certainly a short-coming. As a relatively recent Franklin High School graduate, I have seen our guidance departments struggle and our music and language programs cut. And I know that when our education investment falters, it is often low-income and minority students who bear the greatest burden.

This year, I am proud to have defended the school system from further budget cuts, but now I look forward to finding opportunities to reverse the funding trend toward a positive direction.

In its 2020 update to implementation of the 2013 Master Plan, the Department of Planning & Community Development, (DPCD) recommended two goals with regard to transportation and infrastructure. Goal one was to improve and maintain the Town’s public roadway system. The second goal is to make the Town more walkable and bikeable by creating and maintaining safe interconnected pedestrian and bicycle routes. Are you in support of this why or why not? How do you propose funding?

Streets are the foundation upon which a town produces wealth. To begin chipping away at our massive infrastructure backlog, we must have an obsession with maintenance in the application of state and federal funds, starting in places with high direct return on investment. To improve street safety and accessibility for all users - human level up to the automobile - we must continue observing and soliciting feedback on where people feel unsafe around town. I am proud to have made Franklin the first recognized community on Plan Together, a public engagement tool, and populated the map with online and in-person comments. I am also proud to have organized a workshop at the Farmers Market to solicit community feedback on the recently-adopted Complete Streets policy and ongoing prioritization plan, and look forward to implementing our first $400,000 in additional state funding.

More information from other sources

Franklin Matters Candidate Interview

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