FOR SELECT BOARD: Jackie Belf-Becker

Years in Marblehead: 46 years

Occupation: Private law practice; Former Director, Special Education Appeals for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, member of Massachusetts Bar

Elected offices: Five-and-a-half years on Marblehead School Committee, 17 years on Marblehead Select Board

What are three reasons/issues as to why you’re running for election? 

I have been lucky enough during my two decades as an elected official in Marblehead to have worked cooperatively alongside people who brought to the table of public service a multitude of different ideologies, skill sets and experiences.

I’m proud to say over the years I’ve learned something from virtually every one of those individuals, and am also proud that our town has never allowed the ugly disease of division, which is currently ripping apart so much of our nation’s politics, to undercut our elected and appointed public officials’ ability to do their jobs with respect and good sense.

My goal when I first ran for public office remains the same goal which guides me to this very day.

That is, the search for unity through inclusion and respect.

If I’m lucky enough to be re-elected again this year, I recommit myself to that very same goal, and to the goal of helping make Marblehead a place that everyone who resides here is proud to call home.

What areas of municipal government do you think the town could give more attention to? 

We would all like to see better roads and sidewalks (and trees). It’s been a long time in planning, but this Election Day will give the voters an opportunity to vote for a debt exclusion override to fund a comprehensive road and sidewalk program over the next five to six years. The Chapter 90 funds that the town receives yearly is not enough to finish a project. This infusion of money would allow the town to make these improvements including roofs on public buildings, boiler improvements and much-needed technology improvements.

What do you feel will be the biggest issues facing the town in the coronavirus pandemic’s wake? 

For the most part, Zoom meetings are in the past. We have evolved into hybrid meetings, which allow the public to participate as easily as they did during Zoom meetings. We are back in person in the Select Board Room at Abbot Hall. We are utilizing the new technologies in order to allow the public access and continued participation.

Additionally, we are continuing with all projects that have been initiated, some during COVID, which include:

Harbor Plan

Village/Vine/Pleasant Street Intersection project will begin after the last day of school. 

Rail Trail is going to improve crossings at Mohawk/Pleasant, West Shore Drive and Smith Street.

A grant to repair/rebuild the Information Booth Island is underway.

Local Rapid Recovery Program to help the town in an effort to help the business community and downtown commercial area in its recovery. Included in this was our allowance of outdoor seating for restaurants and attempts to attract people to “shop local.” 

Coffin School: The town conducted a feasibility analysis through its Housing Production Plan of mixed-income housing on the Coffin Site. However, this project is on hold because the Coffin building has not been declared surplus yet by the School Committee. 

These projects are just a few examples of the work that is going on daily in town. 

Do you think the infrastructure override will pass? What are you doing to convince the town to support it? If it doesn’t pass, what will you do? 

The infrastructure override was thoroughly vetted and hopefully will pass at the ballot. If the debt exclusion override doesn’t pass, we will have to continue to chip away at these roads, sidewalks (and trees) by using the chapter 90 funds. However, as I’ve said before, those funds are insufficient to accomplish the major work that could be done with the additional funds should the override pass.

Two-plus years into COVID-19, what do you hope the town has learned about the delivery of services during an emergency like a pandemic? How can you as a selectperson ensure that the value of these lessons is not lost over time?

The town has truly shown its true colors in that people came together and services were available as needed. I was very proud of our town. 

I believe that the lessons learned will stay with us as we move forward. The new normal seems to work.

The pandemic has also made this a challenging time for local businesses. How would you rate the town’s performance in supporting the local business community? What more could be done to ensure that the town remains home to a vibrant collection of local shops, restaurants and other businesses?

From my perspective, opportunities were presented by the town to help local businesses. Outdoor eating became popular; local shops were highlighted as times of “shop local” filled the streets. I believe that we have a collaborative effort between the town and the Chamber of Commerce. From  decorations at holiday times to sidewalk sales, I believe that the Select Board encourages the local business community as a partner.   

As real estate prices continue to soar, Marblehead homes seem to be getting even further out of reach for many of our police officers, teachers and other public servants, to say nothing of those who were raised in town but cannot afford to move back “home.” To what degree is this a problem, and what can be done about it?”

The sad truth is that there’s nothing that we can do about the current housing market. It’s not just happening in Marblehead; it’s everywhere. As prices get higher, people still continue to buy this real estate, and therefore the prices don’t go down, because there is still demand. This is definitely a problem. 

However, there are some things that may be helpful. We need to work to find more affordable housing in town. Hopefully, a mixed-income housing can be developed, perhaps at the Coffin site. There are other sites to be considered.

Additionally, an option that may be of interest is Accessory Dwelling Units. These are second, smaller independent residential dwelling units located on the same lot as a single-family home. More housing is needed as people live longer. Another name for this possible option is in-law apartments. The Planning Board is currently researching the issue.

It is imperative that we find a means to make lower and middle income housing more easily accessible to all.

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