Democratic Candidate for Selectman
By Veronica Scheer, Citizen News October 14, 2015
In an interview with Ashleigh Blake, who is running for Selectman on the Democratic ticket, she was asked why she chose to run for this position. She responded by saying “it was a natural progression …initially when I came to town, I joined the Conservation Commission and was involved with a lot of town activities. In 2012 I joined the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and attended many town meetings such as Planning & Zoning, Board of Selectmen, and the Board of Education. And it seemed natural to take that next step because I am invested in the town and want to make a difference.”
When asked how she has kept up on town business as it relates to the Selectmen, she said as a member of the Conservation Commission from 2006 to 2013 she was involved with several major town items such as four acre zoning and the natural resource report. Over the past year she has regularly attended the Selectmen meetings, follows town items in the papers, and through discussion with various town leaders and residents.
The next question was what action should the town take concerning affordable senior housing. She pointed out the former housing commission did a lot of work on bringing this type of housing to the town and felt they were “not truly heard” and given the time they needed to explain things. “If I were First Selectman at the time, I would have remained more neutral. I would have put all the information out there and not taken a particular side and let the town vote. I felt that that vote was skewed with hearsay and a lot of rumors such as seniors driving over children on the soccer fields. I think it needed an air of neutrality that was not there.” She recalled the Anderson Road affordable housing development previously brought to the Planning & Zoning. Commission where the developer implied the reasons the town had turned down this project were invalid and suggested they might appeal to the state under its Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals process. Sherman is vulnerable to developers who proposed to build affordable housing projects as the town does not meet the required 10% minimum affordable housing units set by the state. She said “that threat could always pop up again and that is not ideal for the town as far as managing growth. I feel if we could provide some affordable housing for our seniors, we could kill two birds with one stone…and would show we were making every effort to provide this type of housing.” She pointed to some of her peers who have aging parents, and they would like housing that is close to them where their parents can be active in their own community and not be isolated in a single family home.
When asked for one skill she possesses that would be of value as one of the town leaders, she said “hard working” and “very tenacious.” .She really devotes herself to all the projects she has been involved in and will put in as many hours as necessary to get the job done. Her people skills are another asset that she used as a member of the PTO where she would interface with the parents, teachers and students. “You need to listen to people’s needs and translate it into something that can be done within the school environment.”
Outside of recommending potential sites and interested land owners to Homeland Towers for improved cell service in the south and north ends of town, what else night the town do to make this happen? She said “for right now, the town should listen “to them [Homeland Towers and the grass root group called Residents for Reliable Cell Service in Sherman, CT] and remain open and see what Homeland comes back with.”
When asked about Happy Acres farm and possibility of establishing a farm committee who would represent the town’s interest in the property, she felt a farm committee should be established. Such a committee could be the mediator between the residents
and Full Circle and help keep residents informed on farming activities as well as help the farmers to succeed.
During the Selectmen meetings there are two opportunities for the public to ask questions and some questions are answered while other may not receive a response. What are your thoughts about this process? Ashleigh felt, when possible, answers should be given; however, there are times when the question will need to be researched. And for those unanswered, the Selectmen should get back ‘to that person.
What do you see as the most challenging items facing the town? She believes senior housing will be one of the challenges facing the town and how that is dealt with either from the town or an independent developer. The former kindergarten wing at the school
where mold and other issues were found will need some type of mediation at a cost to the town. She felt municipal facilities maintenance will be another issue and did not agree with the town’s decision to cut the facilities manager position and characterized this decision as lacking foresight and requires the town to hire a clerk-of-the-works for
such projects as the new school boiler project and the construction of the public works truck wash station.
When asked about the recent announcement that there is a surplus of approximately $450,000 for the 2014-15 year, $425,000 0 which is recommended to be transferred into the capital nonrecurring fund, she questioned how this was characterized as handing back money to the taxpayers. She said “the taxpayers are not getting it; it is not a check being written to you or me, our taxes went up and if, in fact, this amazing
surplus is there, then what are we doing. I question the management as the taxes went up but we have this large surplus. Either the surplus is not there as it is all earmarked to pay for a specific projects such as the new school boiler and it is like smoke and mirrors…or
we should not have that much overage and been taxed.”
She feels, as Selectman, it is important to attend as many meetings as possible such as the Board of Education; particularly, during budget season, and feels this is lacking under the current administration. The goal being to “listen and be informed. This ties back to those people who volunteer for these positions feeling respected, and they are
doing a job that is being seen and heard, and they are highly regarded making their volunteer work worthwhile for them.”
Ashleigh Blake has lived in Sherman with her husband, Joel, and two children for 17 years. She has served on the Conservation Commission for eight years, just finished four years on the Sherman Parent Teacher Organization where she was president for three years and regularly attends monthly Board of Education and Board of Selectmen
meetings, and has volunteered at the school, library, Historical Society, Weed Warriors and Matthew’s Hearts of Hope.