Ellen's Guest Column in the Record Review October 15, 2021

Vision and Leadership for Bedford

There is much to love about our wonderful town, but we cannot be persuaded simply to protect the status quo. While we work to keep Bedford charming, historic, and well-maintained, we also need to anticipate and foster change. Change is inevitable, and if we are not actively moving ourselves forward, that change will happen to us in ways that we don’t agree to or anticipate.

For the last year and a half, this change has come in the form of a global pandemic that has left no resident, organization or business in our town unscathed. The town had to adjust quickly to unanticipated budgetary fluctuations, new policies in health and safety and an influx of new residents. When I met with local restaurant owners in the early days of the pandemic, the obstacles to outdoor dining seemed insurmountable; there were zoning restrictions, licensing questions, neighboring businesses to contend with, parking concerns. And yet, here we are, many months later, and our restaurants are thriving. Their outdoor venues are lively and appealing, and with the new sewers coming to downtown Katonah and Bedford Hills, we can anticipate that there will be additional dining choices to look forward to in the future. We should also see increased activity in our hamlets as a result of the recent completion of the Bedford Hills Community House, additional support for our libraries, and funding for infrastructure and business recovery from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. This vitality is a direct result of local leaders with the vision and the tenacity to implement their bold ideas. 

It is not just the influence of the pandemic that requires us to roll up our sleeves to manage change. New families, aging seniors, climate change, online shopping and big box stores, extreme weather, and other various pressures exert force on our town and require us to open our minds to solutions for more community vibrancy and affordable, resilient living. Heightened consciousness about social justice reminds us to consider how we can work to make our town more inclusive and equitable for all our residents. Additionally, we are a small town with an impressive number of outside entities sharing and intersecting our jurisdiction in ways that influence change and create opportunities. From the MTA to the KMA (Katonah Museum of Art) and from our neighboring highways to our fire districts, communication and working relationships with these entities are important. 

My prior experience in environmental law and financing climate solution projects taught me that everything going on around and in connection with a project can have a positive or negative impact and needs to be weighed, monitored, and often managed by leadership or the project could veer off course — or create an opportunity. I admire how former Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Department of Corrections and Community Services and the county to leverage their interests to get almost all of the funding Bedford needed for our $26 million sewer project. Without that vision and leadership, we may not have been part of their solutions. In the same vein, we need to continue these relationships, pursue more funding for wastewater and water quality solutions, and manage change by delivering a strong comprehensive plan to provide the guide rails for the smart growth this infrastructure may bring. 

As a town board member through the pandemic, I know we need to continue with visionary leadership to drive what I have been calling the “three Rs” — recovery, revitalization and resilience: recovery to improve health and safety, revitalization to enhance our quality of life, and resilience to provide stability and prepare for our future. And as the deputy town supervisor and the former program director at Bedford 2030, I’ve worked with people from all political persuasions, managing projects, building consensus and implementing programs that have maintained what we love about our town, improved our quality of life, saved money, and driven forward sustainability in Bedford, Bedford Hills and Katonah. It is through these rewarding experiences that I understand the vision and leadership we need for the future.

The Town of Bedford has achieved significant accomplishments and managed the forces of change well during these challenging times, but there is much more to do. If these past 19 months have shown us anything, it is that the leaders of our town must be flexible, adaptable, and ready to move Bedford forward.