By Bill Kirk
---- — Jodi Oberto thinks Andover is pretty much OK. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some problems. And she wants to be part of the solution.
“We have a good town,” said the 46-year-old manufacturing sales rep during a recent interview at The Townsman. “I’m not running to say ‘We need to perk up Andover.’ ... We have good schools.”
The married mother of two, school-age children is running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen because she would she said she will bring a “fresh pair of eyes” to problems, like what to do with the Town Yard.
“Do we need to spend $4 gazillion dollars or can we keep it simple and make it work?” asked the 11 Hartford Circle resident. “Like the saying goes, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid.’”
Oberto, who has a 16-year-old at the high school and a 10-year-old at South School, said “our schools are vital. We need to have our schools well-equipped.” But she also stressed the importance of parent involvement.
However, she admits she hasn’t had much time for that kind of involvement.
“You can go to meetings, it’s very open, but I’m like everyone else, you don’t,” she said, admitting that she hasn’t been to a governmental meeting since last May, when she went to Town Meeting to argue against a ban on bow-hunting deer on town-owned property.
“I don’t hunt, but my husband (John) would like to,” she said. “People who do should be able to do that. People should be allowed. They were trying to squash it.”
Her main experience in the political realm was in 2010 when she ran as an Independent for the state Senate seat vacated by longtime Andover Democrat Susan Tucker. She ran against former state Rep. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and Republican Jamison Tomasek. She took more than 2,000 votes — or about 1 percent — in the three-way race. Finegold won by more than 10 points over Tomasek.
Oberto said she was “driven” to run for the Senate and has been “tempted” by other opportunities, but the time was not right. But when the selectman’s seat opened up this spring, “I thought, ‘This is where I live. I want to be part of making our money make sense.’”
One place where she thinks things don’t make sense is in planning for renovating or relocating the Town Yard.
She spent a couple hours recently speaking with some of the public works employees who work downtown.
“You get different opinions,” she said. “If we move it, you have the contamination issue to deal with. Every little thing triggers another thing. There’s so much to be considered. I’d like to be part of working through that.”
Recently, the Board of Selectmen told Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski to go back to the drawing board on the Town Yard issue and come up with what they called “least-cost options” on how to proceed. Any proposal, either to rezone the property or purchase land for another Town Yard, has been put on hold.
Oberto said she thinks there may be a simple solution: “I’ve spoken to some of the neighbors (of the current Town Yard). They’d be willing to sell. Then you could expand the Town Yard” and keep it downtown.
Another thing that drives her to run, she said, is that she is descended from a long line of public servants dating back to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“My daughters are 15th-generation Americans,” she said, noting that her family tree can be traced back to Sen. Rufus Choate, himself a descendant of original American settlers on Hog Island in Ipswich.
“Something in there drives me at some level,” she said. “I want to keep Andover a good town. I just want to bring good sense. Do we really need to do this, or that? We’ve got to find a new paradigm. When times are great, you can build whatever you want.”
But she’s been hearing from people that money is tight.
“The big thing from folks is taxes,” she said. “They’re too high. They want to know if it’s going to Andover. Is it being used properly.”
She said since she moved here in 1995, her property taxes have doubled.
She said people are also concerned about having a “vibrant downtown. ... If you bring kids downtown, you bring families downtown. We need to make it more vibrant.”
She said she is also concerned about the Ballardvale Fire Station project, noting that relocating it next to a school — where her youngest daughter is a student — is a bad idea.
The Fire Station Building Committee proposed constructing a new, 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot station at the corner of Andover and Woburn streets on the South School campus. The location, owned by the school district, now supports a Little League ball field. The new station is estimated to cost $6 million.
Oberto doesn’t think the fire station should be next to an elementary school.
“Other properties are available. Sticking it next to an elementary school doesn’t make sense,” she said, again calling for a different fix.
She said the same thing goes for expansion discussions for the high school, where her older daughter is a sophomore.
“Is it busting out of its capacity? If there’s a need, that’s one thing; it can’t just be for aesthetics,” she said.
She said it’s even more difficult to get a handle on the cost of salaries and benefits because teachers and other staff are all members of unions.
“If salaries are commensurate with what teachers are making elsewhere, and it’s not exorbitant, then there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “You have union stuff. You don’t even want to go there. You’re stuck with what they do.”
Oberto said that she wants to be a voice of reason.
“I’m trying to convey — let’s be sensible with what we do. I want to have a simple focus on getting things done. I want to find a way to make things work. I’ll go in with a fresh set of eyes, a female perspective, a parents’ perspective and hopefully a diplomatic voice.”