Mike Akillian candidate for Amherst selectman

To the Editor:

For the past year, I have had the privilege of serving a one-year, appointed term as an Amherst selectman, filling the vacancy that arose with the resignation of Bruce Bowler in March 2013.

Now, I am running to complete the final one-year term of office. Here’s why.

In 2013, I was serving on the Amherst Ways and Means Committee. Like my colleagues on Ways and Means, I found it challenging to weigh the merits of a budget that had little connection to broader plans. Amherst had been focused almost solely on a budgeting process rather than on a planning process under which budgets would sensibly fit. The committee recommended to the Selectmen that they engage the community in more strategic thinking about where the town is and where citizens would like it to be in the future. That way, all plans and related budgets would serve clearly stated goals and could be judged in context as to how well they were likely to meet those goals. When the vacancy occurred on the BOS, I thought I my skills and background could be useful in helping the town embrace planning along with budgeting.

I have bachelor’s from Northeastern, a master’s degree in science communication from Boston University, and attended the Executive Program at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth. Early in my career, I served as an executive at several high-tech companies specializing in decision support – enabling organizations to thrive through timely, informed decision making using data, analytical software, and organizational processes to manage change.

Later, I worked with several consulting firms providing guidance in related areas to for-profits such as Raytheon, United Asset Management and Mellon Bank, nonprofits such as Joslin Diabetes Center and universities from Harvard to UCLA, and a range of start-ups. I also helped create and launch a graduate program in organizational leadership.

This year, with the support of the other selectmen, I led the first-ever strategic planning initiative across all town departments. I increased communication with Amherst residents by enhancing the town website, scheduling meetings with a number of civic and political groups, and publishing articles. I also championed the launch of Amherst’s first-ever performance evaluation system for town employees.

The goal has been to bring to town government more rigor and strategic goal setting, cost efficient and effective decision making in service to those goals, and increased accountability and oversight for all town personnel. And, because a town-wide strategic plan must involve town government and schools, I have used my role as BOS liaison with the school boards to launch monthly working meetings with them to explore ways to better collaborate and manage town resources.

In the coming year, working closely with the other selectmen, I would aim to:

? Rebalance areas where the town has fallen behind (roads, employee pay scales, financial systems and fleet management) while keeping the quality of other facets of life in Amherst strong.

? Conduct a complete Public Safety review (fire, EMS, police, communications and DPW) with a particular focus on what model for fire protection can work best for Amherst and whether we should merge fire and EMS.

? Conduct a DPW operations review to ensure we have the optimum structure, processes, resources, and people deployed to provide the best value to residents.

? Develop plans to address the loss of Cemetery Fields recreation space and relocating the Roy Playground.

? Expand strategic planning to town boards, committees and commissions.

? Extend performance evaluation and management to all town employees.

? Strengthen working relationships with the schools.

I have learned much about the breadth and complexities of effective town governance, and I believe I have also added value in my one year of service. If you find my skills, performance and goals a good match with what you believe Amherst needs to thrive, I’d welcome your vote on March 11.