Second District Councilmember Kaitlyn Shake
By Ariana Fine
[Stratford Crier’s mission is to inform and update Stratford residents on various categories of interest, community events, pertinent information, and/or input into specific tasks or project. We would like to highlight the work, dedication and projects of our elected officials, beginning with town council members. Stratford Crier is posing the following questions to each of these elected officials to find out more about what inspires them in this position and what they hope to accomplish in their term.]
I have had the distinct honor and responsibility of serving our town as the 2nd District Councilwoman since December of 2019. My first term in office presented several challenges and opportunities as an essential worker working on the frontlines as a registered nurse and fulfilling my responsibilities as a councilwoman. I continue to be inspired by our residents in their ability to display acts of kindness, resiliency and initiatives to help keep our community safe as we move through this unprecedented time together. In addition to the town council, I also serve on: Public Works, Building Needs, Ordinance Committee, Pension Board, WPCA and Chair of the Longbrook Park Commission.
1. What do you see as the needs of your district at the present?
I see three major areas of focus and must start with one of the town’s treasures: Longbrook Park. As our community begins a safe reentry from pandemic restrictions, it is a perfect place to
spend some time outdoors. It troubles me that vandalism is on the rise, the pond needs attention, and littering continues to be a constant problem. While many in the district help maintain the park, we need the support of the town’s administration. As Chair of Longbrook Park Commission, I engaged the Police Department, Engineering, Public Works and the Conservation Departments to talk about the town’s role in park revitalization and sustainability.
The Second District is home to many small businesses and essential workers. As I visited business over the past year, I shared information about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and how to apply for them. Neighbors in our district need relief, from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and through other state and local actions.
My third concern is more a request than a need. Our district is involved in many town projects: Raymark property clean up, Exit 33 entrance construction, West Broad Street bridge and road work, Stratford High School renovations, Main Street repaving, and more. This work invariably leads to traffic congestion and noise. I ask for more patience from us all as we move through completion and reap the benefits of all the activity.
2. What is your vision for your district’s future?
My vision requires listening to my neighbors, elevating their concerns and seeking solutions. It recognizes the district as a prime area for both development and regeneration. It relies on a strong alliance with Town Hall to ignite its innate potential.
I envision a well-maintained and oft-visited Longbrook Park. The health of the pond is always foremost in my mind; we are remediating algae growth and shallow depth issues. While we love the Canadian geese, we need to ensure people and geese coexist together! I envision fostering more transparent and collaborative partnerships with relevant town departments to address the park, like the current responsive relationships with Public Works and the Baldwin Center.
The Second District is arguably the economic engine of the town and I envision welcoming new businesses to the district and being at the table discussing recruitment and incentives. All ideas should be considered as we seek to revitalize our district’s storefronts. As the people of our district have spoken, their mixed-use priorities for the Center School property must be respected, whether innovative businesses, support for local artists, or spaces for young professionals and families. I will continue to amplify their voices.
3. What is your vision for the town?
There is talk about establishing a “new normal” as we recover from the pandemic. I envision Stratford as an innovative leader, recognizing the absence of a collective “normal” and moving forward blending individual and community assets while healing deep-rooted wounds. Inertia is a powerful force, and this is the time to be bold!
I envision leveraging funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to meet the immediate needs of our neighbors and to position the district to thrive in a post-COVID world. While uncertainty remains, planning our recovery and building our resilience must begin. We can expand our Health Department’s Resilient Stratford initiative and address the grief and trauma of our residents, including this in our emergency preparedness and response planning efforts and including input from mental health experts. My advocacy throughout the pandemic – door-to-door communications and persistent requests for readily accessible COVID testing and vaccine distribution – needs to be integrated as a town-administrated effort.
I have heard “same storm, different boat” throughout the pandemic and I envision a town that applies the lens of equity to all its observations, considerations and decisions. I will continue to advocate for the inclusion of all voices, all needs and all talents, knowing that reinvigorating Stratford requires us to support and develop our community members as and when necessary, throughout the full lifecycle, for all residents.
I envision intentionally blending development, affordable housing, and a vibrant regional art council that maintain the character of Stratford while promoting spaces that encourage healthy lifestyles and environmental sustainability. This requires reevaluating our boards and commissions to reflect the needs and demographics of the town. Look, we all know that civics, and an engaged citizenry, has taken a hit. Hyper-partisanship abounds. This produces fertile ground for status quo governing, no matter the party affiliation in the majority. My vision for Stratford relies on cooperation and collaboration across all communities, districts, interests and political parties. Being timid will get us nowhere and bold action will not happen without buy-in from a cross-sector of all parties, including elected officials, appointed commissioners and our town residents. I envision our town being one of community, a community that recognizes all Stratford has to offer while committing to filling the gaps together.
4. What is your vision of collaboration between the town administration and residents to help make Stratford a stronger community? How do you see town residents’ roles and participation?
I view my role as an elected official as one of not only amplifying the voices of my constituents in the Second District but of including them in the decisions. Conversations have reinforced the sentiment that “my voice doesn’t matter.” All our elected officials have a responsibility to hear AND listen. There are many of examples of residents engaging on town concerns with participation in groups like Stratford Forward, Stratford CARE, Shakespeare Market and this Stratford Crier community paper. Our job is to empower them, and their opinions, after engaging and encouraging them.
Charging both Town Hall and the Town Council with better communication is a good place to start, a time to reset. While we leverage technology to reach people, nothing beats a door knock or a phone call. I know that when I reach out and ensure you that your concerns matter to me, many of you share what you need and participate in both the challenges and the benefits of living in Stratford.
When I ran for public office, I knew I would learn a lot. Beyond the process of a functioning municipality, I developed an idea of my role as a citizen of this town. What can each of us do to support our working families, attract new businesses and residents while supporting those currently here, maintain our parks and beaches, protect our waterways, secure the futures of our youth and seniors, address racial inequities and disparities, and really…enjoy all Stratford has to offer?
As I said earlier, civic engagement needs some work – we all need to find being part of a community appealing and worthwhile. If politics is your thing, join one of the town committees; otherwise, there are many organizations, boards, and commissions to join. To strengthen the bonds with the residents, the town needs to better promote these opportunities as well as conduct regular listening sessions. Transparent communication around budgets and priorities, with consistent follow-up and follow-through, will engender the public trust required to engage and participate.
Email your councilperson and the Mayor or submit a statement during our public comment section of our monthly Town Council meetings the second Monday of every month with signup beginning at 6:30 p.m. and comment starting at 6:45 p.m.