Clark University has done a lot for the city of Worcester. They offer free tuition to eligible local residents who have lived in the neighborhood for five years prior to enrollment. It has brought better education to Main South with the University Park Campus School, and facilitated neighborhood renovations and green architecture in the surrounding neighborhood. And now, Clark is supplying Worcester with a candidate for city councilor-at-large.
While some might question the ability of a college student to know how to help a city, twenty-one-year-old Devin Coleman is ready for the opportunity to change minds and change Worcester.
Devin has been calling Worcester home since fall of 2009 and has been working hard to figure out how the city can better serve its residents.
“Over the last year and a half, I’ve been going to community meetings,” Coleman said. “I see the mayor, but no councilors. If you claim to care about people you’re representing, you should be there listening to your constituents.”
“The phrase I’ve heard the most has been ‘We need new blood.’ Thousands of people have said it,” he said. “They want people who aren’t connected to the system. People don’t think they’re being listened to.”
Coleman’s platform consists of some simple, innovative ways to save the city money, and use that savings for things like education, public safety, and infrastructure.
“People start asking, ‘Where does my money go?’” Coleman said, advocating for more transparency. “We need to start cleaning up wasteful and irresponsible spending.”
He estimates that his proposed plans would save the city $5.5 million, annually, through various changes in how the city spends its money.
“Only 1.7% of the population use public transit. We need to find out who’s not being served, who needs to be served,” he said. “The busing system is privately owned, so we can do something about it. It’s all about getting it where we need it.” With adjustments to the public transit system, Coleman estimates the city would save $50,000.
Another change Coleman would like to see is the implementation of a wellness program similar to the one used by Boeing. If workers meet a level of health indicated by standards like their BMI and cholesterol, health insurance premiums would go down. The incentive would be a check at the end of the year. Money spent on health insurance is saved, and workers see the benefits in their lifestyle and their pockets.
“I don’t see a downside to this, personally. Everyone benefits. It’ll get people healthy and save the city money,” Coleman said. After his discussions with United Health Care, he estimates this would save the city roughly $5 million a year.
Coleman is also in favor of privatizing human resources.
“People say, ‘Doesn’t that mean laying people off?’ and the answer is, we’re not sure. The thing is that many people are over-paid and under-qualified in the office,” he said. Coleman gave an example of a $300,000 fine from the IRS that the city recently suffered. “Nobody got fired or reprimanded for that. Maybe I’m crazy, but a mistake like that shouldn’t be ignored. Tax payers are working hard for that money.”
Another incident Coleman mentioned involved the city receiving a snow and ice removal certificate, which is an award of sorts, showing the city’s proficiency. “Personally, I don’t think the city is very good at that,” Coleman said with a laugh. “But we verified it, and [the city] did apply and receive it.” However, there were hidden costs, Coleman said, including a trip to Spokane, Washington to get it. He said there were questions as to how much was spent in the matter.
“Either way, the city was reluctant to release that information,” he said. “We need more transparency. You could buy a classroom’s books with that money. It’s foresight like that that needs to be improved.”
Coleman is also seeking to improve relations between the city and unions, citing incidences where money was wasted in grievance hearings. “If it’s a surface thing, it’s wasteful spending,” he said. “It’s happened two times in the past month.” Coleman advocates for better communication with unions, and fewer layoffs.
“We can then take the money we save with those strategies and invest in education, public safety, solving gang issues, infrastructure, pot holes, sidewalks – things like that,” he said. “The city needs to be more proactive, not reactive. They’re closing businesses and keeping residents out.”
With petitions due July 27th, Coleman, and members of his campaign are rushing to get the word out. Only 300 signatures are needed by that date for a candidate to make it on the ballot. Coleman already has 550 and is aiming for 1,000.
With determination like that, his youth hasn’t been an issue. “As long as you know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” he said.
Coleman acknowledged the difficulties that lie between universities and the city of Worcester. “There is a tough relationship with Clark and other universities and their neighborhoods,” he said. “These are large institutions that don’t pay taxes.”
Coleman is in favor of monetary agreements between universities and their surrounding areas, such as a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, a voluntary tax agreement which three universities in Worcester have agreed to, including Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Under the program,Clark’s total voluntary payments over the 20-year-period will exceed $6.7 million. “There are bargaining opportunities,” he said.
While Coleman is a college student in Worcester, that isn’t why he’s running.
“I want to make it clear that I’m not running as a college student. I’m not going to be a spokesperson for the universities in Worcester,” he said. “I’m running as a resident who’s going to pass things to benefit everybody.”
The petition due date by July 27th will notify voters which candidates will be running, followed by the primary on September 20th and the general election in November. To read more about Coleman’s platform, visit devincoleman.com.