Kennett Square Today Q & A
By Steven Hoffman
In the spring of 2015, Wayne Braffman went to the polls to vote in the Primary Election. He found out that day that there weren't enough candidates to fill the three borough council seats that were up for election that year. His immediate thought was that Kennett Square was simply too great of a town not to have a full slate of candidates. So he decided to run for one of the seats. By the time the November election rolled around, there were six candidates vying for the three seats. Braffman won the election, and in January he began a four-year term on borough council. Five of the seven council members are new this year, and borough council has been quite active on a number of different initiatives, including economic development planning, making how the council does its work as open as possible, and improving communications with residents. Kennett Square Today caught up with Braffman to talk about some of the initiatives that council is working on, his diverse professional experiences, and more.
You've been on Kennett Square Borough Council now for about six months. What are some of the things that borough council has been working on that you're proud of?
I have been impressed with the range of activities that this council has tackled in a short period of time, from street lighting, to economic development planning, to code enforcement, to public safety to budget and fiscal oversight and public communication. I take the greatest pride, though, in the creation of the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs.
Can you tell us about efforts to boost government transparency and to increase the citizens' involvement with the government?
Once I became a candidate in May of 2015, I began attending council meetings to get a sense of what the job entailed. I was struck by the atmosphere of confrontation between the public and the council that permeated those meetings. I decided to make changing that relationship my first order of business.
I see transparency and openness as minimum standards to be met, not goals. The Sunshine Law and Open Records Act provide us with those standards, so you don’t hear me talking a lot about that. I have set a higher standard: to promote active collaboration between Borough Council, residents and other stakeholders… but you can’t do that without first providing clear pathways to engage and providing the information folks need to participate in a meaningful way.
We have already taken several steps to achieve this. We have added a public feedback period at the end of our meetings, and we are responding to more concerns as they are raised. Instead of just raising questions about problems, people can now complete a form to submit their concrete, actionable proposals about how we can improve operations. Information about agenda items that is provided to Council members is now available to the public prior to our meetings. And we are presenting more detailed financial information in the meetings and making still more information available online.
It’s been very gratifying to see the entire council and staff embrace these changes, and they all deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to move in this direction.
When you ran for a seat on borough council, you said that you were going to improve your abilities to communicate in Spanish. Why is that important to you?
I knocked on over 500 doors during the campaign. It was an eye-opener to me to see so many people answering their doors with whom I could not communicate because I didn’t speak Spanish. How could I possibly represent them? To put it mildly, I felt very inadequate.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I have to report that I worked hard at teaching myself Spanish and was doing well for about four months before I hit a wall. I’m very disappointed with myself. I can read some and pick out a few words in a conversation, but it’s just not ‘sticking.’ It makes me wish I had taken Spanish in high school instead of four years of French!
You have a diverse professional background. Can you tell us a little about that?
I like to joke that I can’t keep a job because I am now into my fourth career!
After graduating from Brown University in 1972 with a BA in economics, I worked in Newark, New Jersey, for 14 years, first conducting economic development studies for the City’s economic development agency and then serving for 10 years as the executive director of Newark’s 3,365-seat historic landmark performing arts center.
I gave that up in 1986 when my wife and I moved to Wayne County, PA, and opened a bed & breakfast. I was the cook.
Ten years later, in 1996, I decided to become a clinical psychologist, so we sold the B&B and moved to Connecticut where I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. I worked as a staff psychologist in acute, adult in-patient units in three different hospitals in North Carolina between 2000-2011.
A year after my wife passed away (2011), I reconnected with my first girlfriend from high school. After not having seen each other for 41 years, we discovered a spark was still there and—as they say—the rest is history! I retired from psychology, moved to Kennett Square and we were married two years ago.
My time since then has been filled with my role as vice chair of the Kennett Area Democrats and, since January, with my position as a member of the Kennett Square Borough Council.
If we fast-forward to the end of your first term on borough council, what are a few goals that you would like to see accomplished by then?
I hope there will be a more collaborative relationship with more of our residents, one in which more of our neighbors understand that the Borough government is available to them, that they can participate in Borough affairs, and that their ideas, suggestions and complaints will be embraced and evaluated.
Also, this may not be do-able in one term, but I envision a day when people open their tax bill and, no matter what the amount, think, 'This is money well-spent and a reasonable price to pay for living in this great town.’
What is your favorite spot in Kennett Square?
Anson Nixon Park
If you could invite any three guests, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be?
Robin Williams, Barack Obama, and Mr. Buckley (my high school physics teacher)
What food is always in your refrigerator?