By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – In many New England communities, the governing body is Town Meeting, comprised of the town’s voters. The board of selectmen is the executive arm of the town’s municipal government and is elected by the voters. Serving as a selectman is an immense responsibility requiring a great depth of knowledge of the town’s finances, bylaws, and history. Although its members only get paid a stipend, they put in vast amounts of hours, overseeing every aspect of the town’s government.
And for longtime Westborough Selectman Leigh Emery, who served for nearly two decades on the board, it was a job she loved, before stepping down in December.
Roots in the community
Emery’s family has been in Westborough since the 1700s. Belknap Street is named after her father’s family. Emery and her husband Tim Buckalew still live on her family’s 15-acre property, Emery Family Farm, where they grow and sell organic produce, eggs, poultry, and honey.
Emery, a registered nurse, also was a senior project director in research for UMass Medical School in Worcester, retiring in 2012.
Serving in town government
It was in 1994 that she first got involved in municipal government, as a member of the Advisory Finance Committee, serving for 10 years.
In 2004 she was encouraged to run for Board of Selectmen. After winning that seat, she was re-elected each time she ran, ultimately serving 17 years, including several stints as chair.
Emery noted her admiration for Paula Skog the town’s first female selectman, Kris Allen, second female, as well as former longtime selectman, Lydia Goldblatt, the third, whom she served with for many years.
“I really considered them all as role models and Lydia has always been a long time mentor as well,” she praised.
“And now [School Superintendent] Amber Bock is also a wonderful role model,” she added. “She is such a “talented administrator.”
Throughout her time as Selectman, Emery has served as a liaison to many committees, all of which she enjoyed, she said.
Of particular interest to her are issues related to conservation and sustainability.
She is proud of working to have Westborough adopt the Stretch Energy Code, which is required for the town to be eligible and apply for grants under the Commonwealth’s Green Communities Act. The code also places energy efficiency requirements on residential and commercial buildings.
With Peter Dunbeck she started the committee Sustainable Westborough, whose mission is to promote environmental responsibility and energy efficiency within the town of Westborough.
According to the town’s website, the committee “in consultation with the Board of Selectmen and partnering with various town departments, [seeks] to encourage the application of renewable technologies while reducing the use of fossil fuels and the resulting carbon emissions.”
Throughout her tenure, Emery also worked with her board colleagues as they went through the process of interviewing and hiring other top positions for the town, including two town managers, police chief, fire chief, and Public Works head. The selectmen also work closely with other town boards and officials on infrastructure projects. In just the past few years alone, Westborough has renovated Town Hall and the Forbes Municipal Building, and built a new fire station.
Encouraging others – and gratitude for opportunities
Emery is hopeful that others will consider volunteering on town committees and groups as well.
“I encourage them to look first for a group that’s not quite as daunting and does not require such in depth knowledge of town governance–a committee that is doing work they would really enjoy and gives them a chance to learn about Town governance and department heads.” she suggested.
“There are so many ways to get involved. Just start easy to get the lay of the land,” she added.
Emery noted that she was grateful for the support of her husband, who is a lawyer. He too serves as a town volunteer, as a member of the Conservation Commission, and was the first president of the Westborough Community Land Trust.
Looking back on her time as selectman Emery is grateful for the experience.
“We accomplished so much,” she said. “It was important. And I always loved the job.”
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