This is an opinion piece by Murali Sitaraman, the elections chair for the Ithaca Working Families Party. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit opinion pieces, please send them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.org.

Kayla Matos will be a distinct, new voice on the Ithaca City Common Council. She has both personal experience relatable to struggling, working-class Ithacans and professional experience in addressing community needs while working within budget and resource constraints.

My first interaction with Kayla was at a chess event for children on a Saturday at the play area at the Southside Community Center, where she is the Deputy Director. I will return to Kayla’s chess playing later.

What Kayla has been doing as the Deputy Director for three years at the Center will help her be effective immediately on the Council. One of the difficult tasks for a council member is balancing several competing priorities. As the Deputy Director, Kayla listens and understands the needs of her community, develops grants to support
such needs, and ultimately, helps select from among several worthy programs ones that can be funded within budget. Wise decision making requires a grasp of the big picture ideas and finer details. Kayla excels in both. She has authored or coauthored ten successful grant proposals, including one for the current City funding for the Center, a project where she became intimately aware of city workings. She manages the Center’s budget, day-to-day finances, annual or quarterly reports for her grants, and tax documents. Overall, she has the decision-making experience for the balancing act that awaits her in the City Hall.

Workforce management is an important topic for the Council. Kayla knows happy employees are productive, as she is the de facto Human Resources Manager of the Center. The Center has 12 employees including Kayla. Kayla is proud of her efforts in getting a community foundations grant and a human services coalition funding that have made it possible for all her employees to be paid living wages. She knows what it takes to get the best wages without breaking the bank.

At a personal level, she is the first one an employee contacts when they have a concern. She understands the importance of employee morale and the little things that make for a happy work environment.

We need council members who understand the challenges of those outside the normal purview of mainstream society. Kayla’s personal experience will bring a unique perspective to the Council. Kayla has lost her dad to drug overuse: The intervention he got from county support services wasn’t adequate. But one of Kayla’s uncles who, after a death in the family, became a victim to alcoholism and drug use and called the encampment his home, got help from adult protective services and is back on his feet now. Kayla understands the mental health and drug use problems the city must solve. Raised by a single mother who had to work multiple jobs and without a car, Kayla understands the transportation needs of the working families better than most. Few at her age, would have undertaken being a foster parent to a 15-year-old, as Kayla did, three years ago. That child graduated with a high school degree last June and is going to a nursing school at Syracuse. Kayla cares.

Back to the chess game. In parallel with handling her duties that day as the Deputy Director of the Center and engaging visitors like me with delightful bantering, she kept her focus on the game and won. That is Kayla in a nutshell: A proven winner and a lifelong Ithacan with personal and professional experience that matters!

Murali Sitaraman