Meet Local Leader Molly Lunn Owen of Manchester

Here on the Stay Work Play blog, we’re celebrating young leaders across the state who have stepped up to participate in the political process! “Meet Local Leader…” is a series highlighting the people under forty who are leading their communities at the local level.

Age:

31

Elected Position Held:

Manchester Planning Board alternate

Occupation and Employer:

Executive Director at 603 Forward

Number of Years in NH:

4

Favorite Place in NH:

Dixville Notch, strictly for topographic reasons and its [relative] proximity to the Polish Princess Bakery! My husband and I went hiking there for our anniversary last year and, especially in the mist, the notch exemplifies New Hampshire’s rugged granite beauty.

Describe NH in three words:

Resourceful, connected, home.

First Year Elected to the Position:

2020

Priorities While Serving:

I serve to ensure that the built environment in Manchester helps the city become a welcoming home to residents, an attractive destination for visitors, and a best-in-class place to do business.

Tell us about your “Path to Politics” — what made you decide to get involved?

I have been interested in public service since college, when I first became aware that my privilege was the reason my family and friends were apathetic to politics: we benefit from the status quo. Since then, I’ve volunteered and worked on issue and electoral campaigns to bring power to underserved communities and ensure that all my neighbors are fairly represented.

My dad is an electrician and I grew up with a lot of pride in his small business and community connections. When I moved to Manchester I drew on that experience to volunteer with political and civic groups making our city a better place and connecting residents to find creative solutions. My first job in New Hampshire was with Granite United Way, and I volunteer with the Manchester Young Professionals and Stay Work Play. Actually taking on an official role in civic leadership was a natural next step.

What are the responsibilities of this position?

The planning board conducts open hearings to seek public input on planned development, give recommendations to landowners in regards to site plans and characteristics (such as lighting, plantings, sidewalks, building aesthetics, and sidewalks), and approves or denies requests for exemption from zoning and building fee regulations. We, and the city’s professional planning staff, are also responsible for leading implementation of the new Manchester master plan to be published this year as well. I serve as an alternate, which in Manchester means I’m able to discuss and vote at all meetings, sometimes taking turns with other alternates if we have enough full members in attendance.

What barriers did you face running for office? How did you overcome them?

Childcare is the largest hurdle I and many parents overcome to serve in public office. I was appointed to the planning board when my now-toddler was 6 months old. Hearings were remote due to the pandemic, which was the single reason I have been able to serve while nursing an infant. Remote access to participation in public decision making is an adaptation we must maintain post-pandemic, in my opinion.

My husband was just deployed with the Navy Reserves for 10 months, so I’m experiencing the additional challenges that come with solo parenting. Serving as a parent has fully hinged on our family’s proximity and deep commitment to help. I can attend late public hearings because on those nights Alex’s family feeds our baby dinner, brings her to me to nurse, and puts her to bed once, twice, or three times. I also credit access to full-time child care with allowing me to work in my day job, which qualified me for this position and keeps me connected to the community I serve. We pay about $14,000 a year for our one child to attend an average-cost, full-time center, and I feel fortunate that we found a spot and can afford for baby to be loved on by wonderful teachers while my husband and I fulfill our professional goals.

What is the most pressing issue facing young people in NH?

You’ve heard the phrase “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” This is beyond the scope of my role on the planning board, but I believe that representation is the most pressing issue facing young Granite Staters. Our average state legislator in New Hampshire is 66, the oldest in the nation, and doesn’t take into account the ages of local appointed and elected leaders. Older residents have significant experience for us to learn from and do much good when serving. However, young people’s lack of representation in positions of power is directly related many of the challenges young people face in New Hampshire. We need young people to serve – and to enact reforms so that we CAN serve – or the people making policy around crucial issues like housing, childcare, education, student loan debt, and more will not always be acting in the interest of all Granite Staters.

How could NH be made even better for young people?

See above!

What advice would you give to another young person interested in getting involved in local politics in NH?

I’m glad you’re interested! Talk to me – or to a current local official you respect. Share what you care about they can help you plug in, whether it’s to vacant arts committee position in your town, an election worker position working during elections in your ward, or to run for school board or state rep. Election worker roles are important and a great low-barrier way to get involved.

I work to help educate young people around how to serve in local office full-time in my job as executive director of a small nonprofit, 603 Forward, so I can share some generalizations on how to serve here.

If you live in any of New Hampshire’s cities, you can file to run in the election this fall and every two years. Filing deadlines are mid-July in Manchester and in August or September for all other cities, check with your town clerk. Cities with elections this fall include Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Dover, Franklin, Keene, Laconia, Littleton, Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth, Rochester, Somersworth, and Lebanon.

All other towns in New Hampshire have yearly elections during Town Meeting Day in the spring, with filing deadlines in winter or early spring.

Appointed roles are more straightforward. Most appointed positions are made on a rolling basis, and many committees have open positions a few times a year. In Manchester alone at one point this spring there were 35 vacancies on appointed committees! It’s best to contact your town clerk to get an updated list of committees and terms, and to submit a resume and cover letter to the person who appoints each role (sometimes mayor, sometimes city manager) before a vacancy actually appears.

Can you recommend a resource for young people that are interested in learning more about politics, policies and bills, and advocacy?

Citizens Count is a great nonpartisan resource in New Hampshire to find your representatives and learn about key bills. New Hampshire has a vibrant issue advocacy community, so you can start with a specific issue that matters to you and get on the mailing list of an organization tracking that issue in Concord or in your town. Maggie Fogarty, with the American Friends Service committee, is an invaluable resource for me in keeping up-to-date on the State House, and my alderman and mayor for what’s going on in Manchester. My alderman happens to be Will Stewart, and I always read the State House Skinny to stay up-to-date on specific bills, too.

I would be remiss not to mention my own organization, 603 Forward, where we work toward building a New Hampshire where democracy is protected; where young people have a voice in government at all levels; and where policy change helps to build an inclusive, affordable, and thriving state. Reach out and I’m happy to share more.

For fun, tell us something about yourself that others may not know!

Once I swam ten miles in Lake Memphremagog and then went to Canada for lunch!

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