Starting this month, there will be a fresh face on the Ulysses Town Board. Katelin Olson, former chair of the Ulysses Town Planning Board, was voted onto the town board in November and is looking forward to serving Ulysses in a new way.
Olson has been in Ulysses a little bit longer than seven years, having moved to the town in 2012.
Prior to moving to Ulysses, she was living with her husband’s family in Albion and working there as the executive director of the Albion Main Street Alliance. The family allowed her to stay with them to try out the position at the Alliance on a trial basis, and that was how she met her husband, who asked not to be named for this story.
Following a stint working for People for the American Way in Washington, DC, Olson came to the Ithaca area to earn her master’s degree in historic preservation planning in 2009. She fell in love with the area and was excited to return.
“I fell in love with New York,” she said. “This is a state I found incredibly beautiful. I’m from desert areas—both Utah and California are hot, dry places, and I just thought the landscape was beautiful.”
She also took a shine to the people. “I like upstate New Yorkers,” Olson said. “They’re very friendly people.” She has lived in the South and said that though southerners might have the best reputation for being polite and warm, New Yorkers are “authentically friendly.”
Her affinity for the four seasons and the local landscape led her to her current job as the CEO of the Spotted Sandpiper, LLC, a group of vacation rentals just across the border in Covert. It is 50 years old, and she and her husband purchased it about a year ago.
As for how she got involved in local politics, she said she had an encounter with a well known local that sent her in that direction.
“John Wertis showed up on my doorstep one day,” she said, “for a historical question—nothing to do with the planning board. We got to know each other, and he found out I was a planner and said I should apply [for the board].”
She said she has greatly enjoyed her time on the planning board. “It’s been a really interesting time to be involved in planning in Ulysses, with the zoning update,” she said, adding that the people on the board were great to work with.
“It’s been a huge pleasure to have served on this particular board; it’s so well staffed and stocked with people who bring a lot of personal and professional experience to the table,” Olson said. “Everyone I’ve interacted with on board has been incredibly civil and is very much working toward making community a better place.”
Olson was approached by the Ulysses Democratic Committee and asked if she would be interested in running for the Ulysses Town Board. After giving it some thought, she decided she could bring some unique qualities to the table.
“I think the board has done some very good work in the time I have been in Ulysses,” she said. “What was lacking was somebody of a different background. Where I am in my life right now, I have connections to constituents they might not have. I have three children in three different grades, I attend Jacksonville United Methodist Church, and I’m active in different groups.”
Olson said her biggest priority as she looks to her future on the board is to provide clear ways for the community to be engaged in the civil government process.
“I think it’s important to embrace new creative methods for reaching out to the community,” she said. “Civics education has declined across the county…people are feeling like they may not have a role or any power in local government, and local government is the greatest connection to citizenry of any government in the United States. I want to make people feel connected to local government.”