Page 42 - BusinessWest 40 Under Forty 2024
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Stephanie Slysz
Human Resources Manager, RepresentUs: Age 31
      Stephanie Slysz has long been interested in politics. In college and early in her career, she interned in the Massachusetts governor’s office
and the U.S. State Department, worked at a U.S. embassy, and volunteered on a mayoral campaign.
While working as an office assistant at WHMP, she learned about RepresentUs because its executive director at the time, Josh Silver, was a regular on the station’s Bill Newman Show.
“We were nerding out about ranked-choice voting one night,” she recalled. “They were hiring for his assistant, he recommended I apply, and the rest is history.”
Slysz sees her current role as “an opportunity to grow HR for an organization that I strongly believe in, and I very much appreciate supporting the folks doing the work on the ground.”
RepresentUs describes itself as America’s leading non-partisan anti-corruption organization, fighting to fix “our broken and ineffective government.” Among its current campaigns are efforts in numerous states to implement ranked-choice voting, fight campaign corruption, and defend democracy and voter access.
Similar to how same-sex marriage, cannabis legalization, and other ideas found traction on the state level first, she explained, “the idea is to create enough momentum in these cities and states so Congress has to act on it eventually.”
As opposed to working on the ground in campaigns, where it’s easy to get emotionally
she’d be good at, and perhaps even enjoy. And why not? After all, it’s in her blood; her
grandfather, William Burns, held this same position through much of the ’60s, ’70s, and
And from what her
parents, her many aunts and uncles, and a colleague
hired by her grandfather tell her, Shaw brings many of the same attributes to the job that her grandfather did.
These include patience, diligence, being direct but
fair with those who owe the city taxes, and even having a
sense of a humor about the job and its responsibilities.
Indeed, she described a tax collector as “an accountant who gets yelled at,” and
invested and burnt out, Slysz feels energized to support the priorities of RepresentUs on a broader scale.
“I will always need to dedicate my time to mission-based things, whether it’s where I work or volunteering in my community,” she said, before expressing enthusiasm about the RepresentUs mission. “If you can fix the problem of money
in politics, if you can make government work
for more than special interests, you can
fix all these other things. That is the root problem.”
Speaking of community, Slysz also chairs the Hatfield Planning Board, through which she sits on a multi-town committee organized by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to address farmland- protection policies, represents the board on the Hatfield 2040 Comprehensive Plan Committee, and more.
“I am involved locally, and that is also
not partisan; I feel like it’s the way you can
have the most impact on your community,”
she said. “Nationally, nothing is really
moving, so taking it local is the way to go.
A lot of young people don’t know about their small town and their local government, but it’s not a huge lift to sit on a board or committee, build your skills, and be more connected to your town.” BW
—Joseph Bednar
Laura Shaw
Tax Collector, City of Holyoke: Age 39
Laura Shaw acknowledged that few people, if any, would list ‘tax collector’ as a career objective. And she certainly didn’t.
Indeed, growing up, she studied criminology and law and aspired to join the FBI, before working in
airline security and later as budget director for the Hampden County Registry of Deeds.
When she saw a posting for tax collector in Holyoke, she thought it would be something
wondered out loud, while marching in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, if she should wear the sash with ‘Tax Collector’ written on it and risk being booed — or worse.
Jokes aside, tax collecting is serious business, she said, adding that property and excise taxes and other assessments are the lifeblood for any community, especially one like Holyoke.
“I like going to work every day, even if a lot of it is dealing with unhappy people,” she said, adding that many of the harder questions she gets are for the assessor, and she is essentially the “bearer of bad news.”
In addition to her work at City Hall, Shaw is very involved in her community, especially with its pride and joy, the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. She serves on the board for the landmark attraction and chairs its fundraising committee, spearheading, among other initiatives, a golf tournament that raised $20,000.
She also serves as a member of the city’s patriotic events committee, assisting in efforts to honor veterans; she started a push-up challenge at the 2023 Memorial Day celebration and has facilitated art contests for Girls Inc. of the Valley and the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club in which young people depict what Veterans Day and Memorial Day mean to them.
For Shaw, serving the city and its people is a passion, something she takes as seriously as collecting taxes
— and serving faithfully as that accountant who gets yelled at. BW
—George O’Brien
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