KENT — Economic vitality and broadband coverage are two of the items on the priority list of the town’s newly elected first selectwoman.

Jean Speck succeeded Kent’s longtime first selectman and fellow Democrat, Bruce K. Adams, after beating Republican Ed Matson in the municipal election by more than 200 votes.

She was officially sworn in Nov. 8, and will begin her first day in office Tuesday.

Five days before her first day, Speck said she will leave her position as a regional emergency medical services coordinator for the state Office of Emergency Medical Services — a position she has held for nine-and-a-half years.

Before that, the Weston native and mother of two had a long career as a retail buyer for Liz Claiborne in New York City.

Back then, Speck said, she and her husband, Tedd, would ride motorcycles up to Kent in their free time.

“We would stop right at The Villager and have coffee and sort of pine about how wonderful Kent was, how it was so much like how Weston was when we were growing up, and if we could only sort of cut the ties with New York City,” she said.

Speck said she stopped commuting to the city when she became pregnant with their first child — and when her husband got a job offer to work remotely for a Florida-based company, they made the move to Kent.

That was nearly 23 years ago. Since then, Speck has been an active member of the Kent community.

She has been with the first department for 20 years and was the ambulance chief for five years, which she said was “a great job.”

In 2008, Speck became president of the Kent Volunteer Fire Department — the same year the town’s new firehouse was built.

When asked how she got involved in emergency services, Speck replied: “A cup of organic yogurt and a granola bar.”

Shortly after moving to Kent, Speck said she experienced an allergic reaction while home with her firstborn, Samm. She started overheating and her throat started closing up, so she called 911.

“Five women showed up at my door — all in their own vehicles, and with the ambulance,” she said, and they took Speck and her 5-year-old son to Sharon Hospital.

Speck said her experience with those five EMTs was “inspiring.”

“When you’re in the back of an ambulance and you see all that’s going on and realize this lady just closed her store and left a sign saying she’ll be back in two hours because she’s out on a call, or the nursery school teacher who ran out the door to respond … and they’re in the back of the ambulance helping you — it’s amazing,” Speck said.

After having her second child, Sharon, Speck took emergency medical technician and advanced emergency medical technician classes.

“That’s how I got involved in the fire department,” she said.

Economic vitality

Speck said one of her biggest priorities is improving the economic vitality of Kent, which she breaks down into three subparts: attracting new residents, housing and town planning.

“In order to be healthy from an economic standpoint, there have got to be people here, so bringing in young families and (professionals) is important,” she said.

One way to do that, she said is by making sure Kent has an “amazing education system.” The other focus area is housing.

Speck said local homes need to have a broader price range.

“I think there’s a gap that we need to fill between affordable housing and those regular $300,000 houses — and there are ways that other states have done this,” she said, noting a “cottage housing” model in Massachusetts as an example.

Another component of her economic vitalization plan is town planning.

“Planning and Zoning does a lot of the zoning side and not a lot of the planning side — it’s sort of just the nature of the beast. When they get applications, they have to hear and consider them, and it doesn’t leave much time to think about planning,” Speck said.

Speck said she’s mulling over the idea of forming a “separate work group or council” — like an economic development commission — to focus on town planning.

“If we had a strategic planning council, anytime a (commercial) property goes vacant, we’d have a group looking at ways to partner with local real estate and social services — and even the state — to figure out what would be a great fit for the town and region,” she said.

Speck said her overall goal is to help Kent progress while maintaining its rural, small town charm.

“Everyone wants their town to roughly stay the same. I sort of counter that with: We can’t put a giant bubble over the town — we shouldn’t. We should be creating a wonderful place that respects its history and keeps the fabric of what the people want, but that is also resilient and progressive,” she said.

Broadband and technology

One thing Speck has noticed —as a resident and emergency responder — is the poor broadband coverage in Kent, and that’s something she wants to fix.

“To me, cell service is a public utility. It’s vital to be part of the community. It’s a basic need — people need to have reliable service for 911 coverage,” she said.

Not only are there are some “serious service gaps” in town where emergency radios have no coverage, Speck said, but good broadband coverage is important so residents can save money.

“I think the people should have the option to not have to pay for both a landline and cellphone,” she said.

Speck said she also wants to “make tech work for our town more,” and is looking at trying to set up a way for residents to obtain things like burn permits and park passes online.

“I want to make basic things easier (to obtain) so people don’t have to go to town hall or come by late Friday afternoon,” she said.

Streetscape project

Speck said the town’s longtime streetscape project is high on her priority list.

“This project has been in the works for 10 years. Two streetscape committees have made recommendations to the Board of Selectmen, we had a referendum that passed to spend $2.95 million to replace sidewalks — and as an EMS provider, I see the public health problem with our sidewalks,” she said.

Deteriorating sidewalks in town pose a hazard to those who walk them, Speck said — particularly senior citizens.

“There are condos just a little bit north of town where a fair amount of elderly residents live — and the reason many of them bought condos there was so they could walk to the grocery store or coffee shop. When you’re walking, (sidewalks are) a problem,” she said.

With a recent Board of Selectmen motion to move forward with the project, Speck said, the project will “hopefully go out to an engineer to create a more detailed plan.”

After that, she said, a building committee will be charged to do “in-depth work.”

Speck said her parents taught her to “deal with things with integrity and grace” — and that’s how she plans to approach all issues that come her way as Kent’s new first selectman.