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Is Amherst’s school system really racist?

Does Amherst, one of the most progressive communities in Massachusetts, have a public school system that is racially biased? I ask this question as the white father of children who were in the system for 19 years (1985-04) and as the newspaper reporter covering the Amherst schools for five years (2008-13). The question arose after Superintendent Mike Morris declined to hire two finalists for the Regional Middle School principal position, who were people of color recommended by a search committee, and instead asked the white interim principal to stay on next year while a new search takes place. As the …

4

Limits to campaign donations: good idea but bad timing

Imposing a limit on contributions to candidates is an appealing idea. We don’t want our new Town Council to be as corrupted by money as the U.S. Congress is. But I think the Select Board should heed the advice of the Town’s attorneys and reject calls for a special Town Meeting to establish limits on donations before the Town Council is seated. Meg Gage served on the Charter Commission with me and opposed the recommendations that were overwhelmingly approved by voters on March 27. She is organizing a petition drive to call a special Town Meeting to limit individual contributions …

1

Two bipartisan charter events coming up

In the next 10 days, there will be two public events at which both sides of the charter campaign can come together and talk about the future of our town. Each event has been organized by two members of the Charter Commission, on opposite sides, in a spirit of bipartisanship. Gerry Weiss and I have been involved in planning a community dialogue at the Jones Library next Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. And on June 12, Meg Gage and Tom Fricke will lead a discussion of the fine points of the new charter at 7 p.m. in the Bangs Community Center. …

7

Election schedule and ‘normal noise’

Two months after an election in which Amherst overwhelmingly decided to adopt a new form of government, a small group of diehard Town Meeting members have sought a delay in the Town Council election, which would result in extra burdens for voters and diminished voter participation. Four of them went to Boston Wednesday to challenge the schedule for the election of Amherst’s first 13-member Town Council. They told a Legislative committee that the schedule would discriminate against students, even though the alternative schedule would make students less likely to vote. Also appearing before the committee Wednesday were Andy Churchill and …

7

Should boards restrict public comment?

This guest post was written by Rick Hood, who was a member of the Amherst School Committee from 2010 to 2016 and chair of the Regional School Committee from 2010 to 2012. In a town where only the H is silent, what is “acceptable” public comment? An issue that came up a few times when I was on the School Committee was how to handle critical public comment directed at people, as opposed to policy, program or process. The issue came up again at the May 22 meeting of the Regional School Committee, where many had come to comment on  …

Amherst Connects: a community dialogue

We will have an opportunity on June 6 to move beyond the contentious politics surrounding the end of Town Meeting and the establishment of a Town Council. In an event called Amherst Connects, international peace activist Paula Green of Leverett will encourage residents with different opinions about the town’s new charter to talk with each other, with the goal of diminishing the polarization of the recent campaign. Co-facilitator Pat Romney of Amherst has led similar dialogues here before. Amherst Connects will take place in the Jones Library’s Woodbury Room on Wednesday, June 6, starting at 7:15 p.m.  Participants should use …

14

The voters have spoken. Did Town Meeting hear them?

This guest post was written by Johanna Neumann, chair of Amherst for All. This coming Monday, in a special session of Town Meeting, members will vote on what should be a formality in the wake of last month’s resounding charter approval. The vote will be on  asking the state for permission to conduct Town Council elections this year (and only this year) at the same time as the state primary and general elections. This should be a non-controversial aspect of the charter. It is required under our new home rule charter, and is one of many details reviewed and approved …

7

Reconciliation needed after today’s vote

At least three charter opponents have told Nick Seamon, owner of the Black Sheep Deli, that they will not patronize his business because of his public support for a “yes” vote. In my neighborhood alone, there are at least two households where couples are divided on the charter question. On one lawn on Cottage Street, there are both a “yes” and a “no” sign. I myself have seen long-standing friendships strained because of differences over the charter. I don’t know what the outcome of the vote will be as I write this today. But I do know that our beloved, …

1

15 one-sentence reasons to vote ‘Yes’

The Town Council will be better able to deliberate on issues, get public comment, and seek out additional information than Town Meeting can. The Town Council will know what residents want because campaigns on the issues will measure support for the positions candidates take. Councilors will be informed about issues; Town Meeting has admitted that members haven’t understood issues before voting on them. Councilors will know that their votes represent Amherst’s residents, not just themselves. Residents won’t have to be a part of the legislative body to have a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect them. The Town Council …

1

We’re deciding now, not in two years

Some opponents of Amherst’s new charter are advancing the argument that it’s “safe” to vote “no” on Tuesday because there can be a re-vote in two years. They claim that Town Meeting deserve a chance to reform ktself, and if it doesn’t do a good job, you’ll get another chance to vote “yes.” I believe this argument is misleading in several ways. First, if the “no” side wins a majority on Tuesday, there is no automatic trigger that brings it back for a second vote in two years. The only way a second vote happens is if 10 percent of …