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Scare tactics 1: Development

Nick Grabbe

Town Meeting defenders don’t like talking about the real problems with our current system. And it’s understandable why not.

 

They have been unable to refute data showing that a majority of Town Meeting members are self-appointed and that most voters have not been participating in local elections. They’d rather not talk about sending back $34 million in state money for our schools. They ignore the fact that if you don’t like what Town Meeting members do, there’s not much you can do about it.

 

So some of them have turned to scare tactics. Rather than defending the increasingly problematic status quo, they are indulging in wild speculation about what will happen when voters approve Amherst’s new charter on March 27. Over the next 10 days, this blog will expose these scare tactics, so that voters can focus on the real issues.

 

Let’s start with the claim that under a council-manager form of government, it will be much easier for developers to get approval for their plans, and that soon Amherst will be overrun with large buildings.

 

Some defenders of Town Meeting have even said that this was the whole purpose of the Charter Commission. For the record, the commission members who voted in favor of the charter include educators, a retired journalist, a musician, and a consultant. No sign of a developer, or a developer’s influence.

 

Much of the fear of rampant development centers around the two mixed-use buildings at the northern end of downtown, whose size and architecture offend some people. But they forget that the Master Plan, hammered out over years with intense citizen involvement, called for denser development downtown and in village centers, in exchange for preservation of open space and a more rural feel outside of these areas.

 

They also forget that the right of these two buildings to have five stories was voted by Town Meeting in 2010. And they discount the fact that these two buildings will bring in about $500,000 a year in property taxes, that they are models of energy efficiency, that they will make downtown more lively, and that they address a pent-up demand for housing.

 

These are the kinds of trade-offs that should be debated fully in public by the people’s representatives, not decided in an hour by a largely self-appointed group that meets twice a year. When a democratically elected Town Council is in charge of zoning, it will be able to ponder the ramifications of proposed changes for weeks or months, and bring greater knowledge and public input to the decisions. Currently, Town Meeting members have to make far-reaching decisions in one night, and even those who understand zoning well admit to feeling flummoxed at times.

 

The Council will also be required to publicly discuss and approve the Master Plan, and to hold annual forums on it, to ensure that planning and zoning decisions are consistent with the wishes of the community. If councilors don’t do what the voters want, they can be kicked out every two years. Since development issues will be aired during Council campaigns, elections will give Amherst a better sense of public opinion.

 

Finally, the new charter actually sets a higher bar to change zoning under a Council than we currently have with Town Meeting. If 20 percent of owners of property within 300 feet of a site proposed for rezoning file a written protest, passage will require yes votes from 10 councilors. That’s 77 percent approval required, compared to 67 percent at Town Meeting. And with 10 of the 13 members elected from districts rather than townwide, neighborhood sentiment will have prominent representation.

 

The charter is all about democracy, not development. It is about giving the voters the power to determine who will make decisions on their behalf. I don’t know if restrictions on development will tighten or loosen when a 13-member council is calling the shots. But I am confident that the decisions will be more in keeping with what voters want than they are now.

 

Some defenders of Town Meeting claim that councilors will be more beholden to developers than to voters, because of campaign contributions. I will address this scare tactic in our next post.

 

I believe that most of us want to see appropriate economic development to broaden the tax base and provide jobs, but we also want to retain our pleasant, peaceful residential neighborhoods. We have to achieve a balance that works for the majority of residents. I expect this issue to be prominent in the debates preceding council elections. I’m content to let the people decide.

Comments 25

  1. Nick, you have many ideas in this one post. I would love to be able to respond in kind, but that would require hours of thought, so I’d like to address each idea, one at time. Today, I’ll respond to “They have been unable to refute data showing that a majority of Town Meeting members are self-appointed and that most voters have not been participating in local elections.”

    Being one of the “they”, I’ll say that “we” have not ever disputed that many members of TM are self appointed. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say “most” however. If my memory serves me, more than half the precincts had contested elections last spring. We also do not dispute that voter turnout is low. Along the same vein, “you” (the collective you) have not produced comprehensive data showing the difference in voter turnout between RTM towns and cities in Mass. For instance, during the last City Council election in Northampton, there was only 1 contested seat (and that person got beat by the incumbents by a 2.5/1) and turnout was only slightly higher than in Amherst. Would you say that 8 of the 9 councilors were self appointed?

    It seems that you would replace the 240+ Town Meeting participatory government with 13 people on the assumption that it would give every voter a greater say in our government. That assumption is embedded in the assumption that merely voting for 5 of those 13 will give people that voice who are not in Town Meeting. That seems to assume that going to the ballot box once a year is a better form of participation for the voters. I’ll repeat my refrain: RTM is a modified Open Town Meeting. People serving want to serve and many who want to get to. Over time, some drop out, some are voted out and new people take a turn. Those voters who don’t have the time to be TM members, won’t have the time to be on the Town Council either. Is that one vote/year a greater form of democracy? I participate in the voting process but I don’t have a lot of faith that it produces “representation” for me. I do have faith, and 16 years in TM have born this out, via measures that I’ve been on the winning and losing side on, that TM is a fabulous mix of people, with differing values, differing experiences, different views, and differing knowledges . 13 people cannot possibly match that mix. Besides Northampton, what are the statistics on incumbent wins in the cities across Mass?

    Thanks to you and Mandi for hosting these discussions

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    Thanks for your comment, Gerry. I did not say that “most” Town Meeting members are self-appointed; I said that the majority of them are. Over past 10 years, more than 60 percent of the precincts had either fewer Town Meeting candidates than seats available, the same number, or just one more candidate than seat. Not much choice for voters there.
    You are correct that in 2017 there was an improvement in the number of Town Meeting candidates (139 for 86 seats). But why was that? It was because of outrage over Town Meeting’s vote to reject $34 million in state money for new elementary schools.
    As for Northampton voter turnout being not much better than Amherst’s, the numbers tell a different story. Over four local elections up to and including 2015, without extra items on the ballot, Northampton’s turnout averaged 36.5 percent while Amherst’s averaged 10.6 percent. The highest recent Northampton turnout was 51 percent in 2009; the highest for Amherst was 32 percent in 2010, when I believe an override was on the ballot.
    You and I have different definitions of “participatory.” You believe that getting 180 people together (that’s the average number of Town Meeting members who show up) to make major decisions for the Town, no matter how much of a mandate they have from voters, is “participatory.” It certainly is — for those 180 people. For the other 99 percent of registered voters, it isn’t very participatory at all. The majority of them haven’t had a choice of candidates, most of them haven’t voted, and there’s been little discussion of issues.
    I envision a system where there are multiple candidates for the 13 council seats, there are debates that address the issues Amherst faces, two or three or even four times as many voters show up at the polls (because the elections are now IMPORTANT), we get a sense of where public opinion lies, and decision-makers have a mandate from voters.
    Did you hear about the recent council election in Greenfield, in which six progressive candidates won seats? You can read about it in my next blog post.

  3. I did read about Greenfield’s election. That was terrific and a very positive ad for Greenfield’s Town Council. I also believe that circumstance was an due to outrage at how the prior council had voted on a Sanctuary measure. So, it works both ways!

    I understand your vision of how it will work in Amherst, and I will be very glad if it works out that way. I just don’t think it will, beyond the first council election and outrage elections.

  4. Idea #2: “They ’d rather not talk about sending back $34 million in state money for our schools. ”

    No one was more upset than I was that we couldn’t get the 2/3 vote necessary to borrow the money to make the school project happen. That being said, it should be noted that a) a majority of TM voted to fund the project: b) the TM vote nearly exactly mirrored the town wide vote. To me, despite my upset, it was one indication of how well TM mirrors the voters at large; the % of TM that voted for the project was almost exactly the % of town wide yes votes. With the 13 person council, it would take only members to vote against it and we’d be in the same predicament.
    Further, I would no sooner throw out an entire system of government over 1 vote I deemed wrong, than you would throw out a Council form of government if they made a vote you strongly disagreed with.

    1. Gerry, Town Meeting doesn’t always mirror the opinion of the electorate. The recent Town Meeting votes on the marijuana articles mostly did not mirror the 75% approval for legalizing marijuana in Amherst. It may have on the school vote, but that also ignores the different types of votes–one for increasing taxes (which the electorate supported) and one for authorizing the borrowing of money–which by state law requires 2/3rd, but the reasons for the 2/3rds requirement were never discussed. Therefore, I argue that Town Meeting failed the electorate–a group that was willing to pay more in taxes in order to build the schools and that was financially feasible and fiscally responsible (it was the cheapest plan, and continues to be, thereby lessening the tax burden on the electorate). And what of the recent Town Meeting vote on the expansion of the library: Candidates for library trustee that supported the expansion won in a contested election by 64%, and 56%, which is a good proxy for the electorate’s support of the library expansion, yet the authorization to apply for the grant passed Town Meeting by only 53%, hardly an exact agreement of opinion of the electorate (it’s actually more than 1 standard deviation away from the 56%, so it’s a statistically significant difference).

  5. I left out the number 5 in the sentence: With the 13 person council, it would take only 5 members to vote against it and we’d be in the same predicament.

  6. I just did the math on the Northampton 2015 town wide election. 22% of the registered voters voted in their precincts. Of course, as I said, there were no contests in any of the 7 precincts and one challenger for one of the 2 seats at large. Better than Amherst’s last TM/SB/School Committee election, I’m guessing, (I think it was around 18%, but not sure) but not by much.

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      I have 25% for the Northampton 2015 turnout. Here are the turnouts for their previous elections: 2013, 31%; 2011, 49% (CPA vote); 2009, 51%; 2007, 39%; 2005, 50% (CPA vote). The turnout in the last two Amherst local elections have been 17.7% in 2016 (higher than usual because of the Charter Commission vote) and 25% in 2017 (higher because of outrage over the school vote and the competitive School Committee race). By the way, the turnout in Amherst in 2005 was 35.2%, for the second of the two charter votes, but after it failed, turnout sank to an average of 18% for the next four years, and then to an average of 10.2% in 2011-15.

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    Gerry, I think the motivations of the “no” voters in Town Meeting were somewhat different from the motivations of the “no” voters in the referendum. I think a lot of the Town Meeting “no” voters were motivated by anger and disdain at elected and appointed town officials, and wanted to uphold the sovereignty of Town Meeting. Whereas a lot of “no” voters in the referendum were (mistakenly, I believe) motivated by a desire to keep their taxes from increasing. I believe a lot of these “no” voters in the referendum will vote “yes” on the charter.
    And by the way, was it right for Town Meeting to use the bond authorization to renew the struggle against the specifics of the plan that elected officials had come up with and voters had approved a tax increase for? Shouldn’t that debate been limited to whether the town could afford it?

  8. Nick, I think numbers can be deceiving. The numbers you quote for Northampton must be based on different raw data than I’m using. Here is where I got mine from: http://www.northamptonma.gov/DocumntCenter/View/2271 and
    http://www.northamptonma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4657. Perhaps you are counting the blank ballots. To me, if people show up to vote and leave 1392 at large ballots (2015) and 2251 (2013) blank, they haven’t voted. The bottom line is………without a comprehensive study of all town and city wide elections for some period of time throughout the state, we’re both just playing with numbers and not proving anything, which was my original point. Guessing at the motivations of voters seems like a futile exercise and unsound way to promote an idea.

    And you must know that I agree with you that TM should have voted for the bond authorization, because I believe that was our task, not re-litigating the efficacy of the project. My points remain: 1) despite the idea that I believe TM voted for the wrong topic, the vote mirrored the town wide vote; 2) I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater because the bathwater was dirty.

  9. It occurs to me that the spoke of the wheel of a new government in Amherst is based on the concept of less is more. Yes? I think less will be less.

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      I’ll be writing about the “concentration of power” argument next week. For now, I’ll just say that I would rather have 13 knowledgeable people who have been selected by voters in competitive elections where the issues were aired, than 180 people, the majority of whom are self-selected and others chosen by only a few voters, with many not understanding the ramifications of what they’re voting on.
      You, Gerry, are an exception. I’m sure you are conscientious about learning about articles before they come up at Town Meeting. And you are one of a minority of members who can justifiably claim to have a mandate from your precinct.

  10. The data supports the argument in favor of the new governance plan. That’s why the Town Meeting loyalists are avoiding the data. They call for data, until we provide it. Then they turn to some tired meme about democracy in numbers. If you want real elections that will result in better and more accountable representation, the choice is clear: Council/Manager.

  11. Nick, I really like how you write:

    “most of us want to see appropriate economic development to broaden the tax base and provide jobs, but we also want to retain our pleasant, peaceful residential neighborhoods.”

    I agree. I also think you all on the Commission put in a lot of energy to research what governmental structure would be acceptable for most voters, and how it could work. And in that way your commitment is similar to the people in Town Meeting, who are the majority of active citizens in Amherst politics.

    Reading your post, one would think that those “defenders of Town Meeting” are an evil bunch. They are self-appointed, vindictive against Town Hall, and handle town money carelessly. As far as I can see, heavy judgments like these do alienate people. So if and when the new council proposal passes, you will end up with a big chunk of the most active residents resentful, and possibly working against the new government. Since I am one of those defenders, I can relate to how they might feel being judged this negatively.

    So what you wrote in your last paragraph is true (I fully believe it is), then I propose a different way looking at the situation, which may generate more connection and support, rather than alienation and animosity. On the level of needs (prosperous town, peaceful neighborhoods) we all are in agreement. We just have different strategies to try to get to the same outcome. I would like to see more invitation and less TM bashing from the spokespeople of the Commission before I can support a new government if it passes.

    You also write: “No sign of a developer, or a developer’s influence.” I strongly disagree with this, as I know ‘Amherst for All’ put a lot of energy into getting all the 5 people elected who voted ‘Yes’ on this charter proposal, and their spokesperson is a well-known local developer who also has strong ties to the Chamber, and comments above.

    1. Gabor, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I just want to expand on something you said regarding TM members being the “majority of active citizens in Amherst politics.” According to a graph created by the Collins Center, you may or may not be right. Here is a breakdown:

      Residents serving on an appointed board or committee, but not on RTM: 146
      Residents serving on an appointed board or committee, and also on RTM: 43
      Residents serving in RTM, not included above: 207
      Other elected officials: 25 or so (5 SB, 5 SC, 6 LT, 4 HA, 4 RA, 1 Moderator, 1 OSW Elector)

      It’s about even, RTM or others, depending on how you count the ones that do both (which number probably fluctuates alot). The point is, there are 240 TM slots, and there are, at any given time, 215+ other ways to be active in Amherst’s government. These stats don’t even take into account the hundreds of residents who don’t serve on a committee but participate by attending forums (like the downtown one coming up), writing elected officials, boards and committees, or attending a meeting to make a public comment. All of those individuals are also active in Amherst government.

    2. Gabor and other Town Meeting supporters would do better to focus their energy and efforts on touting the benefits of the status quo, rather than trying to find ways to discredit those who support a new governance plan. Tell me why Town Meeting is more democratic than Town Council. Tell me how the community benefits more from the status quo. Don’t bother focusing on those who are calling for change, since we’re clearly in the majority, as evidenced by the results of the Charter Commission vote.

      Amherst For All initiated this effort in response to town-wide frustration with Town Meeting and our current way of managing the near- and long-term challenges we face as a community. We were tired of the nonchalant attitude that so many of our legislators demonstrated at their occasional sessions. We wanted real change in Amherst.

      At election time, both supporters of the status quo and proponents of a new plan both proffered “slates” of candidates. Unlike Town Meeting loyalist, we didn’t set a litmus test for the candidates we supported; we only asked that they look for ways to significantly improve our current structure. AFA-backed candidates won more seats because we were better organized and had the momentum of the winning Charter vote behind us.

      Nick, Mandi and the other Commissioners did yeomen’s work to pull of a good plan that aims to attract as many voters as possible to a plan that address the concerns we raised. You don’t have to like the final recommendations of the Amherst Charter Commission. Go ahead and pull out all the stops to tout the accomplishments of Town Meeting. But don’t bother attacking our efforts to support the new governance plan, as the personal attacks, scare tactics and fear mongering only underlines the weakness of your status quo arguments.

      Let’s have a serious and clean debate – Council or Meeting.

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    Thank you, Gabor, for your perceptive comment. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the hard work and civic-mindedness of the majority of Town Meeting members. It is the institution of Town Meeting that I don’t like, and the lack of voter choice among candidates or discussion of issues in a campaign. After considering your comment, I’ll try to make that distinction clearer in the future.
    I am hoping that many current Town Meeting members will be candidates for the Town Council. I don’t want them to feel resentful about the new form of government. Of course, Town Meeting is not monolithic; I have a growing list of about 40 current and former members who support the charter.
    The head of Amherst for All is Johanna Neumann, who is the New England regional director for Environment America. I assume you’re referring to Jerry Guidera, the acting director of the Chamber, who is repurposing an old building in Greenfield. We are working to promote democracy, not development. The Chamber is not an evil institution; it supports the interests of many people, from retail shop owners to professionals to entrepreneurs to home businesses. And by the way, Amherst for All gave as much support to Julia Rueschemeyer’s candidacy for Charter Commission as it did to mine, and Julia voted against the charter and is working against it.

  13. Nick you say: ” These are the kinds of trade-offs that should be debated fully in public by the people’s representatives, not decided in an hour by a largely self-appointed group that meets twice a year. When a democratically elected Town Council is in charge of zoning, it will be able to ponder the ramifications of proposed changes for weeks or months, and bring greater knowledge and public input to the decisions. Currently, Town Meeting members have to make far-reaching decisions in one night….. ”

    But here’s the real process we go through in Amherst with zoning (which I think you know but maybe not). The Zoning Subcommittee of the Planning Board develops zoning articles working with the Planning Department, then the Planning Board votes on whether to present put the zoning article on the Town Warrant. The public can weigh in on the zoning proposal and people do (who are often Town Meeting members). The zoning article is then put on the warrant and reviewed by the Select Board and Finance Committee. At Warrant Review the zoning article is presented, although it may also be presented at a special Zoning Warrant Review. Town Meeting members also often visit properties affected by the zoning article on a bus tour. The zoning article will also be discussed at Precinct/Warrant Review meetings held all over town, with Planning Board members there to present and answer questions. Zoning articles are often discussed on the Town Meeting listserv. (Residents can send their ideas to most Town Meeting members by email, phone call or letter. ) At Town Meeting, a Planning Board member will make a presentation, the Select Board offers its recommendation and reasons for it, and the Finance Committee also makes a recommendation. At that point, the floor is opened for discussion by Town Meeting members who ask questions, debate and finally vote. (And with the new Town Meeting Advisory Committee another layer of detailed review of impacts to the community will be added.) I think we all can agree that not only does a lot of consideration goes into a zoning article, but several branches of government vote on it. And this exactly is the system of checks and balances that is absent on your proposed 13 councilors. The council or the planning board (appointed by the council) will propose zoning articles and then the council will vote on them–and a vote that only can be set aside only with extraordinary citizen effort. A pretty closed system, no?

  14. Reading these comments, I am wondering why people are thinking that 13 councilors will always reflect the exact desires of the voters? Where does this happen? And if this is the goal why not go to a government system where that information can be ascertained easily and put into effect? Something like open town meeting?

    I am also hoping that readers of this blog and voters will see a profound difference between residents serving on a committee or board and 245+ people with actual power to make government decisions. This Charter proposal takes that power away from hundreds of Amherst citizens and puts it into the hands of 13 councilors. So the voices and political power of 245 Amherst citizens (over a 120 of them women) will be reduced by 95%.

    1. Hey, undecided voters… just do what the lawyer who is also a town meeting member tells you to do. Let her make your decisions for you. I mean, she’s already making all your decisions now anyway. Oh, just one question though, undecided voters… how many times in your life has a lawyer made a situation better? Well, then… I think you know what to do. 🙂

    2. I think the voices and political power of Amherst citizens, men and women will increase by 95% or more in the town council form of government… the voices and political power of citizens of all different cultures and income levels… citizens from all walks of life will increase by 95% by taking the power away from that small block of town meeting members who are running the show right now. And it’s not all town meeting members who are the problem. Many are just good-hearted citizens who want to see everyone get a fair shake. They have been diminished by the few town meeting members who have a stranglehold on the process and are making decisions that only they support. I think that the representative town meeting form of government was a good idea when it started and I’m betting it worked well for quite a while… until it stopped working well. Maybe it’s just degenerated into what it has become because of the human nature of a small group of people who get hold of a little power over others and don’t want to share it or ever give it up. I think that it will be a breath of fresh air to shine some light on how our government makes decisions and WHO is making them… and not by either dragging out the process until well-intentioned town meeting members can’t stay at the town meeting any longer into the night because they have to get home to take care of their kids or leave for a night shift job, so they aren’t able to vote… or rushing through the process and not letting opponents speak to something that is not favored by the that small group of power brokers who want to get to a vote quickly while they know they have the votes to pass it. The accountability of 13 town councilors that we elect will be front and center and if any such shenanigans are tried in a more easily identifiable setting, they will be immediately visible to all. I think undecided voters should look at all the facts and their own personal observations and experiences and vote their conscience. But don’t let anyone else tell you how to vote. Undecided voters can make up their own minds. There’s a lot of smart people in this town… and they’re not all professionals with six figure incomes… many are parents working in some cases two jobs so they can afford to live in Amherst and give their kids the benefit of a good education and a safe environment… they may not own their homes and they may not have a lot of prestigious degrees after their names, but they are smart enough to evaluate facts and use their own common sense to decide for themselves. Oh, and I have not seen any of them telling others what to do or think. Why don’t we all try giving them the same respect and courtesy that they are giving us?

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    I certainly don’t believe that the council “will always reflect the exact desires of the voters.” You’re twisting what I said. I said the council, if it has more of a mandate from voters than Town Meeting has, will be more likely to reflect those desires.
    Regarding open Town Meeting, if you sincerely believe that having more decision-makers is always better, then you should indeed favor this. It would get more people involved and would eliminate the problem of virtually meaningless Town Meeting elections. But it has problems of its own and we gave it up in 1938.
    Voters should have the final say over who makes decisions on their behalf. More than half of Town Meeting members can’t claim that. I would rather have 13 people with a mandate from a larger number of voters make the decisions than 180 (that’s the average number who actually show up) Town Meeting members, many of whom are self-appointed and many who lack an understanding of the full ramifications of what they’re voting on.
    As for the argument about women, Mandi will be dealing with this in an upcoming post.

  16. I thought, along with many other Town Meeting members who voted $30,000 for a consultant to the Charter Commission, that the Charter Commission would look at all forms of government, including changes and improvements to the Select Board-Limited Town Meeting-Town Manager form of government. Instead, the Charter Commission voted 5-4 against looking at this, which I was startled to hear.

    I would have been helpful to know what other towns do to encourage people to run for town offices, for example. In our work on the Subcommittee on Policies and Procedures for the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee, we’ve found it very useful to look at the practices of other successful towns, such at Brookline, Arlington, Concord, Wellesley, etc. For example, the Town of Milford is hosting a workshop on how to get involved in town government, covering “how government works in Milford, how to run for town meeting and other local offices, and how to get on boards like the finance committee and planning committee. It doesn’t take a fortune to get started, you don’t need an army of volunteers, and the work you do can make a real difference in our community.” Another idea is re-start the tradition (still going on in several precincts) of holding regular precinct meetings. Other towns post much more information about Select Board and Town Meeting members on their websites and SPP has been talking to town staff about how to do this. Information about candidates also could be posted. It’s clear to me that there are many things we could do, together as a town, to strengthen the functioning of our traditional government as has been done in the past– and that the Charter Commission should have studied types of changes, whether or not they involved charter change.

    1. I disagree with the claim going around, and that you make, that the Charter Commission didn’t look at improving the current Representative Town Meeting structure (you even say we voted against it, which I don’t believe is true, depending on what you mean by “vote against”.) In fact, we held several meetings where we discussed RTM and potential improvements. There was at least one meeting where a smaller RTM structure was discussed. As for me, I considered the possibility of improving an RTM structure, or even reverting back to OTM (I believe I was the only Commissioner who seriously considered that option).

      I read entire books on Town Meeting (some of the same ones Julia read). I read scholarly articles on Town Meeting (some about Amherst’s RTM specifically). I read scholarly articles on mayor forms, on council forms, on manager-council forms, on board of commissioner forms. If there was a form of government out there that had an article about it, I might have read it. In all, I probably read 3 full books and 20+ scholarly articles on governmental forms, their pros, their cons, comparisons between forms and outcomes.

      I thought, long and hard, about what could improve town meeting. In fact, I have charts about it. Some of the improvements I came up with are probably the same ones the SPP considered. Then, I took that “best TM form” (open, in my mind, but I also considered a “best” RTM) and compared it to mayor-council (and then manager-council). I looked at the pros and cons, the values we have, the improvements the public desired based on what many people said wasn’t working. Then, I made a judgement call—which one is better? My decision was a council form. Simply, there are some problems with a town form that cannot be rectified by any “improvement”—the main one being the warrant issuance and timing.

      I read a lot about Connecticut. I had email conversations with Julia about it. I looked into it (reading around 10 CT “first selectman” charters). I read the MGLs about city and town forms and the requirements to see if something like the CT form might be possible. I read the AG’s letter to the Town of Sharon saying their Charter Proposal was against the law, read the case law cited in that letter, and read what I could of their charter (I don’t think I ever found a complete copy). I compared what I found regarding CT form and what Sharon’s proposal was, to what Gerry and Julia were advocating and actually concluded that Gerry and Julia were not advocating for the traditional CT first selectman form, but one that is found in maybe only 1 or 2 towns in CT, and was very similar to what Sharon proposed and the AG said was not allowable. I concluded that it was not a feasible alternative due to the risk it presented that the AG would “strike it down” requiring the Commission to either put an “unlawful” charter to the voters or completely rework the charter to a new form in 30 days. Neither of those options were acceptable to me.

      Given all of that, a case cannot be made that I didn’t “look at all forms of government, including changes and improvements” to the current RTM form in Amherst.

      For a specific example of what the Commission did, as a whole, to consider improvements, see the link here: http://amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/Index/3049. At that meeting, the Commissioners were to come prepared to distribute a “compare-contrast” or “pro-con” list of the “best town meeting form” vs. the “best council form” they could think of. Notice, all minority members failed to list a single pro or con of a city form (many didn’t even discuss any potential “best city forms”) and all minority members failed to list a single con of the Town Meeting form. The minority, at that meeting, showed its true colors—keep TM at all costs, notwithstanding whether TM was the best form; they refused to even consider that a city form could have benefits to Amherst that a TM form could not provide (by the way, the minority members are the one who asked for that meeting to be held on specifically that topic). On the other hand, all majority members in attendance (Irv was in Florida) came with the full grid completed—listing both pros and cons for both systems, including an altered TM system. That meeting potentially shows the opposite of what Janet claims. The majority was willing to explore all possibilities, but the minority was not.

      The truth is that the majority explored the possibility of improving town meeting but ultimately reached the conclusion that even an improved town meeting was a worse system of government for Amherst going forward than a council-manager form. That, of course, is an opinion, and an opinion with which the minority disagrees. But reaching that conclusion doesn’t mean the majority failed to even consider improvements to a town meeting form. It just means that the majority feels that even the best town meeting form out there is still inferior to the Council-Manager charter put forth.

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      Meg Gage, the Charter Commission member who got many of the things she wanted in the charter but is now opposing it, had the opportunity to do something important to improve Town Meeting — and then backed off. She circulated a petition to ask Town Meeting to cut its size in half, which would have done a lot to give voters more choices of candidates. I signed her petition. But then she abandoned her effort, and Town Meeting never considered this potentially valuable reform.

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