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Improving the Charter – Regularly

  By now, if you’ve read the charter or followed the conversation, you probably have found things you like about it and things you think could be improved. Maybe you think the Charter Commission forgot to put something in. If the charter passes, can it be changed? And if so, how and when? The answer is yes, if the charter passes, it can subsequently be amended. State law governs the process. In general, amending the charter requires an act of Town Council. If Town Council passes an amendment by a 2/3rd vote, it goes to the voters for final adoption. This …

Kay Moran: Why I support new charter

Before retiring in 2003, I covered Amherst’s Town Hall and Town Meeting for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I have been a member of Town Meeting since 2005 (also for three years in the early 1970s), and I served on the  Finance Committee for 12 years and chaired it for three. So I have a pretty good understanding of how Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting works. It is not representative of the town’s residents, as anyone watching a session can see. Proportionately, there are many more white heads and white faces – including mine – than in the general population. It doesn’t …

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Follow the money – and the endorsements

Amherst residents who are undecided about our town’s new charter should look at who’s supporting each side – with their endorsements and their dollars. On the “yes” side, supporters include current and former Select Board and School Committee members, our longtime state representative, and our longtime Congressman. These people have been elected to represent us, they’ve given of themselves in service to Amherst for years, and they know how government works. In addition, more than 100 current and former members of Town Meeting know how it works all too well, and want a different system. Amherst for All, the group …

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Dr. Kate Atkinson on why she’ll vote ‘yes’

This guest post was written by Dr. Kate Atkinson, an Amherst primary-care physician. When I first moved to Amherst, nearly 20 years ago, I liked the idea of Town Meeting. It seemed a way to make sure that every voice was heard. But when I had occasion to attend, I was discouraged to see how ineffective it was. There were complicated issues to discuss, and TM members didn’t seem to have read the materials but rather mostly commented on what other people said. When I decided to build a new doctors’ office in town, I was truly appalled at how …

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A Response to Jim Oldham’s Finance Concerns

UPDATED As usual, Jim Oldham’s recent Amherst Bulletin column forgets to compare the proposed charter to the current government structure. Why is that important? Because on March 28, Amherst will either still operate under the current system or will have adopted a new system. If something doesn’t exist in either system, Amherst won’t have it on March 28, no matter what. Why do I keep pointing this out? First, because Oldham, and many other charter opponents, keep arguing that the proposed charter doesn’t have a mayor. Guess what? Neither does the current system! If you vote “no,” you won’t have …

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Not This Charter Amherst – Refuted

As fans of Hamilton will know, there is a point in the musical where Hamilton refutes Farmer Seabury as he barks from the top of a box: “Heed not the rabble who scream revolution, They have not your interests at heart.” Nick and I have already addressed all six of the opposition’s reasons to vote no. I summarize them here, and link to the more extensive posts. It’s your one-stop shop for answers. Reason #1: The Charter will “Eliminate Checks and Balances in Government.” It’s surprising to me that they even make this argument when the current system, the system …

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How much will the new system cost?

While voters kick the tires of Amherst’s proposed Town Council system, it is natural that they want to know how much it will cost. Working with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, members of the Charter Commission studied this question. While some of the numbers we came up with are certainties, there are some that can only be estimated. But the bottom line is that while the new system will cost a little more than the current one, the difference will be inconsequential. The small increase will have little or no impact on property taxes, unlike many actions taken by Town Meeting. …

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Comparing the Ballots

  You may be wondering, won’t the proposed Charter make the ballots longer? And won’t moving to bi-annual elections be less democratic? The answer to both questions is no. Why? Because, for elections, the current system is more complicated, less frequent for each official, and offers less accountability. In addition, the number of candidates on the ballot each spring is often the same or greater than what will happen under the proposed Charter. Why is the current system less frequent when elections are held yearly? Because each official only runs every three years. So, as a voter, you only get …

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Peter Demling urges ‘yes’ vote on charter

This guest post was written by Amherst School Committee member Peter Demling. I encourage you to join me on March 27 in voting Yes for the new town charter. It is the most positive thing we can do for the future of our town and our schools. The charter provides us with two key elements missing in our government today: a structure to ensure informed decision-making, and a direct line of clear accountability to the general public. The need to improve how informed our decision-makers are became apparent last year during the Town Meeting discussion and vote on the school …

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A war of words in a campaign of ideas

The two sides of Amherst’s charter debate don’t just disagree on what the form of government should be. They disagree on the meaning of some key words. Take “representative.” When speaking of “Representative Town Meeting,” charter opponents don’t mean that members represent the citizens in their precincts. They mean that the group is large enough to be representative of all views. Most Town Meeting members don’t treat residents of their precincts as constituents. They rarely solicit views, most aren’t elected based on their positions, and many don’t even want residents to contact them. If you have a pothole or a …