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 dysfunctional the TM process appeared to be . Most towns would be happy to have a primary-care doctor’s office within walking distance of a neighborhood, but people testified on far-fetched issues, stating that I would be “dumping toxic waste” and that the only way to get to the office was through a residential neighborhood (not true, it is right off Route 9) and how primary-care doctors don’t make a lot of money, so “we wouldn’t get much tax money from her.” These things were actually said!
This made me start questioning the process. I realized I didn’t know who my representatives were or where they stood on the issues. I didn’t feel represented at all.
My medical building took two years longer than necessary to complete and my costs were driven up by $100,000. The property taxes on my building are $30,000 a year, so the town lost $60,000 in revenue. In my mind, the whole process was a lose-lose.
These things that happened made it clear to me that we need more centralized leadership. We need people elected who want to learn the governmental process, become informed of the issues and work in a collaborative manner with other representatives.
I often hear people say that the charter is pro-business. Well, I do run a small business. I provide medical care to Amherst families and I also live in this town, have had children in the Amherst school system, and care deeply about our community. I’m not a developer. I’m not Wal-mart. I’m a small-town Family Doctor who wants what is best for Amherst, which does include finding ways to keep our small local businesses and not drive them out of business (which I have watched happen in droves since living here!).
I’m against big development. I like Amherst’s small-town feel, and was dismayed to see that Town Meeting allowed those huge structures downtown. I hope that a smaller, well-informed leadership will take into account the needs of a diverse population, and I think it’s unlikely they will be pro-development, because they will be elected by Amherst voters. And I think a slick developer will be less able to push through a project if we had a more informed and active group of leaders.
I reviewed the basic concepts of the charter, and it looks like the best of all worlds, a smaller government that is more representative, meets regularly and hopefully stays informed of the issues they vote on, and if people aren’t happy they can be voted out. I originally wanted a mayor, like Northampton has, but now I see the advantages of having more voices than simply one.
This is a pivotal moment for Amherst. We’re in dire need of more effective leadership. The 13 council members will be from different parts of town, and the charter will allow for checks and balances but not be the utter chaos of Town Meeting, where everyone feels they need to speak.
I’m really excited about this opportunity for Amherst and I hope we are able to pass this well-crafted proposal.
If you agree with what Dr. Kate has written, please share her post with your Amherst friends and neighbors. If you are new to this blog and want to sample some of the 40 previous posts, click on “Posts” above.