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Top Ten Things To Like About Charter

Last week I wrote about 10 questionable arguments of charter opponents. This week I’m keeping it positive. Here are 10 positive things that Amherst residents will notice if they approve the new charter on March 27. 10. Residents can call meetings. Whenever you have a specific concern about town government, the schools or the library system, and can get 200 residents to write in support, the appropriate elected board is required to hold an open meeting to discuss your concern (provided it’s something the board can act on). 9. November elections. Most people are accustomed to going to the polls …

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Checks and balances and budgets

This guest post is written by Andy Steinberg, a member of the Select Board and former Finance Committee member. Proponents of continuing government with Town Meeting and a Select Board have said that the proposed charter does not have two distinct elected branches of government, a “legislative” and “administrative,” and therefore lacks checks and balances.  The discussion of checks and balances is misleading, because the current charter has no checks and balances between Town Meeting and the Select Board, and because municipalities are not required to have separate legislative and administrative bodies. In our current government, bylaws and budgets are …

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School maintenance costs provide evidence that Town Meeting is failing us

It’s not what Town Meeting has done that’s the problem. The problem is what it hasn’t, can’t or won’t do. The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s recent article, “Amherst faces big bills for upkeep of schools,” is maddening, partly because it’s so predictable. Those of us who supported the school buildings project wanted to provide our children and their teachers with safe, healthy, up-to-date buildings that are conducive to learning. We warned, over the course of a long campaign to merely convince our town to accept $34 million in state matching funds, that the costs of delaying would be significant.  We didn’t …

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What I love about Amherst isn’t at risk

So I got a postcard in the mail today. Maybe you got it too. It said the proposed charter “threatens everything we love about Amherst,” and that “everything you love about Amherst will be up for a vote.” And I thought, “Wow!” Is this what conversation in our town has devolved into? But beyond that, I wonder, what does the opposition think a council-manager structure threatens? Because I love a lot about Amherst, and most of what I love has nothing to do with the existence of Representative Town Meeting. I love the Community Fair. I love the Block Party …

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Fear and Loathing in Amherst

This post is in two parts. First, Sarah Marshall writes that charter opponents are trying to frighten Amherst voters. Second, Nick Grabbe describes how opponent Michael Burkart tried to generate fear in Tuesday’s televised debate. Be afraid, be very afraid. That appears to be the Fox News-like strategy of the Amherst anti-charter groups – invent so many outlandish, terrible, what-if scenarios about Amherst’s future that sensible people are too alarmed even to read the proposed charter. I am reminded of my nights at summer camp, when we girls would tell horror stories in the dark – stories we knew were …

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Top Ten Questionable ‘No’ Arguments

Opponents of Amherst’s new charter have put forward a series of questionable arguments to try to convince residents to vote to keep the status quo on March 27. In the spirit of David Letterman and Top 40 radio, I am counting them down here. 10. “Everything I love about Amherst is at stake.” If the charter passes, we will still have excellent teachers, dedicated public safety workers, abundant land protected from development, and a wide range of cultural opportunities. Amherst will still be Amherst. The biggest change is that we will have decision-makers who are accountable to voters and fully …

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Empowering voters, inspiring participation

The core function of democratic government is to represent the will of the people. But the Charter Commission repeatedly heard that in our current form of government, many town residents don’t feel represented, don’t know who to call with input or concerns, and don’t feel like they can influence public decision-making unless they themselves participate in long, time-consuming meetings. The new Charter strengthens the ability of our government to represent all of us. Representing residents overall (not just those with time to go to meetings). In our current form of government, the 240 residents with time to participate in Town …

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Town Meeting and our core values

The writer of this guest post worked in the Amherst Planning Department from 1997 to 2007 and coordinated the Master Plan process. He is now senior physical planner at UMass. So many times over the past 20 years I have wanted to hold up a big mirror in Town Meeting. I’d like to ask members to take a good look at themselves. I call the Town Meeting system a Tyranny of Those with Time. Members do not fully recognize that their goals are shared by many of us, but they don’t understand how to sustain them financially. That lack of …

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A Better Government for a Better Amherst

  Amherst is a pretty great place to live right now. So you may be asking yourself, why move away from Town Meeting? After all, it seems to have served Amherst well. My response: because Amherst can do better. And the proposed charter will move us in that better direction. Let’s first acknowledge that much of what we love about Amherst has little, if anything, to do with our Representative Town Meeting form of government. The summer farmer’s market, the Taste of Amherst, the Amherst Cinema, the fair on the Common, and Atkins Market. All of these beloved events and …

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Democracy and Town Meeting

This post is in two parts. First, Amherst resident Sarah Marshall challenges charter opponents’ claim that Town Meeting provides “more democracy.” Second, Nick Grabbe looks at the March 27 Town Meeting ballot, in which a majority of seats will be uncontested. “More democracy, not less” is one of the rallying cries of the supporters of Amherst’s current Town Meeting structure. Apparently, they believe that because the charter proposes to replace the 240-member Town Meeting with a 13-member Town Council, democracy will be weakened if the charter passes. I strongly disagree. If all it takes to have a democratic system is …