This guest post is by Julie Marcus, co-founder of New England Environmental and now a principal at SWCA Environmental Consultants.
I am an Amherst Town Meeting member, and I urge Amherst voters to vote in favor of the new Charter, which was diligently and carefully crafted by a diverse group of people from our community. It is a model of compromise and it will see us into the next century.
We residents all want the same things for our community: shared prosperity in the form of decent jobs at all income levels, good infrastructure, excellent schools, caring human services, and reliable public safety. Where we disagree is in how this will be achieved.
There can be no argument that thriving communities have thriving economies, and they depend on private investment and a robust tax base. Town Meeting’s dismaying antipathy toward people who are willing to take risks and invest in our community, and the businesses and projects they propose, threatened both.
This affects not only Main Street, but also housing prices, job opportunities, and the delivery of town services. Investors depend on a predictable regulatory environment, regardless of the actual regulations themselves.
As the former president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, and as someone who has worked hard to attract new business to Amherst, and convince existing businesses to stay, the single biggest reason cited for locating elsewhere is the anti-business sentiment of Town Meeting. I want to live in a town with families and young professionals, retirees and students, a cross-section of every part of the population, with neighbors of all ages and incomes. All of these require jobs, affordable homes, services, and schools.
The single greatest responsibility of local government is the education of its youth. With the Town Meeting vote against the schools, we failed the young families in this town, and we should not be surprised that Amherst is no longer as attractive a place to raise children. Our charge was to decide on the responsible allocation of funds for projects presented to us by the School Committee, not to make pedagogy decisions.
Town Meeting’s decision to reject $34 million in state matching money for new elementary schools was an astonishing act of fiscal irresponsibility. If Town Meeting were truly representative, the school vote would have passed, just as it did in the public vote.
We have an amazingly competent and dedicated group of town employees who could be better utilized if we had a more timely, efficient and predictable governmental structure. They are the unsung heroes of this town.
Municipal government is not a hobby. My fellow Town Meeting members often do not understand the complexity of the issues that come before us. They have a hard time focusing on the issues, the structure is not deliberative, and a very few members take up a huge amount of speaking time, giving a very narrow range of opinions and ideas.
Town Meeting members may be elected with just one vote, they are not required to represent their constituents, and there is no built in feedback loop. I support the Charter’s proposal for a 13-member Town Council because it would solve all of these issues, and better represent all of Amherst’s needs in the future.
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