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Many voices saying ‘Yes’: Part 2

“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.” (Julie Marcus) “What IS at risk in this referendum is the power of a relatively small group of town meeting members who have been able to wield that power for years by directing debates and manipulating the rules.” (Bob Rakoff) “We have never reaped the benefit …

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Amherst’s Town Meeting Leaves 37,000 Residents Out in the Cold

Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting is not like the traditional idea many people have of town meetings — that Norman Rockwell painting, where anyone can stand up, speak and vote. That’s Open Town Meeting, and it’s pretty much only found in small towns – places like Pelham, Hadley, and Leverett. Let me give you an example: A few years ago, New Salem had a warrant article on whether to bring broadband access to the town. Friends of mine were really interested in seeing that happen. So, they showed up at Town Meeting and voted. They’d never showed up to a Town …

Many voices saying ‘yes’: Part 1

This is the first of three posts that recall memorable quotations from supporters of Amherst’s new charter. Click on the names to read the full statements. “We’ll be voting ‘yes’ on the adoption of the charter on March 27, because we believe accountability is one of the most important issues driving this vote.” (Ellen Story, John Olver and Nancy Eddy) “Residents don’t know the political priorities of their Town Meeting members. Town Meeting members don’t know the political priorities of the electorate.” (Alisa Brewer) “When I had occasion to attend Town Meeting, I was discouraged to see how ineffective it …

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Bringing the Legislature out into the open

Transparency, openness, and accountability are three hallmarks of representative democracy. The proposed Council-Manager structure does better on these three matters than our current Representative Town Meeting. One of the League of Women Voters’ Principles of Good Government is that “adherence to open meeting law must be strictly maintained.” The proposed charter observes this principle. Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting does not. The Town Council will be subject to open meeting laws and conflict of interest laws, requiring councilors to deliberate and discuss the issues out in the open and to disclose conflicts when they arise. This means that Councilors will not …

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‘Municipal government is not a hobby’

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 …

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Three women explain their ‘Yes’ votes

This first statement is from Alex Lefebvre, an elected member of the Jones Library Board of Trustees. Town Meeting is a New England tradition that has been used for over 300 years. Like other New England towns, Amherst was a historically white community. In 1938, as Amherst’s population grew to over 6,400, Amherst changed its form of government from Open Town Meeting, in which every citizen had a voice, to Representative Town Meeting.  While this model no longer provided every eligible voter a direct voice at Town Meeting, the population was still homogeneous and a representative model worked. In fact, …

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C’mon, Amherst, we’re better than this

When Amherst voters are asked to approve a new form of government March 27, they will also be asked to reject personal attacks and fear-mongering. The leaders of the “No” campaign, who are mostly Town Meeting members, have been using scare tactics and misleading statements for some time (See “Top Ten Questionable ‘No’ Arguments”). But they have descended to the kind of negative campaigning that you associate with national politics, not with Amherst. For those voters who are undecided about the charter, these tactics may convince them that the “no” campaign doesn’t deserve to win this vote. Even if you …

Charter Questions Answered Part II

I have seen some changes to our downtown that I don’t like. Under the new Charter, would we have more of this kind of change? The Charter seeks to promote democracy, not development. Under the new Charter, the voters will choose Council members, who will bring their understanding of what the voters want to decisions on the master plan, zoning changes, and Planning Board membership. If voters don’t like what Councilors decide, they have an opportunity every two years to throw them out. So the rules for future development in Amherst will better reflect the public will. Remember, recent changes …

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Checks and Balances – Revisited

The proponents of the status quo like to reference the federal government’s legislative, executive and judicial branches, then point to the proposed charter and claim it is flawed because there aren’t similarly separate branches. Well, guess what? Municipal government is not like the federal system.  For one thing, Amherst doesn’t have a judicial branch, and probably never will. The proposed council-manager system is the most widely used form of municipal government in the country for towns with 10,000 people or more. It is not some weird experiment. It dates back to Progressive-era reforms designed to balance professional management with elected …

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A town where council-manager works

To find out how a council-manager system works, I met recently with one of the most experienced municipal officials in Massachusetts. His name is Jeffrey Nutting (shown in photo), and since 2001 he’s been the administrator of Franklin (population 32,065), a town with the same governmental system that’s proposed for Amherst. He has been the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and has been the manager of Medway and Stoneham and the interim manager of 11 other towns, all with Town Meeting systems. Nutting knows his stuff. And Franklin’s council-manager system has made great progress on some major challenges that …