In the next 10 days, there will be two public events at which both sides of the charter campaign can come together and talk about the future of our town.
Each event has been organized by two members of the Charter Commission, on opposite sides, in a spirit of bipartisanship. Gerry Weiss and I have been involved in planning a community dialogue at the Jones Library next Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. And on June 12, Meg Gage and Tom Fricke will lead a discussion of the fine points of the new charter at 7 p.m. in the Bangs Community Center.
I have written previously about Amherst Connects, the community dialogue on Wednesday, and there is a front-page story about it in the Amherst Bulletin this week. So I won’t say much about it here.
This is a rare opportunity to engage with one’s neighbors in a dialogue facilitated by two experts at bringing people together. One of them, Paula Green, has decades of experience forging connections between opposing groups all over the world, most recently between Leverett and a county in eastern Kentucky. The other, Pat Romney, has led dialogues on controversial topics in Amherst before. Both have volunteered their time to help us recover from the divisive charter campaign and seek common ground. Participants should enter the library Wednesday from the rear door.
An announcement of the June 12 meeting begins with this line: “We’re moving forward with a new government and must learn to create new ways of being involved.”
It will focus on three aspects of the new charter: community participation in government, transparency/communication, and elections.
The meeting will promote participation in the three annual public forums mandated by the charter, on the budget, the master plan, and the schools, and on neighborhood meetings with councilors. It will explain how residents can directly affect decisions through petitions, initiatives and the new “voter veto” provision. It will ask how to increase incentives for the public to participate in government.
The segment on transparency/communication will address how residents can learn about what’s happening at the Town Council. Can we rely on Gazette coverage? Could there be additional programming on Amherst Media, the public-access TV station? I will be there to talk about this blog.
One aim of the charter is to increase voter participation, by holding debates among multiple Town Council candidates and by holding elections in November. The June 12 meeting will brainstorm ways to encourage residents of diverse backgrounds to run, and whether there should be enhanced roles for the League of Women Voters and neighborhood groups.
There will be an explanation of the complex system of Ranked Choice Voting, and the role of the new community participation officer. The meeting will address the two-year election cycles and the cost of campaigning.
“This is neither a pro- nor anti-charter event,” the announcement reads. “It is merely a community conversation about aspects of the new government that we think Amherst residents most need to understand.”
Meg Gage, one of the organizers, is a person I have known and admired for decades. She and I tried, unsuccessfully, to forge a compromise on the Charter Commission, and wound up differing on the recommendation. I’d like to end by quoting a remark she made on the night of the election March 27, speaking for the defeated charter opponents.
“The new government will be assembling itself over the next nine months, and we pledge our cooperation in that effort,” she said. “There’s a huge challenge now facing all of us to try to make the best out of this we can.”
That’s the kind of attitude we need if we want to move Amherst forward.