There’s been too much mistrust and partisanship in Amherst this year. As we approach an important election for our first Town Council, voters need to exercise informed judgment, debate should be civil and factual, and candidates should respect their opponents.
When the Town Council is sworn in on Dec. 2, I hope the members can put aside the disputes over the charter and the elementary school project. On the big questions the Town Council will have to address – such as how to prioritize public building projects, how to spend taxpayers’ money, and what to do about downtown parking – I hope there will be no fixed pro-charter and anti-charter positions.
I expect that once the Town Council meets, past divisions will evaporate and we’ll have new disagreements over policy. I expect that new coalitions will form, and that’s a good thing. If we’re going to solve our problems, we need everyone on board and contributing their experience, knowledge and insights.
I was disappointed that in the two slates of candidates I’ve seen, one contained only pro-charter candidates and the other only anti-charter candidates. It will soon be time to relegate the past to the past and work together to brainstorm what’s best for Amherst’s future.
To do that, we will need Town Council members who can work collaboratively with those holding differing perspectives. Numerous candidates have demonstrated this bridge-building inclination in conversations with me.
Voters should exercise independent judgment on Tuesday. Don’t feel obliged to vote for all the candidates on a particular slate. Look for those people who can work well with others. Don’t forget that although fresh perspectives are great, knowledge of how town government works is also important.
Each of us can promote unity in town by listening to people from the “other side” and acknowledging their sincerity. My own perspective has been broadened by the dialogue I’ve had on this blog and by email with Ira Bryck, who approaches issues with intelligence, facts and research. When we disagree, it’s done respectfully, and paying attention to his opinions has caused me to moderate some of my beliefs.
But I was distressed to see at-large candidate Rob Kusner’s lawn signs asking voters to give them their second vote. A politically astute person, having seen these signs, asked me somewhat sheepishly how many at-large candidates she can vote for. The answer is three, not two. We need to clarify issues for voters, not confuse them.
And some misleading statements about downtown development and Amherst Forward remind me of anti-charter arguments such as “The council will be dominated by men” and “Candidates will need big donations from developers.” Both have been shown to be untrue. I expect that there will be between seven and 10 women on the 13-member council. And I know of three candidates who returned donations from a developer. (What candidates have needed is a lot of time and energy, not a lot of money.)
I’ve heard some responsible criticism of the tall buildings downtown and of Amherst Forward, but I’ve also heard some misinformation. Let’s get clear about some things.
No, the tall buildings were not “fast-tracked.” No, the Planning Board wasn’t responsible for the fifth stories (that was Town Meeting). No, the board couldn’t control the overall style of the buildings. No, Town Council members will not be able to issue or deny waivers of the Zoning Bylaw. No, major development decisions have not been made in “lame-duck legislative sessions.”
No, Amherst Forward is not the same group as the pro-charter Amherst for All. No, candidates endorsed by the group are not using VAN, the voter-targeting app that was used in the charter campaign. No, the group is not paying for lawn signs or giving money to candidates. No, it did not pay for voter data. No, the endorsed candidates will not be required to act in “lockstep.”
And no, I am not an “Amherst Forward insider,” as columnist Jim Oldham claimed in last week’s Bulletin. I have not been at any of their organizational meetings, and I have not done any canvassing or phoning. I have criticized some of their decisions, and I have praised some candidates the group didn’t endorse. (Reading Oldham’s falsehood about me made me wonder how much of the rest of what he wrote is true.)
It is not surprising that I’m more aware of misleading statements made by people I tend to disagree with. If there have been other misleading statements, I want to hear about them.