2

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 …

5

Improving the Charter – Regularly

  By now, if you’ve read the charter or followed the conversation, you probably have found things you like about it and things you think could be improved. Maybe you think the Charter Commission forgot to put something in. If the charter passes, can it be changed? And if so, how and when? The answer is yes, if the charter passes, it can subsequently be amended. State law governs the process. In general, amending the charter requires an act of Town Council. If Town Council passes an amendment by a 2/3rd vote, it goes to the voters for final adoption. This …

16

A Response to Jim Oldham’s Finance Concerns

UPDATED As usual, Jim Oldham’s recent Amherst Bulletin column forgets to compare the proposed charter to the current government structure. Why is that important? Because on March 28, Amherst will either still operate under the current system or will have adopted a new system. If something doesn’t exist in either system, Amherst won’t have it on March 28, no matter what. Why do I keep pointing this out? First, because Oldham, and many other charter opponents, keep arguing that the proposed charter doesn’t have a mayor. Guess what? Neither does the current system! If you vote “no,” you won’t have …

8

Not This Charter Amherst – Refuted

As fans of Hamilton will know, there is a point in the musical where Hamilton refutes Farmer Seabury as he barks from the top of a box: “Heed not the rabble who scream revolution, They have not your interests at heart.” Nick and I have already addressed all six of the opposition’s reasons to vote no. I summarize them here, and link to the more extensive posts. It’s your one-stop shop for answers. Reason #1: The Charter will “Eliminate Checks and Balances in Government.” It’s surprising to me that they even make this argument when the current system, the system …

4

How much will the new system cost?

While voters kick the tires of Amherst’s proposed Town Council system, it is natural that they want to know how much it will cost. Working with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, members of the Charter Commission studied this question. While some of the numbers we came up with are certainties, there are some that can only be estimated. But the bottom line is that while the new system will cost a little more than the current one, the difference will be inconsequential. The small increase will have little or no impact on property taxes, unlike many actions taken by Town Meeting. …

1

Comparing the Ballots

  You may be wondering, won’t the proposed Charter make the ballots longer? And won’t moving to bi-annual elections be less democratic? The answer to both questions is no. Why? Because, for elections, the current system is more complicated, less frequent for each official, and offers less accountability. In addition, the number of candidates on the ballot each spring is often the same or greater than what will happen under the proposed Charter. Why is the current system less frequent when elections are held yearly? Because each official only runs every three years. So, as a voter, you only get …

6

Community Participation Officer Explained

Participation in government by the residents of Amherst is extremely important. And that participation can take many forms. The simplest and possibly least involved is voting. It is also one of the most important, as it is the best way to gauge the public’s opinion on the issues raised in campaigns1. But there are many other ways to participate — running for office, writing letters, attending meetings and joining a board or committee.2 But how does a resident know what’s happening and what openings there are? And, how do Town officials make sure that the residents who are interested in …

9

Checks and Balances – Let’s Compare

As we have noted previously, opponents have made a number of misleading claims about the new government proposal. The latest exaggeration is that the new system lacks “checks and balances.” This claim is particularly misleading because it implies that our current system has checks and balances that will be lost if the new charter is adopted. However, our current system has practically no checks and balances at all. No matter how you vote in March, Amherst won’t have a government that allows the executive branch to veto the actions of the legislative branch. Arguing that one should vote “no” on …

2

Going from Precincts to Districts

We’ve addressed the reasons behind moving to 5 districts. But, how did the Charter Commission decide which precincts to combine into districts? Well, by looking at the options. Believe it or not, there are only 9 ways to combine our 10 precincts into 5 districts with the requirement that the combined precincts must touch (and not by being “catty-corner”). I was curious, so I actually colored the 9 options.  This visual aid was of tremendous help. It highlighted that some combinations look “gerrymandered” and others look more “natural”. So how did we pick the final combination? By talking about what …

16

Ranked Choice Voting: a new way to vote

  If you’ve followed state, national, or local politics at all during the last year, you may have heard about Ranked Choice Voting and a number of initiatives to implement it. Cambridge, MA uses it. Maine just passed it. Here’s a primer on what it is, why it’s important, and why the Charter Commission put it in the proposed Charter the way it did. What is Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Run-Off Voting and Single-Transferable Voting)? Imagine there are 8 people running for the 3 at-large Councilor seats in the new charter. In our current system, called block …