5

Resident Petitions, Initiatives, and Vetoes

We’re going to take you back for a few posts to the meat of the Charter and continue to explain what’s in it. Today, I’m going to talk about all the legalese in Article 8, Public Participation Mechanisms. The Commission added a right to an Open Meeting of the Residents. Any 200 residents (not just registered voters) can gather together to force the Council, School Committee, or Library Trustees to hold a meeting on a specific topic. The residents must be allowed to speak at the meeting. Basically, it’s a way to force a conversation on a specific topic between …

1

Charter Enables Better Participation

Participation is the key to democracy. We’ve all heard people say it, but what does it actually mean? And, how does the new Charter enable better participation of Amherst’s residents? Ideally, meaningful participation brings the public into the process, beginning at issue framing and ending at decision making.  Authentic, meaningful participation involves residents in decision-making instead of just judging. So, what prevents someone from participating? Time and knowledge are two of the main ones. A person’s time is limited, so whether it’s standing in line to vote or attending meetings, the more time one activity takes, the less time a …

2

In Elections, Predictability is Good

To be successful, local government needs to be accessible to everyone. Elections and term lengths have an important role in this. Whether a voter follows local government closely or not, a person should be able to easily answer these questions when asked: when are Amherst’s local elections and what offices will be on the ballot? Knowing these answers increases the likelihood of actually voting. And, currently, I don’t believe most of our 15,000+ voters can answer them correctly. Predictability creates accessibility and helps increase turnout. And, turnout is important. A democracy succeeds when as many voters as possible weigh in …

Getting from here to there

If the voters adopt the proposed Charter, how do we get from a Town Meeting / Select Board / Manager government to a Town Council / Manager government? The answer lies in Article 10 of the Charter, but the technical language and all the subparts make it hard to see the big picture. So, here’s your guide to the transition. March 27, 2018: Charter Election. This is the same day the Town will elect its annual slate of officials: 80 Town Meeting members, 1 Moderator, 1 Select Board member, 2 School Committee members, 2 Library Trustees, 1 Oliver Smith Will …

8

Council Duties

  What’s a Town Council do? It’s a fair question to ask, especially since many people can’t describe the current split of duties in our current government. So, here’s a quick guide. Money The Town Council will be responsible for approving the annual budget for Amherst, the Library and the elementary Schools. It will also be responsible for allocating money for the Middle and High Schools. (Votes on the budgets for the schools are based upon the recommended budgets approved by the School Committtees) These duties are currently the responsibility of Town Meeting. Bylaws The Town Council will pass or …

6

Thirteen is Right for Amherst

Thirteen may seem really small when moving from a Town Meeting membership of 254, but it’s actually on the large size for a council. And, for Amherst, that large council size is a size that fits. A Council should have members that are looking out for the whole town and members that are focused on their own “slice” of the Town. The Charter Commission’s proposal does that. There will be 3 at-large councilors elected by all the Town’s voters—like the School Committee, Library Trustees or current Select Board. Those Councilors will necessarily come to the Council with a view of …

1

Control Your Own Agenda

We have a legislature that doesn’t set its own agenda. Think about that. The law-making body in Amherst does not decide what or when to discuss, consider, or vote on measures. Someone else does. The Town Council, as proposed in the Charter, however, will have that authority. This is an important difference. Town Council will set its own agenda. The Town Council will meet regularly, likely biweekly, but at least monthly, similar to the Select Board. It will set its own meeting times. Town Meeting cannot. The Council will place matters on its own agenda for consideration. It can decide …