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Is Town Meeting really why our schools are so great?

Michael Greenebaum, spokesman for Not This Charter, a group opposing the new charter in Tuesday’s election, has attempted to make the case that Town Meeting is the key to our strong schools, despite its rejection of $34 million in state funding for our elementary school buildings last year. Accordingly, Not This Charter has heavily promoted this argument through social media channels, with headlines that proclaim “TOWN MEETING FORMS OF GOVERNMENT ARE BETTER FOR SCHOOLS,” as a March 19 Facebook promotion said. You can read the argument yourself at https://michaelgreenebaum.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-necessity-of-town-meeting-up-til.html. If you believe that, I have some other amazing correlations that …

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Many voices saying ‘yes,’ Part 3

This is the last in a series of three posts recalling memorable quotes from “yes” supporters. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2. “In one depressing way, our town is just like the rest of the nation: We’re having trouble with this democracy thing…People at Town Meeting make choices based on gut feelings about right and wrong, regardless of whether those impulses are conflicting. I still love living here but worry that we are becoming ungovernable.” (Charles Mann, author of “1491” and other books) “On average, a board that knows the details well enough to be able to …

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Jim Wald endorses ‘yes’ vote on charter, making Select Board unanimous

With this guest post, Select Board member Jim Wald makes it unanimous; all five board members are urging a “yes” vote on Amherst’s new charter next Tuesday. Back in 2010, when I was a Town Meeting member and friends suggested I run for Select Board, I had to ask myself some tough questions: Was I able to put in the necessary time? And did I know enough: possess not only knowledge of Town government, but also the capacity for growth (there would be a lot to learn) and judgment — knowing when to raise critical challenges versus accept the conclusions …

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Town Meeting does not mean more democracy or representation

This guest post was written by Ray La Raja, a professor of political science at UMass, and graduate student Wouter Van Erve. Supporters of Town Meeting (TM) argue that it provides more democracy and better representation. We cast doubt on these claims, based on research and statistics in Amherst. TM is more democratic only if you believe that the participation of 240 citizens counts more than participation of voters. Town Meeting government depresses turnout. In Amherst, average turnout from 2011 to 2016 has been 11 percent of registered voters (lower if one uses eligible voters). Across Massachusetts it is 21 …

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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 …

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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‘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, …

Story, Olver, Eddy support ‘yes’ vote

This guest post was written by Ellen Story, Amherst’s former state representative, John Olver, Amherst’s former congressional representative, and Nancy Eddy, a former Select Board chair and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. As former elected representatives who served the people of Amherst for a combined total of more than 80 years, we have followed closely the debate over the proposed changes to town government. This town-wide conversation has touched on a number of fundamentally important issues. How do we define “representation”? How should our local democracy function? How can we better ensure that all voices are heard? Questions like …

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Checks and balances and budgets

This guest post is written by Andy Steinberg, a member of the Select Board and former Finance Committee member. Proponents of continuing government with Town Meeting and a Select Board have said that the proposed charter does not have two distinct elected branches of government, a “legislative” and “administrative,” and therefore lacks checks and balances.  The discussion of checks and balances is misleading, because the current charter has no checks and balances between Town Meeting and the Select Board, and because municipalities are not required to have separate legislative and administrative bodies. In our current government, bylaws and budgets are …