9

School maintenance costs provide evidence that Town Meeting is failing us

It’s not what Town Meeting has done that’s the problem. The problem is what it hasn’t, can’t or won’t do. The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s recent article, “Amherst faces big bills for upkeep of schools,” is maddening, partly because it’s so predictable. Those of us who supported the school buildings project wanted to provide our children and their teachers with safe, healthy, up-to-date buildings that are conducive to learning. We warned, over the course of a long campaign to merely convince our town to accept $34 million in state matching funds, that the costs of delaying would be significant.  We didn’t …

12

Follow the money – and the endorsements

Amherst residents who are undecided about our town’s new charter should look at who’s supporting each side – with their endorsements and their dollars. On the “yes” side, supporters include current and former Select Board and School Committee members, our longtime state representative, and our longtime Congressman. These people have been elected to represent us, they’ve given of themselves in service to Amherst for years, and they know how government works. In addition, more than 100 current and former members of Town Meeting know how it works all too well, and want a different system. Amherst for All, the group …

33

Who approved those tall buildings?

  It’s amazing to me that some Town Meeting supporters are pointing to the size of the two new buildings at the northern end of downtown as reasons for retaining the current political system. The size of these buildings was approved under the current system! That’s right, five stories in this part of town are allowed because of a Town Meeting vote in 2013. There are some questions about that vote, and I’ll get to them. But first, let me speak to those who don’t like the appearance of Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant, which is under construction. Whether …

19

Many charter opponents are Town Meeting members. Why am I not surprised?

As we spent months listening to Amherst residents tell us what they wanted the Charter Commission to do, we noticed an interesting thing:  most of the people who were vocal about keeping Town Meeting were Town Meeting members themselves. When you think about it, it’s not surprising if a majority of Town Meeting insiders favor keeping the status quo. It is, after all, their power base. They are comfortable with a vision of democracy in which 240 people govern the town (actually, an average of only 180 show up), and some will tell you it doesn’t matter how they’re chosen, …

10

North Amherst Library: Needed Improvements Supersede Public Process

The North Amherst Library needs improvements. I don’t think anyone in town would disagree. But should those improvements be a top priority? Are they so dire that they need to jump to the head of the long list of capital projects? Are the improvements so critical that it’s necessary to skip the public input and planning process? Town Meeting apparently thinks so, because that’s exactly what they approved last Monday.  A group of residents who call themselves “Friends of the North Amherst Library” and headed by former Library Trustee Pat Holland brought a petition article to Town Meeting seeking $50,000 …

11

Zero energy: Great goal, hasty action

  Town Meeting voted to rush through an important new policy last Wednesday despite a Select Board warning of a “potential for deep consequences,” a plea for caution echoed by three other boards. My support for bold action on climate change, and my own low-energy lifestyle, make me no less concerned about how this issue was decided. I think it illustrates a fundamental flaw of the Town Meeting system. The proposal was to require that all new town buildings generate as much energy as they use. This zero-energy mandate will affect not only big projects like a new fire station …

7

Town Meeting: Another committee?

Most people who are familiar with Amherst Town Meeting recognize that it has problems. The debate over our new charter is largely between those who see the problems as technical and fixable, and those who see the problems as structural. A Town Meeting committee has been considering ways to address these problems, and will propose one small reform during the current session: a new committee. I will argue that this proposal has its own flaws, is insufficient to deal with Town Meeting’s problems, and shows how slow the pace of reform is. The committee told Town Meeting a year ago …