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A big change: All Amherst voters can choose their representatives

This fall, 100 percent of Amherst voters will be able to choose among multiple candidates as they elect the 13 members of the new Town Council. This level of voter choice is completely new in Amherst. Over the past 11 years, only 5 percent of voting precincts have had this much choice among candidates for Town Meeting. Voter choice among Select Board and School Committee candidates has been declining. With our new form of government, Amherst is empowering voters to make decisions between candidates based on their experience, character and positions on issues (and other criteria). There will be four …

Here’s final list of Town Council candidates

The 33 candidates who filed signatures to run for Town Council by the deadline are listed below. Candidates will appear on the ballot in the Sept. 4 preliminary election for the three at-large seats and in four of the five districts. Only in District 1 will candidates not appear on the ballot, as there are only four of them. In the Nov. 6 general election, there will be six candidates on the ballot for at-large seats and four for each district (that is, twice the number of Town Council members). The governor has signed a special act that will allow …

6

Is Amherst’s school system really racist?

Does Amherst, one of the most progressive communities in Massachusetts, have a public school system that is racially biased? I ask this question as the white father of children who were in the system for 19 years (1985-04) and as the newspaper reporter covering the Amherst schools for five years (2008-13). The question arose after Superintendent Mike Morris declined to hire two finalists for the Regional Middle School principal position, who were people of color recommended by a search committee, and instead asked the white interim principal to stay on next year while a new search takes place. As the …

7

Election schedule and ‘normal noise’

Two months after an election in which Amherst overwhelmingly decided to adopt a new form of government, a small group of diehard Town Meeting members have sought a delay in the Town Council election, which would result in extra burdens for voters and diminished voter participation. Four of them went to Boston Wednesday to challenge the schedule for the election of Amherst’s first 13-member Town Council. They told a Legislative committee that the schedule would discriminate against students, even though the alternative schedule would make students less likely to vote. Also appearing before the committee Wednesday were Andy Churchill and …

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 …