3

Weighing Golf Courses and Public Safety

How do Cherry Hill Golf Course and public safety staffing relate to each other? At first glance, you might think they don’t. But, give it a closer look and one could argue that they do. We need a legislative body that can see the connection between them when making decisions. We need a governmental body that can connect issues brought in front of it to all facets of government. We need a legislature that can see the forest for the trees. Representative Town Meeting isn’t structured to do so. It is unable to consider individual proposals in the grand scheme …

2

A Better Structure for Bridging Divisions

One of my strongest reasons for supporting the charter is that I believe it will finally allow Amherst to have the kind of community discussions we need to have, because the body that has to vote on proposals will finally also be able to truly deliberate about them in a way that leads to productive compromise. This was driven home to me Tuesday when I recorded a conversation with Maria Kopicki and Oliver Broudy for Oliver’s podcast, “Let’s Be Reasonable.” I was talking about this inability of Representative Town Meeting to effectively deliberate tough issues, particularly in the instance of …

11

Amherst’s Town Meeting Leaves 37,000 Residents Out in the Cold

Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting is not like the traditional idea many people have of town meetings — that Norman Rockwell painting, where anyone can stand up, speak and vote. That’s Open Town Meeting, and it’s pretty much only found in small towns – places like Pelham, Hadley, and Leverett. Let me give you an example: A few years ago, New Salem had a warrant article on whether to bring broadband access to the town. Friends of mine were really interested in seeing that happen. So, they showed up at Town Meeting and voted. They’d never showed up to a Town …

7

Bringing the Legislature out into the open

Transparency, openness, and accountability are three hallmarks of representative democracy. The proposed Council-Manager structure does better on these three matters than our current Representative Town Meeting. One of the League of Women Voters’ Principles of Good Government is that “adherence to open meeting law must be strictly maintained.” The proposed charter observes this principle. Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting does not. The Town Council will be subject to open meeting laws and conflict of interest laws, requiring councilors to deliberate and discuss the issues out in the open and to disclose conflicts when they arise. This means that Councilors will not …

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 …

19

A town where council-manager works

To find out how a council-manager system works, I met recently with one of the most experienced municipal officials in Massachusetts. His name is Jeffrey Nutting (shown in photo), and since 2001 he’s been the administrator of Franklin (population 32,065), a town with the same governmental system that’s proposed for Amherst. He has been the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and has been the manager of Medway and Stoneham and the interim manager of 11 other towns, all with Town Meeting systems. Nutting knows his stuff. And Franklin’s council-manager system has made great progress on some major challenges that …

1

A Better Government for a Better Amherst

  Amherst is a pretty great place to live right now. So you may be asking yourself, why move away from Town Meeting? After all, it seems to have served Amherst well. My response: because Amherst can do better. And the proposed charter will move us in that better direction. Let’s first acknowledge that much of what we love about Amherst has little, if anything, to do with our Representative Town Meeting form of government. The summer farmer’s market, the Taste of Amherst, the Amherst Cinema, the fair on the Common, and Atkins Market. All of these beloved events and …

4

Democracy and Town Meeting

This post is in two parts. First, Amherst resident Sarah Marshall challenges charter opponents’ claim that Town Meeting provides “more democracy.” Second, Nick Grabbe looks at the March 27 Town Meeting ballot, in which a majority of seats will be uncontested. “More democracy, not less” is one of the rallying cries of the supporters of Amherst’s current Town Meeting structure. Apparently, they believe that because the charter proposes to replace the 240-member Town Meeting with a 13-member Town Council, democracy will be weakened if the charter passes. I strongly disagree. If all it takes to have a democratic system is …

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 …

9

A war of words in a campaign of ideas

The two sides of Amherst’s charter debate don’t just disagree on what the form of government should be. They disagree on the meaning of some key words. Take “representative.” When speaking of “Representative Town Meeting,” charter opponents don’t mean that members represent the citizens in their precincts. They mean that the group is large enough to be representative of all views. Most Town Meeting members don’t treat residents of their precincts as constituents. They rarely solicit views, most aren’t elected based on their positions, and many don’t even want residents to contact them. If you have a pothole or a …