17

An insider’s view of Town Meeting

This critique of Town Meeting comes from a longtime Town Meeting member. Some people view Town Meeting as the only defense against their neighborhood being ruined. Do they outnumber the people and their friends who have served in Town Meeting, know how bad the process is, and swear to have nothing to do with it the rest of their lives? We’re going to find out. In the next four months, we’re going to learn whether political forces in Amherst have placed the Town in permanent gridlock, essentially under glass as a museum piece, or a theme park for elderly people, …

2

The Charter Connects the Planning Dots

Planning and zoning are some of the most divisive concepts in town. What do we want our town to look like? Where do we want development? What types of business or residential uses should that development include? These are areas fraught with tension and emotions, especially in Amherst. Right now, as was pointed out by John Hornick, at a recent forum on housing in town, Amherst has at least 5 separate volunteer entities that have responsibility for these issues: (1) Town Meeting; (2) the Select Board; (3) the Planning Board; (4) the Zoning Board of Appeals; and (5) the Conservation …

18

Why are my taxes so high?

Average Amherst homeowners paid a $1,826 property tax bill last month, and the same amount will be due again in January. Their counterparts in Northampton paid $1,267 and the average Hadley homeowner paid only $907. A large part of the reason why Amherst’s taxes are higher than in neighboring communities is that we have restricted housing and commercial development that could have broadened the tax base and eased the financial pressure on homeowners. Amherst has relied on residents for 90 percent of its tax revenue, compared to 80 percent in Northampton and 65 percent in Hadley. Decisions made by Town …

7

Town Meeting: Do elections matter?

Voters should be able to choose the people who make decisions on their behalf. In Amherst, the sovereignty of voters has been eroding for some time. Town Meeting has come to resemble a club whose members are largely self-selected and have a weak mandate from voters. That’s because when voters go to the polls in the annual town election, more than half of the precincts have provided no choices, or minimal choices, among Town Meeting candidates. And since there has been little discussion of issues beforehand, voters often just pick the candidates whose names they recognize. In the last 11 …

2

The year Town Meeting changed

There’s a common misconception that Amherst Town Meeting resembles that Norman Rockwell painting in which a regular guy stands up and says his piece. Actually, that form of Town Meeting hasn’t existed in Amherst for almost 80 years. Many neighboring towns have this type of “open” Town Meeting, which welcomes any resident and typically lasts one day, but Amherst gave that up in 1938. In later blog posts, we will  go into depth about Amherst’s 79-year-old “representative” Town Meeting. But for now, let’s go back to a time long before UMass expanded, when a proposal to change the form of …