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Scare tactics 3: Women won’t run for or serve on the Council

For me, one of the most frustrating scare tactics being spread by the opposition to the new governance plan is that women will not run for or be elected to the Council. First, as a woman, I find it offensive. Second, the argument isn’t supported at all by Amherst’s history. Proponents of this argument look to the other 12 Manager-Council governments in Massachusetts.1 They claim that currently women make up 25% of the membership of the Councils.2 But, the opposition ignores that Amherst is unique in its female representation in government. For example, Amherst has been electing women to town-wide …

18

Scare tactics 2: Big Money in Elections

    Meet Penny Ricketts. She got the most votes in the Nov. 7 Town Council election in Greenfield. She’s been a single mother and hospital worker, and she wants to establish fees for absentee landlords. She spent $1,027 on her campaign up to Oct. 31. Meet Ashli Stempel, who got the second-most votes. She advocates for 100 percent green energy and donation of bone marrow to help cancer patients. She spent only $447 on her campaign up to Oct. 31, getting more votes than an opponent who spent $3,925. Greenfield voted for Donald Trump at three times the rate …

25

Scare tactics 1: Development

Town Meeting defenders don’t like talking about the real problems with our current system. And it’s understandable why not.   They have been unable to refute data showing that a majority of Town Meeting members are self-appointed and that most voters have not been participating in local elections. They’d rather not talk about sending back $34 million in state money for our schools. They ignore the fact that if you don’t like what Town Meeting members do, there’s not much you can do about it.   So some of them have turned to scare tactics. Rather than defending the increasingly …

5

On charter, much to be thankful for

This is the season for giving thanks, and those of us working to reform Amherst’s system of government have plenty of gratitude to spread around. First, there are the 2,039 people (60 percent of voters) who voted to create the Charter Commission on March 29, 2016. I am especially grateful to the 1,514 Amherst residents who voted to make me a member. I also give thanks that the 18-month Charter Commission marathon was a wide-open process, with ample time and opportunity for residents to express their opinions. The commission received 225 emails, and 188 residents lodged online comments. We held …

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 …

1

Charter Enables Better Participation

Participation is the key to democracy. We’ve all heard people say it, but what does it actually mean? And, how does the new Charter enable better participation of Amherst’s residents? Ideally, meaningful participation brings the public into the process, beginning at issue framing and ending at decision making.  Authentic, meaningful participation involves residents in decision-making instead of just judging. So, what prevents someone from participating? Time and knowledge are two of the main ones. A person’s time is limited, so whether it’s standing in line to vote or attending meetings, the more time one activity takes, the less time a …

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 …

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 …

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: 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 …