Amherst Connects: a community dialogue

We will have an opportunity on June 6 to move beyond the contentious politics surrounding the end of Town Meeting and the establishment of a Town Council. In an event called Amherst Connects, international peace activist Paula Green of Leverett will encourage residents with different opinions about the town’s new charter to talk with each other, with the goal of diminishing the polarization of the recent campaign. Co-facilitator Pat Romney of Amherst has led similar dialogues here before. Amherst Connects will take place in the Jones Library’s Woodbury Room on Wednesday, June 6, starting at 7:15 p.m.  Participants should use …

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The voters have spoken. Did Town Meeting hear them?

This guest post was written by Johanna Neumann, chair of Amherst for All. This coming Monday, in a special session of Town Meeting, members will vote on what should be a formality in the wake of last month’s resounding charter approval. The vote will be on  asking the state for permission to conduct Town Council elections this year (and only this year) at the same time as the state primary and general elections. This should be a non-controversial aspect of the charter. It is required under our new home rule charter, and is one of many details reviewed and approved …

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Reconciliation needed after today’s vote

At least three charter opponents have told Nick Seamon, owner of the Black Sheep Deli, that they will not patronize his business because of his public support for a “yes” vote. In my neighborhood alone, there are at least two households where couples are divided on the charter question. On one lawn on Cottage Street, there are both a “yes” and a “no” sign. I myself have seen long-standing friendships strained because of differences over the charter. I don’t know what the outcome of the vote will be as I write this today. But I do know that our beloved, …

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15 one-sentence reasons to vote ‘Yes’

The Town Council will be better able to deliberate on issues, get public comment, and seek out additional information than Town Meeting can. The Town Council will know what residents want because campaigns on the issues will measure support for the positions candidates take. Councilors will be informed about issues; Town Meeting has admitted that members haven’t understood issues before voting on them. Councilors will know that their votes represent Amherst’s residents, not just themselves. Residents won’t have to be a part of the legislative body to have a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect them. The Town Council …

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We’re deciding now, not in two years

Some opponents of Amherst’s new charter are advancing the argument that it’s “safe” to vote “no” on Tuesday because there can be a re-vote in two years. They claim that Town Meeting deserve a chance to reform ktself, and if it doesn’t do a good job, you’ll get another chance to vote “yes.” I believe this argument is misleading in several ways. First, if the “no” side wins a majority on Tuesday, there is no automatic trigger that brings it back for a second vote in two years. The only way a second vote happens is if 10 percent of …

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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 …

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Is Town Meeting really why our schools are so great?

Michael Greenebaum, spokesman for Not This Charter, a group opposing the new charter in Tuesday’s election, has attempted to make the case that Town Meeting is the key to our strong schools, despite its rejection of $34 million in state funding for our elementary school buildings last year. Accordingly, Not This Charter has heavily promoted this argument through social media channels, with headlines that proclaim “TOWN MEETING FORMS OF GOVERNMENT ARE BETTER FOR SCHOOLS,” as a March 19 Facebook promotion said. You can read the argument yourself at https://michaelgreenebaum.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-necessity-of-town-meeting-up-til.html. If you believe that, I have some other amazing correlations that …

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Many voices saying ‘yes,’ Part 3

This is the last in a series of three posts recalling memorable quotes from “yes” supporters. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2. “In one depressing way, our town is just like the rest of the nation: We’re having trouble with this democracy thing…People at Town Meeting make choices based on gut feelings about right and wrong, regardless of whether those impulses are conflicting. I still love living here but worry that we are becoming ungovernable.” (Charles Mann, author of “1491” and other books) “On average, a board that knows the details well enough to be able to …

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Jim Wald endorses ‘yes’ vote on charter, making Select Board unanimous

With this guest post, Select Board member Jim Wald makes it unanimous; all five board members are urging a “yes” vote on Amherst’s new charter next Tuesday. Back in 2010, when I was a Town Meeting member and friends suggested I run for Select Board, I had to ask myself some tough questions: Was I able to put in the necessary time? And did I know enough: possess not only knowledge of Town government, but also the capacity for growth (there would be a lot to learn) and judgment — knowing when to raise critical challenges versus accept the conclusions …

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Town Meeting does not mean more democracy or representation

This guest post was written by Ray La Raja, a professor of political science at UMass, and graduate student Wouter Van Erve. Supporters of Town Meeting (TM) argue that it provides more democracy and better representation. We cast doubt on these claims, based on research and statistics in Amherst. TM is more democratic only if you believe that the participation of 240 citizens counts more than participation of voters. Town Meeting government depresses turnout. In Amherst, average turnout from 2011 to 2016 has been 11 percent of registered voters (lower if one uses eligible voters). Across Massachusetts it is 21 …