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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 …

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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 …

Story, Olver, Eddy support ‘yes’ vote

This guest post was written by Ellen Story, Amherst’s former state representative, John Olver, Amherst’s former congressional representative, and Nancy Eddy, a former Select Board chair and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. As former elected representatives who served the people of Amherst for a combined total of more than 80 years, we have followed closely the debate over the proposed changes to town government. This town-wide conversation has touched on a number of fundamentally important issues. How do we define “representation”? How should our local democracy function? How can we better ensure that all voices are heard? Questions like …

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Charter Questions Answered Part I

What exactly is a “charter”? In Massachusetts, a charter is what we call the document that defines the structure of local government for a particular community and distributes powers, duties, and procedures to be followed. It is like a constitution for a town, providing a general, overarching framework for how its government should be organized. Amherst is already well-managed – why change things? On a day-to-day basis, we do pretty well – and the new Charter keeps our professional manager, to maintain that competent day-to-day management. But the Charter Commission’s discussions with residents revealed that many are concerned about Amherst’s …

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Top Ten Things To Like About Charter

Last week I wrote about 10 questionable arguments of charter opponents. This week I’m keeping it positive. Here are 10 positive things that Amherst residents will notice if they approve the new charter on March 27. 10. Residents can call meetings. Whenever you have a specific concern about town government, the schools or the library system, and can get 200 residents to write in support, the appropriate elected board is required to hold an open meeting to discuss your concern (provided it’s something the board can act on). 9. November elections. Most people are accustomed to going to the polls …

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Checks and balances and budgets

This guest post is written by Andy Steinberg, a member of the Select Board and former Finance Committee member. Proponents of continuing government with Town Meeting and a Select Board have said that the proposed charter does not have two distinct elected branches of government, a “legislative” and “administrative,” and therefore lacks checks and balances.  The discussion of checks and balances is misleading, because the current charter has no checks and balances between Town Meeting and the Select Board, and because municipalities are not required to have separate legislative and administrative bodies. In our current government, bylaws and budgets are …

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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 …

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What I love about Amherst isn’t at risk

So I got a postcard in the mail today. Maybe you got it too. It said the proposed charter “threatens everything we love about Amherst,” and that “everything you love about Amherst will be up for a vote.” And I thought, “Wow!” Is this what conversation in our town has devolved into? But beyond that, I wonder, what does the opposition think a council-manager structure threatens? Because I love a lot about Amherst, and most of what I love has nothing to do with the existence of Representative Town Meeting. I love the Community Fair. I love the Block Party …

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Fear and Loathing in Amherst

This post is in two parts. First, Sarah Marshall writes that charter opponents are trying to frighten Amherst voters. Second, Nick Grabbe describes how opponent Michael Burkart tried to generate fear in Tuesday’s televised debate. Be afraid, be very afraid. That appears to be the Fox News-like strategy of the Amherst anti-charter groups – invent so many outlandish, terrible, what-if scenarios about Amherst’s future that sensible people are too alarmed even to read the proposed charter. I am reminded of my nights at summer camp, when we girls would tell horror stories in the dark – stories we knew were …

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Top Ten Questionable ‘No’ Arguments

Opponents of Amherst’s new charter have put forward a series of questionable arguments to try to convince residents to vote to keep the status quo on March 27. In the spirit of David Letterman and Top 40 radio, I am counting them down here. 10. “Everything I love about Amherst is at stake.” If the charter passes, we will still have excellent teachers, dedicated public safety workers, abundant land protected from development, and a wide range of cultural opportunities. Amherst will still be Amherst. The biggest change is that we will have decision-makers who are accountable to voters and fully …