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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 …

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Thoughtful Decision Making, Better Planning & Deliberation

Amherst’s new charter combines the thoughtful deliberation and oversight of our Select Board and the neighborhood representation of Town Meeting into a Town Council with benefits of both. It’s been said that the Select Board can deliberate but can’t act, and Town Meeting can act, but can’t deliberate. Most towns our size have combined the roles of Select Board and Town Meeting into a representative Town Council, and that’s what our proposal does as well. A Town Council will have both the power to act and the size and meeting frequency to really discuss important budget and zoning decisions in …

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Sandy Pooler on Town Meeting, charter

  Sandy Pooler earned a lot of respect among Amherst residents during the five years he spent at Town Hall as finance director. Two years ago, he left to become deputy town manager in Arlington, but he still keeps an eye on what’s happening in Amherst. I spoke to him recently about the charter campaign. Even though Pooler no longer lives in Amherst, he made a contribution to Amherst for All, the pro-charter organization. I asked what he thought about the proposal for a 13-member Town Council to replace Town Meeting and the Select Board. “A smaller group of people …

Council/manager is most popular in U.S.

  Amherst may seem like an island sometimes, but it’s not. People all across the country have wrestled with this question: “What’s the best system of local government for representing the people and making good decisions?” So what can we learn from looking outward, at how other communities govern themselves? First, the council/manager structure proposed in the new charter is the most popular form of local government in the country. Nationwide, it is used in more than half the communities with populations over 10,000. It governs about one-third of the U.S. population – over 105 million people. The council-manager form …

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Charter keeps what works well now – From the Majority Report

Amherst’s proposed Charter does not change our entire government. It keeps a number of key features that have worked well for us. For example, most residents who the Charter Commission talked to said that the day-to-day management of Town functions is good. We have skilled administrators, financial stability, and a wide range of services. We have checks and balances between professional staff and citizen representatives. And we have a variety of citizen boards and committees. The proposed Charter preserves all of these elements. Professional management for a complex environment. With an $86 million Town budget, three institutions of higher learning, …

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Improving the Charter – Regularly

  By now, if you’ve read the charter or followed the conversation, you probably have found things you like about it and things you think could be improved. Maybe you think the Charter Commission forgot to put something in. If the charter passes, can it be changed? And if so, how and when? The answer is yes, if the charter passes, it can subsequently be amended. State law governs the process. In general, amending the charter requires an act of Town Council. If Town Council passes an amendment by a 2/3rd vote, it goes to the voters for final adoption. This …

Kay Moran: Why I support new charter

Before retiring in 2003, I covered Amherst’s Town Hall and Town Meeting for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I have been a member of Town Meeting since 2005 (also for three years in the early 1970s), and I served on the  Finance Committee for 12 years and chaired it for three. So I have a pretty good understanding of how Amherst’s Representative Town Meeting works. It is not representative of the town’s residents, as anyone watching a session can see. Proportionately, there are many more white heads and white faces – including mine – than in the general population. It doesn’t …

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Follow the money – and the endorsements

Amherst residents who are undecided about our town’s new charter should look at who’s supporting each side – with their endorsements and their dollars. On the “yes” side, supporters include current and former Select Board and School Committee members, our longtime state representative, and our longtime Congressman. These people have been elected to represent us, they’ve given of themselves in service to Amherst for years, and they know how government works. In addition, more than 100 current and former members of Town Meeting know how it works all too well, and want a different system. Amherst for All, the group …

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Dr. Kate Atkinson on why she’ll vote ‘yes’

This guest post was written by Dr. Kate Atkinson, an Amherst primary-care physician. When I first moved to Amherst, nearly 20 years ago, I liked the idea of Town Meeting. It seemed a way to make sure that every voice was heard. But when I had occasion to attend, I was discouraged to see how ineffective it was. There were complicated issues to discuss, and TM members didn’t seem to have read the materials but rather mostly commented on what other people said. When I decided to build a new doctors’ office in town, I was truly appalled at how …

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A Response to Jim Oldham’s Finance Concerns

UPDATED As usual, Jim Oldham’s recent Amherst Bulletin column forgets to compare the proposed charter to the current government structure. Why is that important? Because on March 28, Amherst will either still operate under the current system or will have adopted a new system. If something doesn’t exist in either system, Amherst won’t have it on March 28, no matter what. Why do I keep pointing this out? First, because Oldham, and many other charter opponents, keep arguing that the proposed charter doesn’t have a mayor. Guess what? Neither does the current system! If you vote “no,” you won’t have …