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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 …

8

Not This Charter Amherst – Refuted

As fans of Hamilton will know, there is a point in the musical where Hamilton refutes Farmer Seabury as he barks from the top of a box: “Heed not the rabble who scream revolution, They have not your interests at heart.” Nick and I have already addressed all six of the opposition’s reasons to vote no. I summarize them here, and link to the more extensive posts. It’s your one-stop shop for answers. Reason #1: The Charter will “Eliminate Checks and Balances in Government.” It’s surprising to me that they even make this argument when the current system, the system …

4

How much will the new system cost?

While voters kick the tires of Amherst’s proposed Town Council system, it is natural that they want to know how much it will cost. Working with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, members of the Charter Commission studied this question. While some of the numbers we came up with are certainties, there are some that can only be estimated. But the bottom line is that while the new system will cost a little more than the current one, the difference will be inconsequential. The small increase will have little or no impact on property taxes, unlike many actions taken by Town Meeting. …

1

Comparing the Ballots

  You may be wondering, won’t the proposed Charter make the ballots longer? And won’t moving to bi-annual elections be less democratic? The answer to both questions is no. Why? Because, for elections, the current system is more complicated, less frequent for each official, and offers less accountability. In addition, the number of candidates on the ballot each spring is often the same or greater than what will happen under the proposed Charter. Why is the current system less frequent when elections are held yearly? Because each official only runs every three years. So, as a voter, you only get …

5

Peter Demling urges ‘yes’ vote on charter

This guest post was written by Amherst School Committee member Peter Demling. I encourage you to join me on March 27 in voting Yes for the new town charter. It is the most positive thing we can do for the future of our town and our schools. The charter provides us with two key elements missing in our government today: a structure to ensure informed decision-making, and a direct line of clear accountability to the general public. The need to improve how informed our decision-makers are became apparent last year during the Town Meeting discussion and vote on the school …

9

A war of words in a campaign of ideas

The two sides of Amherst’s charter debate don’t just disagree on what the form of government should be. They disagree on the meaning of some key words. Take “representative.” When speaking of “Representative Town Meeting,” charter opponents don’t mean that members represent the citizens in their precincts. They mean that the group is large enough to be representative of all views. Most Town Meeting members don’t treat residents of their precincts as constituents. They rarely solicit views, most aren’t elected based on their positions, and many don’t even want residents to contact them. If you have a pothole or a …

6

Community Participation Officer Explained

Participation in government by the residents of Amherst is extremely important. And that participation can take many forms. The simplest and possibly least involved is voting. It is also one of the most important, as it is the best way to gauge the public’s opinion on the issues raised in campaigns1. But there are many other ways to participate — running for office, writing letters, attending meetings and joining a board or committee.2 But how does a resident know what’s happening and what openings there are? And, how do Town officials make sure that the residents who are interested in …

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Who approved those tall buildings?

  It’s amazing to me that some Town Meeting supporters are pointing to the size of the two new buildings at the northern end of downtown as reasons for retaining the current political system. The size of these buildings was approved under the current system! That’s right, five stories in this part of town are allowed because of a Town Meeting vote in 2013. There are some questions about that vote, and I’ll get to them. But first, let me speak to those who don’t like the appearance of Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant, which is under construction. Whether …

9

Checks and Balances – Let’s Compare

As we have noted previously, opponents have made a number of misleading claims about the new government proposal. The latest exaggeration is that the new system lacks “checks and balances.” This claim is particularly misleading because it implies that our current system has checks and balances that will be lost if the new charter is adopted. However, our current system has practically no checks and balances at all. No matter how you vote in March, Amherst won’t have a government that allows the executive branch to veto the actions of the legislative branch. Arguing that one should vote “no” on …

8

Let’s avoid rancor in charter debate

  Three months from today, Amherst voters will go to the polls to decide the fate of the proposal for a new form of government. Will we spend the next three months tearing each other apart, demonizing those we disagree with, indulging in anger, straining friendships, and giving voice to half-truths? Or will we have a respectful and fact-based debate about the benefits and trade-offs of each alternative? The choice is ours. As members of the Charter Commission’s majority, Mandi Jo Hanneke and I voted for the plan to replace the Select Board and Town Meeting with a 13-person Town …