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Going from Precincts to Districts

We’ve addressed the reasons behind moving to 5 districts. But, how did the Charter Commission decide which precincts to combine into districts? Well, by looking at the options. Believe it or not, there are only 9 ways to combine our 10 precincts into 5 districts with the requirement that the combined precincts must touch (and not by being “catty-corner”). I was curious, so I actually colored the 9 options.  This visual aid was of tremendous help. It highlighted that some combinations look “gerrymandered” and others look more “natural”. So how did we pick the final combination? By talking about what …

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Ranked Choice Voting: a new way to vote

  If you’ve followed state, national, or local politics at all during the last year, you may have heard about Ranked Choice Voting and a number of initiatives to implement it. Cambridge, MA uses it. Maine just passed it. Here’s a primer on what it is, why it’s important, and why the Charter Commission put it in the proposed Charter the way it did. What is Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Run-Off Voting and Single-Transferable Voting)? Imagine there are 8 people running for the 3 at-large Councilor seats in the new charter. In our current system, called block …

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Resident Petitions, Initiatives, and Vetoes

We’re going to take you back for a few posts to the meat of the Charter and continue to explain what’s in it. Today, I’m going to talk about all the legalese in Article 8, Public Participation Mechanisms. The Commission added a right to an Open Meeting of the Residents. Any 200 residents (not just registered voters) can gather together to force the Council, School Committee, or Library Trustees to hold a meeting on a specific topic. The residents must be allowed to speak at the meeting. Basically, it’s a way to force a conversation on a specific topic between …

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Many charter opponents are Town Meeting members. Why am I not surprised?

As we spent months listening to Amherst residents tell us what they wanted the Charter Commission to do, we noticed an interesting thing:  most of the people who were vocal about keeping Town Meeting were Town Meeting members themselves. When you think about it, it’s not surprising if a majority of Town Meeting insiders favor keeping the status quo. It is, after all, their power base. They are comfortable with a vision of democracy in which 240 people govern the town (actually, an average of only 180 show up), and some will tell you it doesn’t matter how they’re chosen, …

9

Commission Considered Improving Town Meeting

  “The Charter Commission didn’t even consider improvements to Town Meeting”. This is a claim being made by a number of opponents of the charter proposal, including some members of the Commission itself. But, for me, the claim can’t be further from the truth. The Charter Commission did look at improving the current Representative Town Meeting structure. In fact, we held several meetings where we discussed RTM and potential improvements. There was at least one meeting where a smaller RTM structure was discussed. For a specific example of what the Commission did, as a whole, to consider improvements, see the …

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An insider’s view of Town Meeting

This critique of Town Meeting comes from a longtime Town Meeting member. Some people view Town Meeting as the only defense against their neighborhood being ruined. Do they outnumber the people and their friends who have served in Town Meeting, know how bad the process is, and swear to have nothing to do with it the rest of their lives? We’re going to find out. In the next four months, we’re going to learn whether political forces in Amherst have placed the Town in permanent gridlock, essentially under glass as a museum piece, or a theme park for elderly people, …

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Scare tactics 4: Concentration of power

Opponents of governmental reform in Amherst claim that the new charter, which will be voted on March 27, reduces democracy by concentrating authority in a 13-member council. Unlike the other scare tactics we have exposed on this blog (rampant development, Big Money in politics and male domination of the council), this one at least sounds like it could be right. The charter does reduce the number of elected decision-makers from 240 (actually, 180, the average number of Town Meeting members who show up) to 13. But to claim that this is a reduction in democracy is misleading.  Democracy is all …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …