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Empowering voters, inspiring participation

The core function of democratic government is to represent the will of the people. But the Charter Commission repeatedly heard that in our current form of government, many town residents don’t feel represented, don’t know who to call with input or concerns, and don’t feel like they can influence public decision-making unless they themselves participate in long, time-consuming meetings. The new Charter strengthens the ability of our government to represent all of us. Representing residents overall (not just those with time to go to meetings). In our current form of government, the 240 residents with time to participate in Town …

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Town Meeting and our core values

The writer of this guest post worked in the Amherst Planning Department from 1997 to 2007 and coordinated the Master Plan process. He is now senior physical planner at UMass. So many times over the past 20 years I have wanted to hold up a big mirror in Town Meeting. I’d like to ask members to take a good look at themselves. I call the Town Meeting system a Tyranny of Those with Time. Members do not fully recognize that their goals are shared by many of us, but they don’t understand how to sustain them financially. That lack of …

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A Better Government for a Better Amherst

  Amherst is a pretty great place to live right now. So you may be asking yourself, why move away from Town Meeting? After all, it seems to have served Amherst well. My response: because Amherst can do better. And the proposed charter will move us in that better direction. Let’s first acknowledge that much of what we love about Amherst has little, if anything, to do with our Representative Town Meeting form of government. The summer farmer’s market, the Taste of Amherst, the Amherst Cinema, the fair on the Common, and Atkins Market. All of these beloved events and …

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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 …