Our town of Amherst, with 37,000 residents and an $88m budget, has outgrown occasional government – Town Meeting occurs just twice per year and only 68% of members attend. It’s time for year-round democracy that will empower the voters and give us thoughtful spending and planning, while keeping what works today.
Today, March 27th, you can vote on the proposal that does exactly that, created by our elected Charter Commission after 18 months of study and 56 open meetings, 14 listening sessions, 700+ citizen comments.
Our entire Select Board, a majority of our School Committee, over 200 current and former Town Meeting members, former U.S. representative John Olver, former State Representative Ellen Story, and former Select Board Chair Nancy Eddy are all voting YES today to update our town charter.
These neighbors’ service to our town gives them a unique view into how government works, and they think we can do better. Here are some of their perspectives…
“While there are plenty of reasons to vote yes, for me it’s all about accountability. As someone who was accountable to the voters of Amherst on countless issues through the year, I believe a healthy local democracy depends on clear accountability.” – Ellen Story, 25-year State Representative for Amherst
“Amherst needs a decision-making body that operates throughout the year and is able to deal with issues, opportunities and even crises in a timely and deliberative way, rather than only twice a year in two marathon sittings.” – John Olver, 22-year U.S. Representative & 18-year State Senator for Amherst
“A council/manager form of government is the most common form of municipal government in this country. The council meets throughout the year, approves budgets and new bylaws, and supervises the town manager. Councilors are continuously involved in the government. They will have the information to understand the long-term consequences of decisions they make. Bylaws will be fully developed before being adopted. Compare this year-round democracy to our current model of occasional governance. The 254 members of our Town Meeting convene twice each year. Serving on Town Meeting does not require any involvement in government between sessions.” – Andy Steinberg, Amherst Select Board
“Residents don’t know the political priorities of their Town Meeting members. Town Meeting members don’t know the political priorities of the electorate.” Alisa Brewer, long-time member of Town Meeting, School Committee, and Select Board
“The system is broken, but we cannot even attempt to discuss it because its defenders deny there is any serious problem. The body politic is heading for complete system shutdown, while Town Meeting proponents blithely prescribe band-aids: white voting cards, publication of members’ email addresses, and now a committee to do members’ homework for them. As this week’s Amherst Bulletin editorial trenchantly put it, ‘It’s time to stop tinkering with Town Meeting in an effort to improve a legislative body that was devised for a different era.’ Switching to a 13-member council would make the duties of the officeholders readily apparent – and their performance more evident to public scrutiny.” – Jim Wald, Amherst Select Board
“In 1938, amid much controversy, Amherst decided to change its open Town Meeting to representative Town Meeting. The size and complexity of Amherst in 2018 warrants another change. We can and must do better. A 13-member Town Council is better suited to fully understand and discuss difficult issues, balance competing needs and engender trust.” – Connie Kruger, Amherst Select Board
“The need to improve how informed our decision-makers are became apparent last year during the Town Meeting discussion and vote on the school building project. Some Town Meeting members said later they would have supported the project if they had known that the state funding authorities did not allow changes to the proposal, as had often been claimed. The reality is that we forfeited the $34 million grand we competed for, and had to start over again,” – Peter Demling, Amherst School Committee
“I believe residents will have a greater voice because the town councilors who will compete for each resident’s vote every two years will be working to serve their constituents’ interests. Contrast that to Town Meeting, where each resident is technically represented by 24 representatives, but most of them have never had to explain their positions or face competition for their seat. In fact, I think I am always elected primarily because of name recognition; I’ve lived here since 1983. It’s time for accountable democracy that empowers voters.” – Jeff Blaustein, long-time Town Meeting member
“There is a disconnect between the voters at large and Town Meeting members. Proposed by-laws and budgets are changed on the floor of Town Meeting without public hearings or consultation with the voters at large. Attendance is abysmal – some recorded votes are barely above a quorum. With a Town Council of 13, our legislators will be accountable for their votes. For those who think it will be easy to influence a council of 13, take a look at the Charter Commission itself – that commission of 9 met regularly for a year and a half and still only mustered a 5-3-1 vote (and had almost perfect attendance). – Steve Schreiber, long-time Town Meeting member
The fact that over 200 current and former Town Meeting members are supporting a YES vote on Tuesday’s charter vote is quite a testament. Town Meeting members know Town Meeting best, and they think we can do better.
Please VOTE YES TODAY to bring year-round democracy to our town. Polls are open from 7am to 8pm.
A town council that meets year-round will make more timely, thoughtful, and informed spending and planning decisions than Town Meetings’ twice a year marathon sessions that are only attended 68% of the members.
Meeting year-round, there will be more time for town councilors to research, deliberate, and collaborate with citizens, committees, and staff.
More timely and informed spending decisions will save money and ensure millions of dollars in grants are not lost.
Thoughtful Long-range Planning.
Planning decisions based on a comprehensive master plan, so projects like schools, library, fire station, DPW facility don’t all come due at once, as they have under Town Meeting’s direction.
Vote for candidates whose positions you know and can keep track of. Representatives that represent you, not themselves – and who can be voted out of office if they don’t.
Access to Your Representatives.
Know your representatives on the town council – they represent you. Have a problem? You will know whom to call.
Your representatives will have Conflict-of-Interest and Open Meeting Laws, unlike Town Meeting. No more secret meetings by representatives and special interests.
Increased Voice for Marginalized Voters.
Residents who cannot join Town Meeting because of language, work, family, health, or other factors will now have a vote that actually matters. This will expand our town voters’ voice from 240 to 37,000. Truly an Amherst for all.
Professional Town Manager.
An expert municipal administrator, who manages day-to-day operations with supervision and policy leadership from a year-round town council.
Citizen Boards & Committees.
These existing 49 committees already provide many opportunities for over 350 residents to create policy. Now they will be heard by elected leaders year-round, rather than Town Meeting occasionally reviewing and in many cases ignoring their work.
New Ways to Be Heard.
District Meetings with your representative; Town Forums on budget, schools, and master plan; Town Election webpage for all candidates.
Keeping up with Changing Times.
As our town has grown, we updated our original 1759 government in 1938 and 1954. It is time for another update to our government that will support the complexity of our 37,000 residents and $88m budget.
Today’s election will be VERY close. EVERY VOTE will count.
- VOTE TODAY. Don’t forget to vote! Polls open until 8pm.
- TEXT 5 friends to remind them to vote.
- EMAIL 20 friends to remind them to vote.
- Click here and Share the Amherst for All page with your Amherst friends.