Edith Wilkinson 1927-2013
My article requested town meeting "advise" the recreation department to stop unfairly competing against my karate school, Hampshire Gymnastics and the Amherst Ballet Center, the latter two businesses owned individuals who were also homeowners: Thus their property tax payments (a burden even back then) were being used against them by competition on an unlevel playing field.
But when I checked in with moderator Bill Field he asked if I was a town meeting member, as only a town meeting member could move a motion. Uh-oh.
A long-time, well-know Town Meeting member was standing directly behind me waiting to talk to the Moderator so I turned to him and asked if he would simply move my motion. He shook his head side to side. Vigorously.
I retreated to the front row of the auditorium and asked another Town Meeting member that I recognized and she responded, "Absolutely not." By now the august body was getting very close to reaching a quorum and opening for business -- err, I mean discussion -- so I started to panic.
Edith Wilkinson was Chair of the Select Board at the time and from her position at the head table had witnessed my two exchanges and the now panicked look on my face. She came over and said, "What's wrong Mr. Kelley?" After I briefly explained she said, "I will not support it, but I will move your motion."
Then she smiled and said "That's exactly what Town Meeting is all about." Or as we say in journo school, "give voice to the voiceless."
I still remember the blank stare from the masses when I used the term "tax exempt entities" for government programs that consume tax money while for-profit business (a dirty word in Amherst 30 years ago) generate tax revenues. Naturally my article was defeated overwhelmingly.
Still ... if all Amherst Town Meeting members were as gracious and fair minded as Edie Wilkinson, maybe I would have been a lot less strident in my criticisms of the ancient institution over the past thirty years. Maybe.