Springfield Sunday Republican
Today's Springfield Sunday Republican lead editorial was already getting lots of shares five days ago when it first hit the Internet, but it's even better that it made the print edition on the highest read day of the week for any newspaper.
Besides, the folks who exclusively get their news via print newspaper these days are an older crowd, so chances are a fair number of Amherst Town Meeting members will see the editorial.
Too bad the editorial writers did not hold off a couple days to incorporate Wednesday's session of Town Meeting into the mix as it perfectly illustrates one of the major problems with Amherst Town Meeting: The entire two hour twenty minute session dealt only with "citizens petitions" and all four of them were from one citizen: Vince O'Connor.
Since it only takes ten signatures to get on the warrant for the Annual Spring Town Meeting there's little barrier to entry. And as you can see from Vince's petitions the very same people can sign all four requests to get on the ballot. So all you need do is host a tofu dinner party for ten.
Town Meeting also has little barrier to entry for being elected as it only takes one signature to get on the ballot, and yes that one signature can be your own. Nobody seems to care about the local elections demonstrated by Amherst's usual turnout of well under 30% on average vs Presidential elections every four years where turnout is always in the 65-to-70% range.
This lowering of the bar (from ten signatures to one) was passed by Town Meeting in 1997 and gave the Select Board permission to petition the state legislature for the change as a means of stimulating interest in bringing in fresh blood. Unfortunately all it did was make it easier for the same old activists to recruit birds of a feather.
As the editorial points out most neighboring towns finish their Town Meetings in one night or two, while Amherst Town Meeting seems to drone on forever. The current 256th Annual Town Meeting has already met for 8 sessions and will require at least two more for a final box score of 10.
Over the past ten years Amherst Annual Town Meeting has required an average of 8.8 meetings with a high of 12 sessions in 2006 and 2007 to a low of "only" five in 2010.
One ironic solution would be to file a petition next spring (requiring only 10 signatures) increasing the minimum number of signatures from 10 to 100 -- or better yet 200 -- to get an issue on the annual warrant.
And just to illustrate the point, file another one (using the same ten people) saying something totally ridiculous like changing the name of Amherst to "La-La Land."
Or officially changing the spelling of Amherst to take out the H, thus ruining their favorite tag line "where only the H is silent."
Another vital change would be to cut in half the number of Town Meeting members thereby increasing competition for the honor of serving, and increasing accountability since there would be fewer members to keep track of.
Over the past ten years attendance has averaged 66.7%, so one-third of the body fails to show up anyway.
Attendance for the current Town Meeting (note 22 members are 0-8 and another 12 are 1-8 and only 68 members out of 251, or just 27%, have a perfect attendance record)