Thursday, August 27, 2015

Viva La Revolucion!

Amherst Town Government comes up for voter scrutiny ... again
1st of 3,500 signatures 4:35 PM today

The most epic local political battle in the entire history of our town will see a return engagement in 2016 as Amherst For All, has initiated the movement to place before voters formation of a Charter Commission to study and present a new improved form of local governance.

In other words, a death sentence for 257 year old Amherst representative Town Meeting, which many people now think is no longer "representative."

Amherst, a "college town", has the lowest median age in the state (22) where the majority of residents are renters; but Town Meeting is mostly populated by a gray-haired crowd of homeowners.

Who yell at the 22-year-olds to "get off their lawn!"

While self absorbed NIMBY/BANANA zealots have never reached a majority level in Town Meeting, the problem is they only require one-third-plus-one minority to stop any reasonable pro-development zoning article. And that low benchmark was reached a long time ago.

 Amherst Town Meeting last May

Amherst's tax base is 90% residential and only 10% commercial, with over half the property in town owned by tax-exempts, mainly our higher education entities:  Amherst College, UMass and Hampshire College respectively.

On April 3rd, 2001 Amherst voters -- with a voter turnout of 17% -- endorsed the formation of a Charter Commission which came up with a mayor/council form of government, but one that also retained a town manager.

Question 1 (binding): Charter formation?  Question 3 (non binding): Should we dump Town Meeting?

In April, 2003  -- with a voter turnout of 31% -- that ballot question to change our form of government failed by only 14 votes, 2414  to 2400 (with 21 blank ballots cast).  Two years later -- with a voter turnout of 35% -- the same question lost by 252 votes, 2,953 to 2,701.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  According to Town Clerk Sandra Burgess:

The petition must contain the signature of 15% of the number of registered voters in that city or town at the time of the last state election.

Because this is state law, the number of registered voters includes inactives.

The total number of registered voters at the last state election (2014) was 21,430.  So if you were planning on filing a petition to place a charter question on the 2016 Annual Town Election Ballot you would have to collect 3,215 signatures to force the question on the ballot.  

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess accepts Ballot Committee papers from Adam Lussier

To make the deadline for the 2016 annual election ballot all the signatures must be confirmed 100 days before the election (the exact date has not yet been set) so roughly by mid-December.  Considering the Charter Commission created at the annual 2001 election required almost two years to collect the (2,600) signatures, an ambitious time line.

Back then, however, the signatures were collected pretty much single handedly by one very determined man, Stan Durnakowski, using the tagline Amherst needs a (strong) Mayor.

Mr. Durnakowski was also elected to the Charter Commission but he couldn't convince a quorum of fellow commissioners to support a strong mayor.

The Charter Commission instead opted for a weak mayor, maintained a "professional" town manager but did at least ditch town meeting in favor of a city council.

The 9-member Charter Commission is elected on the same ballot that voters approve forming said Commission, so it's important Amherst For All put up a slate of candidates who will represent their views for reforming town government.

Under Massachusetts Home Rule Amendment to the state's constitution the newly elected Charter Commission then has 18 months to produce its "Final Report," aka a blueprint for a new & improved government.  During that time period the Commission must hold at least two public forums.

The BIG difference today vs 2003 when the Charter change failed by only 14 votes is Social Media (why you're reading this here first).  Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin were not even born, and blogs were in their infancy.

Thus the power of the web will be a key factor this time around.

And when the cyber-smoke clears I foresee Stan Durnakowski looking down from above, giving us a thumbs up ... with his bespectacled face glowing with a broad grin.

Select Board member Jim Wald (who would be out of a job) and concerned looking Town Meeting aficionado Vince O'Connor (who would also be out of a job) look on as the Town Clerk briefs Amherst For All Steering Committee

Official Kick Off Signature Drive Launch Party is September 2nd @ The Pub from 5-7PM 


Anonymous said...

…or looking up from below? ;-)

But seriously, now:

Having "median age 22" means less than half the population is 23 or above, and less than half the population is 21 or below - and that's simply because UMass and the other college's undergraduate student population (almost all of whom are between 16 and 24 years old) overwhelm the remaining population of Amherst residents.

While I agree that some reform to Town Meeting may still be in order, it's not because it's members are older than 22!

Larry Kelley said...

Take a look at any photo I have ever published of Towm Meeting crowd shot and then stand in town center next week and peruse the crowd.

Then talk to me about age difference.

Anonymous said...

Love the mayor idea! I personally dont think we need a town manager and a mayor though.

Anonymous said...

That's because you are calling students residents, which almost all of them aren't.

Larry Kelley said...

Like it of not 58% of Amherst is populated with "college aged youth."

Anonymous said...

Most of these students are still on their parents' taxes and are thus residents of the towns where their parents live.

Anonymous said...

We should revert to Open Town Meeting then: participatory democracy trumps the "representative" bull$#!+ Amherst now has

Bruce D Allen said...

Those greyhairs will still be there in four years (most of them). The 22s are transient. I'll agree with you that their needs have to be served--after all, even if those 22s are gone, there will be others in their place--but I also think you have to respect those who are permanently invested in the community.

Anonymous said...

You are right. It's populated by college age youth, and their interests need to be considered, but most are not residents, so they are not under represented in town meeting any more than people staying in hotels.

Larry Kelley said...

People don't stay in hotels 7.5 months out of the year (12).

And excuse my simple math but I was taught after exceeding .5 you could round up.

Anonymous said...

They need to be respected as consumers. They are the customers of the town's industry, but you are playing up the town meeting aspect when it's not really relevant. Get a mayor because you will get more efficient government is a better argument. After all, how many Smith students are on Northampton's city council? None.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Vince would be upset. He'd be able to run for mayor, right?

Anonymous said...

Are you saying that the college kids should run this town? The few college kids who run for Town Meeting rarely show up. Williams and Wilson are turning the downtown into a college community with little to offer us long-time residents once we have seen the current shows at Amherst Cinema and tried out the mediocre (at best) but very expensive restaurants. Thank god for the old Amherst College frats on the southern end of downtown for maintaining a tourist-friendly ambiance.

I see in the Globe that Harvard wishes to glass in Harvard Square and plan to remove the "historic" chess tables. Amherst should buy their used chess tables to install here (perhaps in Kendrick Park) to alter the age-presence downtown!!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful graphic design of logo on

Anonymous said...

The issue isn't the median age in town; it's that the town meeting form of government has become anything but truly representative. I would applaud reform that would finally put a "face" to the town's leadership.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 1:46, TM is not accountable and regular citizens are locked out of their private "Yahoo Group" (an appropriate name if I ever heard one).

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, the Yahoo group was created in 2003 in response to the Charter Commission coming up with Mayor/Council/Town Manager.

They were informed this morning by an Amherst For All steering committee member about the new threat to their existence, but thus far have not responded.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean to say "They [students] need to be respected as customers"? Are you saying, e.g., that landlords should "represent" their tenants? Is this really about giving business or property owners in Amherst the right to buy political influence, even if they don't live in Town? How many of the Amherst for all organizers and financial backers actually live in Amherst?

Anonymous said...

How many can afford to live here?

Anonymous said...

Greyhairs, as you call us, are people too.