Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Deadline!

No breathless last second candidates showed up a minute before 5:00 PM

The die is cast, the Rubicon has been crossed and Amherst voters will have enormous choices in the only race that matters this coming election, Charter Commission.

The nine member committee will decide the fate of town government for the next few generations. Well, actually, the voters will decide that. Because no matter what the Charter Commission comes up with after a year of deliberation the voters must approve it at the annual election in 2017.


I asked the Select Board on Monday night to place on the March 29 ballot a non binding advisory question asking the voters if it's time to retire Town Meeting. This was done 15 years ago and the voters said "yes".

Maybe even throw in a question about retaining a Town Manager. If the voters say "yes" it might make the potential candidates for a new permanent Town Manager feel a little more comfortable applying for the $155,000 job.

And for sure these questions should be asked of the 20 Charter Commission candidates who will all do doubt give the stock answer that their mind is open and they have not decided one way or the other.

Which only makes you wonder why they ran for the job in the first place.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, isn't this supposed to be a study? How can you have the answer first?

Larry Kelley said...

Simple.

I've "studied" it for 35 years and, unfortunately, been in Town Meeting for over twenty of those years.

Anonymous said...

Makes you wonder why Amherst For All started this to begin this. When you ask any of them what they want to see changed they literally throw up their hands and say they don't know. Really? No ideas? At all?

Scrooge McDuck said...

Anon 8:47 is clearly a town meeting supporter.

The sole reason for the commission is to propose alternatives to town meeting/select board/town manager.

I agree with Larry. No further study necessary. 90% of people involved in town government now have already made up their minds one way or the other.

Every candidate should state whether their reason for running is to eliminate town meeting and move to a more effective and accountable form of government. That will give those of us that hate town meeting the knowledge who we should vote for. And those that love it can vote for their candidates.

And if town meeting supporters are a majority on the charter commission, it's a useless exercise from day 1.

Anonymous said...

I would like to have a clear alternative proposal to vote on, not an echo of what we have, not a nibbling around the edges, not a negotiated compromise consisting of midpoints between commission members. It may very well be that I and others would decide to keep what we have in the face of that clear alternative. And there are positive aspects to what we have that should not be ignored, including the dampening of the influence of big money in our town, and the function of Town Meeting as a kind of incubator, a "toe in the water", for town-wide leadership talent.

My point is that some candidates get us to that clear alternative, and others are simply going to result in an unproductive standoff within the commission, the political combat we've already seen now played out in a new venue. Some would call my thinking "stacking the deck", and I'm sure that that will be the accusation made. I think, however, we need a transforming vision of government going forward worth arguing about as voters.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Town meeting is broken beyond repair. Antiquated system in dire need of a refreshening. Get it done people

Anonymous said...

Finally we'll have an interesting contest on the ballot.

The Charter Commission candidates look like a rogues' gallery of the usual suspects, with a few newcomers thrown in. It will be entirely possible (maybe even likely) to have a majority of the Charter Commission members backing Town Meeting with minor tweeks.

In fact, I wonder if there is a large enough subset of the candidates who did not sign the Amherst for All petition, thus having the possibility of a Commission that is totally not interested in changing our form of government.

Take-away - If you want change vote - but study the candidates for the Charter Commission closely!

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:21 p.m. suspects correctly.

There is a combination of 9 candidates that, if elected, would make the commission Dead On Arrival.

Anonymous said...

I hope Amherst for All puts together a slate of preferred candidates in favor of change. I don't recognize some of the candidates.

Anonymous said...

Let's name names.

Adams, Gage, Gatti, Greeney, McGowan, McKenna, Riddle, Stein, Weiss

Vote for 7-9 of these: The "Move Along, There's Nothing to See Here" Commission.

Vote for 4-6 of these: The Circular Firing Squad Commission.

Vote for 2-3 of these: The Guaranteed Majority-Minority Reports Commission.

Jerry Guidera said...

Amherst For All will be asking candidates to send us profiles and complete questionnaires. We will review responses and offer our enthusiastic support to the nine strongest candidates that we believe will work assiduously toward consensus on a better form of government for Amherst. We'll be posting more information on our website - www.AmherstForAll.org - and our Facebook page. Don't forget to vote March 29 and thanks for your support.

Kevin said...

You mean, like, why would the Chair of the Selectboard, a candidate for the Charter Commission, us their elected office to censure local journalist for exposing their impropriety?

http://www.masslive.com/localbuzz/index.ssf/2008/07/amherst_select_board_to_larry.html

Anonymous said...

What does Amherst For All see as problems in a town it calls A Great Place to Live, Work, Study and Visit? The Amherst For All website is an ad for Amherst's government, not a critique.

What are the problems that have resulted from having a Select Board, Town Manager, Town Meeting, School Committee form of government? I am ready and willing to listen to people's concerns about problems they see, what they see not working in town government (as well as what works), look at the reasons for these problems and possible solutions. I am happy to talk with people that have different views from mine, learn from them and see if we can find common ground as a community.

But we can't have a discussion based on slogans and generalizations. How long can Amherst For All go on without any serious identification of problems?

Janet McGowan

Nick Grabbe said...

Janet, here are the problems with the current system that I have observed over the past 35 years:
1) Town Meeting has great power but lacks electoral legitimacy because, even after reducing the number of signatures required to be on the ballot to only one, there still aren't enough candidates to fill the seats.
2) There is little discussion of the town's issues before a Town Meeting election and incumbents are rarely defeated, so we never get a sense of what the will of voters is.
3) We lack someone with the political authority to negotiate with the University, the colleges, the state and the business community on our behalf.
4) Partly because of Town Meeting's resistance to commercial development, Amherst residents must pay 90 percent of the property taxes, and our tax rate is among the highest in the state due to our expensive municipal services and large amount of tax-exempt land.
5) We elect capable people to the Select Board but don't give them any power beyond things like liquor licenses and sidewalks.
6) Voter turnout in local elections is dismally low, indicating that citizens don't feel they have an influence on their government.
7) Town Meeting can't respond quickly to crises and opportunities.
I could go on. But I want to ask you two questions, Janet. Why are you running for a seat on the commission when you didn't want to give voters the option of creating one? Are you sincerely interested in working cooperatively to identify the most efficient and democratic form of government for Amherst, or are you just interested in blocking change?
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

High taxes, which has one benefit - it keeps out the riff raff from Holyoke and Springfield

Anonymous said...

"...or are you just interested in blocking change?"

DING, DING we have a winner!

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I hope Amherst For All will share the candidates responses to the public.

Jerry Guidera said...

That's the plan. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

The problem some people in this town have, when it comes to voicing their opinions in a hope to affect other people's, is that they have demonstrated a consistent disdain of most things other's propose or work hard at, but they do no real work themselves. So it starts to look like the same person who wrote five letters to the newspaper about 5 different issues and went before the SC 3 times and writes lots of blog entries, year after year, and others start to think: This isn't about the issues, she just really isn't happy about anything.

And then eventually you become one of "the usual suspects".

Anonymous said...

Town Meeting's chief problem (and why it faces the possibility of abolition) is that it has a large number of members who do not respect the integrity of the deliberative process carried on by the town boards and committees tasked to advise them.

Is that a structural problem built into our charter, or a problem of character inherent in the particular people sitting in the seats?

I don't know.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Dear Charter Commission;

I recommend that we keep Town Meeting, but we also secede from Massachusetts and become part of Connecticut.

Town Meeting works in Connecticut, because members have authority to vote "yes" or "no" on articles, but they don't have the authority to amend. That causes the citizens to get much more involved early in the process.

Also the Connecticut's Planning Boards--yes, they are elected--have the authority to change the zoning by-laws on their own. Town Meeting has no authority over zoning. Yes, Planning Board elections are exciting.

Finally, Connecticut towns have positions called "First Select[person]" which are the equivalent of mayor.

Humbly yours,

--a friend

Michael Greenebaum said...

To Rich Morse -

Here is one model of what's an alternative would look like. (It is developed at greater length on my blog MichaelGreenebaum@blogspot.com

1. Reduce the size of Town Meeting to 180 seats (18 per precinct).
2. Greater checks and balances by giving the Select Board an opportunity to act on motions which require a two-thirds majority to pass. Such motions which receive a plain majority but not two-thirds can be passed by the Select Board with a unanimous vote.
3. Elect the Planning Board, currently appointed by the Town Manager. Give the Planning Board the power to act on land use motions requiring a two-thirds vote but receiving a simple majority.
4. Empower the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee to follow up with members who are habitually absent and perhaps even to declare a seat vacant if a member refuses to attend a reasonable number of sessions.

Town Meeting is important for many reasons. It does represent the will of the majority, but also gives the minority a forum with a well-defined etiquette of controversy and enforced guidelines to control it.

Michael Greenebaum said...

It's true that Town Meeting has a number of members who don't trust town boards and committees. It is also true that Town Meeting has a number of members who are annoyed at those who don't trust town boards and committees. Why is this a problem? This has been true of deliberative bodies since 1789. It is a ringing endorsement of the value of town meeting. All voices get their say and then there is a vote; some win and some lose. Democracy has to serve both.

Anonymous said...

I know that many commentators are obsessed with the idea that Planning Board should be elected, and that will solve all of our problems.

Oldham, Weiss, Oldham, Greenebaum, and Oldham frequently bring up this idea.

The Planning Board is elected in Hadley. Many of those members have served for decades.
The Planning Board is elected in South Hadley. It's harder to get people to run there, then it is to get people to run for Town Meeting in Amherst.

Greenebaum's ideas 2-4 are not allowed under state law. That's why we should secede from Mass. and join Connecticut.

Anonymous said...

To Mr. Greenebaum:

I think that I'm in the middle on all of this, but I want a clear alternative charter proposal for a town-wide vote, not a Greenebaum tweak. I am utterly opposed to a reduction in Town Meeting membership; it solves nothing. I think it's within the powers of the Moderator NOW to monitor attendance of the membership and communicate sternly with the absentees. Your Select Board provision may or may not be possible within current state law, but, although it feels like gimmickry to me, is worthy of consideration. I do not support the election of Planning Board members, because I think that appointment process works fine to give us capable members now.

But I do think that there is the danger of oversell with a new charter. It cannot and would not solve all problems. The low voter participation rates are not so easily solved, EVEN IF we had elections more clearly focused on policy outcomes for the future. My anecdotal observation is that my neighbors are generally checked out on town issues, and they like it that way. They have other equally important concerns. I think they have some sense of security that there are 2 people in our neighborhood (Jim Scott and me)who are sworn to be vigilant in Town Meeting. So there is a delegation of authority and attention that has occurred to 250 people in town, which seems to allow many voters to sleep in. The AFA signature drive was clearly NOT some organic outgrowth of a groundswell of dissatisfaction with the current system from the grass roots in town (although it was relatively easy to get people to sign.)

So my resulting big question is this: is the SUM OF CITIZEN VIGILANCE (including all the membership of all boards and committees plus Town Meeting, and the typically low level of voter attention) greater under our current system or would it be greater under a concentration of governance power into a town council plus mayor form? I don't think the answer to my question is self-evident, which is why I'm asking it. I have gone from being strongly pro-charter last time, to being a anti-Town Meeting moderate this time: that is, there are civic resources fostered by our current system, including the sheer openness of it all, that should not be idly thrown away. We have a national government that I have come to understand is now profoundly rigged; we don't want that here.

Rich Morse

Kevin said...

The problem with Town Meeting is 1) they have no fiduciary duty, 2) they are free to use their elected position to influence state-mandated boards, and 3) they are immune from state ethics laws and conflict of interest. If that is the kind of governance the people of Amherst want, shouldn't they have the oppportunity to vote on it?

Anonymous said...

Larry, building on Kevin's comment, are TM communications also immune from freedom of information requests?

Larry Kelley said...

Pretty much.

Anonymous said...

There are certain people in town who, when they agree with you on an issue, compel you to reconsider your position.

Rich Morse

Larry Kelley said...

And there's always that stopped clock that is on occasion correct.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes people come to conclusions about an issue based entirely on a conclusion that someone they don't like has come to.

Michael Greenebaum said...

To Rich Morse:

Your way of posing the big question is intriguing and thought-provoking, but ultimately unanswerable, I think, without a proposal from advocates of a mayor/council form of government. As usual in these debates, proponents of changing our governance contrast the defects of our current system with the (presumed) virtues of a new form, while the defenders of the current form extol its virtues compared to the (presumed) defects of a new form.

If we elect a Charter Commission, I hope we can return to your question after its proposal for a new charter is presented to voters.

Michael Greenebaum said...

To: 2/11 12:28

Not only amy I not obsessed with the idea of an elected planning board, I'm not even sure I support it, since there is a limit on the number of elected boards a town our size can sustain. And if we should move to an elected board I do not think it would solve all our problems at all.

I mentioned it yesterday as part of a model which would strengthen the executive without weakening the legislature, but I am not at all committed to it.

I am also not at all sure that my proposal for an enhanced select board role is in conformance with the general laws, but that is for the Attorney General to decide. I do recall that in 1996 the AG allowed a diminishing of TM membership to 180 (as proposed by the Charter Commission of which I was a member) to go forward.

I do feel that the specifics of the Home Rule general laws as written do inhibit creative and useful approaches to improving local government, and some of these approaches are more than tweaks.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Amherst-for-All will ask the following questions of all candidates:

Is your spouse/partner also running for Charter Commission? If the answer is yes, why?

Scrooge McDuck said...

Agree with the spouse/partner question. In addition it would useful if CC candidates would state their positions as to the following policy and procedure issues.

1. Are you now, or have you ever been a town meeting or select board member?

2. If you are a town meeting member, have you ever reached out to your constitutuents to determine their position on any issue?

3. If you are a town meeting member, have you ever met or communicated privately by email with a group of other members to form a voting bloc for or against a budget or zoning article?

4. Do you believe that town officials and boards are in collusion with developers in an effort to trick us into allowing unwise real estate development?

5. Do you support continuing to use CPC funds to purchase "open space" even though it reduces our taxable land and opportunities for infill and development?

6. Do you support increased commercial development in Amherst, even if it means the loss of some "open space" or rezoning of residential areas?

7. Do you support increased multifamily residential development and redevelopment in the form of townhouses and apartments, even if it occurs in or near our village centers?

8. Do you support reductions in our Town administrative staff to reduce property taxes, even if it requires reductions in LSSE programs and facilities, or library hours?

9. Do you support increased spending on police, fire, and DPW even if funds must be diverted from other programs?

10. Do you believe that the UMass undergraduate program is generally a good thing for this town despite the troublemakers?

Anyone who refuses to explain their position on these and other critical issues is not a credible candidate. It is essential that the voters know who they are voting for.

Anonymous said...

To Michael Greenebaum:

Thank you for the respectful engagement, not always a feature of this blog. I know that this may be a form of heresy with AFA, but I hope my point is made:

A virtue of our current system is that it institutionalizes a minimum level of citizen vigilance by giving 250 individuals a vote in Town Meeting. How valuable is that? Can it be replaced or replicated in a different form of government? I don't know.

On the other hand, once a factual error (and I've made them, too) takes hold on the floor of Town Meeting, it's hard to handle. We have a resource in there that ebbs and flows in amount that I like to call "explanatory power". Alice Carlozzi had it. Some may disagree but I thought Paul Bobrowski had it. John Musante had it. I believe Kay Moran has it now: she speaks calmly and clearly. But it's not always present when we need it. So it's difficult to combat the traction that factual misunderstandings acquire in there. That would seem to be far less of a problem in a town council form of government.

And, excuse me for saying this, but a new feature since I've been living in Amherst is that we have a handful (just a handful) of characters in Town Meeting who thrive on knowingly confusing other members. It's a serious charge, but I sincerely believe that.

I think that there's plenty of grist for the mill. I am seeking a clear alternative charter proposal from this commission, not just an echo, and I intend to vote to bring about such a result. And then I reserve the right later to decide that Michael Greenebaum had it right all along.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Nick, no I do not support the creation of the Charter Commission. Amherst For All’s argument that Amherst is A Great Place to Live, Learn, Work and Visit is a compelling argument to keep our current government--not for changing it. It just makes no sense to me.

I remember the last vote for a new Charter as incredibly divisive. People were really angry and upset. Why go back to this without really, really strong reasons -- reasons that are talked about openly?

But if people want a Charter Commission and vote for it, I would like to be on it. I think I can help the Commission and our community take a deep look at what problems people see in our town, causes, and possible solutions. I’d like to know what people want and why. We need to talk openly and honestly and disagree. We need workable solutions that are supported by the community. I am trained to do this as a mediator and am not afraid of conflict, differences of opinion or even a bit of yelling. As an attorney, I can cheerfully delve into details, collect information and help untangle and translate the law. As an active citizen, I know the frustrations of working on issues and trying to get things changed. As a chatty person, there really isn’t anyone I won’t talk and listen to. I’m interested in what people have to say.

Charter Commission members definitely should not start with a preconceived solution--and not be afraid to talk through disagreement. The Commission must talk to people all over Amherst and understand their views and experiences. I spent 4 years watching 12 people on 3 different school regionalization committees that talked in isolation, failed to reach out to the community, and solicited little data. People ended at the same place they started. It was not a useful process and led to a poor result.

If there is a Charter Commission, it should be open and listen to all views in our community. The Charter Commission needs people that don’t agree with each other so all views and options are considered. I can help with that.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Kevin, do you realize that only Town Meeting has the legal authority to pass zoning bylaws and approve the town and school budgets? Those state mandated boards are advisory to Town Meeting's power to pass bylaws and authorize spending. It's not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

1) I’m not sure what you mean by ‘electoral legitimacy’ but Town Meeting has hefty legislative powers--to pass budgets and vote by laws and change zoning. The decisions they make are real. Do people think TM lacks legitimacy? Does Ellen Story lack legitimacy since she’s run unopposed or is an incumbent? The Select Board? More than half MA legislators run unopposed.

I don’t see members from non-competitive precincts as illegitimate. Do you? I respect their right to speak and vote. Maybe I am a small d democrat, but I am fine with easy entry into Town Meeting. It’s closer to the very democratic origins of Standing Town Meeting. Town Meeting gives ordinary citizens a very direct say on issues that affect them.

Having 150 or so citizens in Town Meeting knowledgeable and voting on key issues seems sort of amazing to me. In Amherst, the heads of each government branch are volunteers -- and town and school employees have to answer to its citizens. I’ve never lived in a place where citizens are so engaged in all parts of government. I’m hesitant to upend this, I admit. The number of people running for or absent TM members is not tops on my list of problems, although I can see how it bothers people. I am not sure there is a negative effect. How has it affected votes you card about?

Town Meeting Coordinating Committee would be a great place to raise your concerns to look at causes, effects, and possible solutions. Having more regular Town Meetings (like in the winter) could lead to more candidates and better attendance.

2) I am not sure I get your point about the will of the voters--isn’t their will reflected in their vote? It’s true that incumbents, like Ellen Story, are usually voted in. I talk to people a lot about town issues through the year and know others do too. There certainly are a lot of boards talking about issues and the ACTV and the paper provides more information. It’s always good to think about what more could be done.

3) What do you want to have negotiated with UMass and colleges? Have you raised these issues with the Town Manager or Select Board?

4) The facts don’t support the very repeated claim that homeowners bear 90% of the tax burden. 55% of Amherst’s tax base is from business properties--10% from commercial buildings (which include apartment buildings) and 45% from rental homes owned by landlords. And somewhere in there is the meals tax. 45% of the tax base is from residences owned by homeowners.

Anonymous said...

…continued...

I do agree that taxes are high (partly due to very high salaries compared to nearby towns and extra administrative positions.) We have a long open budget process in Amherst. Jump in! If you are concerned about high taxes and excessive budgets to raise this issue before the School Committee, the Select Board, the Finance Committee, the Town Manager and in Town Meeting. I have raised this issue myself in Town Meeting. Anyone in Town Meeting can make a motion to reduce the budget if they think it’s excessive or vote down capital items-which happens. Have you also raised this issue?

5) The Select Board does a lot more than work on sidewalks and licenses, as any Monday meeting shows. It hires and works closely with the Town Manager. Some Select Boards are more active than others. What actions would you like Select Board to take? What aren’t they doing? Does the Select Board need new powers do to this?

6) Is voter turnout dismal? All the time and compared to other towns? Low turnout could mean contentment. Ways to increase turnout could be having town elections in November with the state and national elections.

7) I’m not sure what crisis and opportunities there were but it’s pretty easy to call a special Town Meeting anytime. Details please on lost chances or past crisis. Why didn’t people call a Town Meeting?

Town Meeting has at the center of trying to balance the need for stable, livable neighborhoods, vital downtown and village centers, happy students and stable finances. In the past 5 years, town meeting has passed zoning articles that allow homeowners add an apartment or turn their outbuildings into separate apts if the property is owner-occupied, increased density at Atkins Corner and downtown, added height to buildings to allow slanted roofs (which somehow became a 6th floor in Kendrick Place), rezoned a land near the Boys and Girls Club for greater density and increased the allowable uses in a parcel downtown. TM members initiated the Rental Registration By-law and TM passed a by-law regulating noise and party houses. TM has bought low-income housing, protected open space and repaired our pools. Our budget is balanced, there is enough money in the rainy day fund and the town has a great financial rating.

No one should toss Town Meeting out lightly-especially when the results of our Town Meeting have been to help create such a beautiful, vibrant town. New England is a pretty great to live and truly unique. I think the tradition of volunteer self-government, as annoying as it can be, is much of the reason why. People are very, very active citizens here. It is our government because it’s us -- on the Select Board, School Committee, Town Meeting, etc. Town Meeting may be where the voices of ordinary citizens are best heard but it’s not the only place.

So why so unhappy?

Nick, I’m wondering if there are specific actions by Town Meeting that you disagree with? What you would like to see the town negotiate with the university, colleges, state, etc.? How can we improve our elections? Could changes you want be done in our existing government? Have you advocated for any of these actions? Let’s keep talking.

Janet McGowan


Anonymous said...

Hi Janet
Wow, you take a lot of air time!
I assume your goal is to take s lot of air time on the Charter Commission
That's called a filibuster.

Anonymous said...

Janet,

You got my vote!

Larry Kelley said...

Fortunately Anons can't vote.

Anonymous said...

Janet, to whom you are pandering? It simply isn't true that there are "... 150 or so citizens in Town Meeting knowledgeable". I guess they might be knowledgeable about something but it is wrong to claim we get 150 TM folks who are knowledgeable about the issues (many are substantive) they are voting on. Last session was downright silly, sometimes it feels like a Twilight Zone episode. And it gets worse every year...

Anonymous said...

I love McDuck's questions (11:40):

Another set:

Please read Gerry Weiss's article "Town Hall, not Town Meeting, is the Root of Amherst's Problems" (Gazette, Nov. 2015). Then answer the following questions:

Do you agree that Town Hall is the problem?
If yes, have you ever been 'Town Hall' (eg, chair of Select Board)?
If yes, are you the problem?



Nick Grabbe said...

Janet,
OK, so you don't believe Amherst should create a Charter Commission, but you'd like voters to elect you to it. You'll need to explain to voters why you didn't want to even give them the option of creating a commission.
If you and I are both elected, and you sincerely want to identify the best form of government for Amherst (rather than merely block change), then I will be happy to work with you to investigate the options and limit the divisiveness of the process. You are a person of formidable intellect and commendable public-spiritedness.
It is incorrect to say that candidates who may be endorsed by Amherst for All come with a preconceived notion of what should be done. I know I don't. I'm open to considering all the alternatives, except the status quo. I don't consider myself closed-minded at all, though I don't regard minor tweaks of Town Meeting as real change. Michael Greenebaum, in his letter to the Bulletin, says we all want a mayor-council system. That is just not true.
For the record, I believe that there are some good things about Town Meeting: it brings together lots of people to discuss town issues and it serves as an incubator for civic involvement. I would like to retain these features in a new governmental system.
When I write that Town Meeting lacks "electoral legitimacy," I mean that there are so many democratic shortcomings that many citizens assume that it is not representative of their interests. You know the details: little or no debate among candidates before the election, dismal voter turnout, not enough candidates to fill the seats (even though the number of signatures required was reduced to one!), and the routine reelection of incumbents. One could argue that citizens have already rejected the current system of government by their indifference to it. If you want a Town Meeting that is truly "representative," then either it should be open to all or its members should be selected at random.
I don't see Ellen Story as an appropriate comparison. She has been reelected without opposition because voters are happy with her performance, not because they are indifferent to it.
I am amazed that you contest the 90 percent figure of residential taxation by saying that a good portion of those people are renters. I'm sure you're aware that they pay taxes indirectly through their rents. Even using your figures, Amherst has still outsourced its commercial tax base to Hadley, with that town reaping the benefits of much lower taxes.
Several times in your note, you imply that if I am dissatisfied, I should become more involved. I was very involved, as editor of the Amherst Bulletin from 1980 to 1999 (when the Bulletin was much more independent than it is now) and then from 2000 to 2006 while I was writing about town government. Over this time, I developed a deep skepticism about Town Meeting's effectiveness and representativeness. When I retired in 2013, I vowed not to get involved in town politics (as my former colleague Kay Moran did). I simply don't have enough faith in the system to invest a lot of my time in it. When other people started talking about starting another charter commission, I was dubious about its chances. But in gathering signatures on the petition, I found that a lot of people also feel alienated from the system.
One last point: you came to an Amherst for All meeting and were seen to be taking notes. You were not asked to leave. Can I assume that I would be welcomed to one of your group's meetings?
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for all your thoughts--you certainly have said more than Amherst For All. It's only by talking about issues and looking at facts and looking at the interpretation we attach to facts that we can sort things out. (For example, you interpret reelecting an unopposed Ellen Story as approval and reelecting unopposed Town Meeting members rejection or indifference.) I am sure the Charter Commission will lead to change, but maybe not what anyone expects. I do think many concerns could be addressed by showing up to Select Board meetings, School Committee meetings, working with TMCC, raisingn concerns in Town Meeting--or running for School Committee or Select Board. I've lived in communities with mayor/city council and did not wake up every day thinking--wow these people really do everything I want. But that's fodder for discussions, which you are so clearly willing to have. I am too, but am not willing create anger and division in our community without strong, clear, articulated reasons. Amherst For All hasn't done this.

Will Amherst For All step behind their slogans and actually talk about why they launched this effort and the specific changes they want to see?

And on the taxation front, our tax system could be changed to lighten the tax burden on homeowners and shift it more to landlords who profit off their houses. Somerville does this, as do other towns. Speaking as a landlord myself, I am okay with this. This change could increase the number of families in Amherst--as well as encourage more owner-occupied 2 family houses. This is an issue to take to the Select Board.

On the Amherst For All meeting front, I was invited to this meeting on Facebook. Didn't AFA invited the public through the Gazette or Bulletin? So I went to hear what people had to say. People there kindly signed my Charter Commisison papers and I signed theirs. I have been taking notes on what Amherst community members are saying--without putting names down. I want to know what people are thinking, truly. I hope people at the AFA meeting didn't take it the wrong way, I didn't mean to make people uncomfortable.

Janet

Anonymous said...

I don't think that Janet is pandering to anybody. From what I can tell, she is basing her candidacy on her commitment to be as objective and methodical as a commission member as she possibly can. Many voters may respond to that. I think I'm looking for more members with hands-on experience in municipal government, either here or elsewhere.

I respect the viewpoints of much of the pro-status quo contingent in town. Some undoubtedly will be simply defending their small slice of the power pie, with the soapbox that's attached to it. But others have a sincere argument to make about the virtues of what we have now, and the dangers of what we might get.

But that's not what I'm looking for in a charter commission. I am looking for a group of people committed to crafting and presenting a clear, significant proposal for change in our current government, the best they can do. Then let's have a lengthy town-wide argument about it, and try to keep the personal, tribal warfare down to a minimum. (Larry)

The low voter turnouts in the past few years become a bit of a Rorschach blot. We can all project, without further proof, a particular popular attitude onto them. Voters may be responding to a gross lack of information about TM candidates, or they may be generally content with how the town is going. It's impossible to tell. And the comments section of this blog has never been a reliable indicator.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Other question for all Charter Commission candidates:

1. Have you ever contributed cash, in-kind services, and/or advice to a lawsuit against the Town or any of its boards? If so, what were the circumstances?

2. Have you ever used more than your allotted 3 minutes on the Town Meeting floor? Have you ever felt compelled to use all 3 minutes, even though you had only 30 seconds of information?

3. Do you regularly vote against efforts to "call the question" at TM?

Nick Grabbe said...

Janet,
Thanks for the courteous tone of your response. It is very important to me that we disagree respectfully. I will differ with you on two points:
1) I am not at all sure the Charter Commission will lead to change. The last two commissions were created with strong "yes" votes and then, in three votes, voters rejected their recommendations. I think the task of this Charter Commission will not only be to come up with a form of government that works for Amherst, but to come up with one that will appeal to the majority of voters, and then sell it vigorously.
2) I think the reason you haven't seen Amherst for All members articulate specific changes they want to see is that they don't have them. I know at least one candidate who believes strongly there should be a manager and not a mayor, but most people (including me) want to wait and see what we learn. I was tempted to favor a mayor because I think Stephanie O'Keeffe would make a good one, but then I reminded myself that this change would be in effect for decades and I need to keep an open mind. That said, most people in Amherst for All don't believe that Town Meeting works. As I mentioned before, I think there are some good things about Town Meeting that I'd like to see retained.
If you and I are elected, I will welcome you onto the commission. But, truth be told, I think that best outcome would be for nine reformers to be elected. That way, the commission could concentrate on finding the best system of government without having to deal with a lot of conflict and compromise, and then voters could accept it or reject it. It's important to remember that that is the really important vote, not the one on March 29.
Nick

Anonymous said...

Janet:
Thank you for showing your hand...

You believe that rental properties should be taxed at a higher rate than owner occupied properties. Therefore, renters will pay a higher share of the tax burden than homeowners.

Since renters are often poorer than homeowners, that's called a regressive tax.

It also may show why you love town meeting so much--it's dominated by homeowners.

Maybe we should go back 250 years and only let landowners vote.