Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Selective Demographics

Well if this is the best Town Meeting Loyalists can do, us common sense folks in favor of common sense change in our antiquated form of government have a lot less to worry about this coming March 29 town election.

Click to enlarge/read (but try not to laugh)
 3,500 voters signed the Charter Petition, the vast majority NOT  "landlords and developers"

Amherst has the lowest average age for any municipality in the state -- because of our dearly loved college students of course -- yet Town Meeting is grayer than a retired battleship.

While over half the residents of Amherst rent yet the vast majority of Town Meeting members own their own home.

And let's not even talk about skin color.

But yeah, Town Meeting is gender balanced.

Amherst Town Meeting in 2011.  The night they voted overwhelmingly to allow Town Manager to sign contract for solar array on ye old landfill. A very contentious issue at the time (and still today)


Anonymous said...

Like most voting....logic has nothing to do with it. Some people are acting like this actually matters. This is about who will decide for you, there is no way to win as a voter, only different brands of loosing.

Anonymous said...

The picture of Town Meeting is unusual in that most of the seats were filled when it was taken. Normally it's barely more than a quorum.

And this is another problem in itself - the quorum requirement allows latecomers to enter without penalty. There was another town a few years back that reduced the TM quorum to one (1) member - all of a sudden people started showing up on time!

Larry Kelley said...

Yes I should have mentioned that shot was from 2011, the night Town Meeting discussed the controversial solar array on ye old landfill.

And they overwhelmingly passed the article allowing Town Manager Musante to sign a contract.

Nick Grabbe said...

Their very first point is a falsehood. The flyer says there have been two charter commissions in the past 20 years. In fact, there has been only one, though there were two votes on its recommendations. This falsehood probably derives from Gerry Weiss's Amherst for All questionnaire statement, which he changed after being informed of the truth.
"Keep Amherst democratic"? Maybe if you define democracy as having 180 residents come together to make decisions. I define democracy as voters making real choices about who they want to represent them, and Town Meeting certainly doesn't qualify. The voter turnout in local elections in the past five years is half what it was the previous years, and in a third of the precincts there aren't enough candidates to fill the open seats. This year, four of the 10 precincts don't have enough candidates. There is little or no discussion of town issues before the election. And so 90 percent of voters have already concluded that their votes for Town Meeting don't matter, so they don't show up at the polls. That's democracy?
Plus, the UMass Political Science department proved last year that Town Meeting members are not representative of the population. Their average age is 59 (Amherst's is 39), they are 93 percent white (Amherst is 79 percent), they are 80 percent homeowners (Amherst is 49 percent).
And by the way, an average of 29 percent of Town Meeting members haven't shown up at scheduled meetings over the past three years.
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

That is the benefit of Town Meeting, it keeps UMass students out of town government. With a city council they could pool their votes and get a seat.

Larry Kelley said...

And what's wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of UMass students are not Amherst residents. They go to school in Amherst but they live with their parents.

Larry Kelley said...

They go to UMass seven months out of the year, in Amherst,

Anonymous said...

All of these old farts are ruining Amherst, allowing it to be held captive by a few old timers. Time has passed most by. The lack of a business community speaks volumes.

Kevin said...

Amherst Town Meeting on drones, you will love this, Larry.

Anonymous said...

Ageism again. I thought you people celebrated diversity? When you get older, what're you gonna do? Kill yourself?

Anonymous said...

"You people"? We know where you stand. Obviously you are an old fart, proving that Amherst needs a major change in who makes decisions.

Anonymous said...

Demographics, schmemographics: if Amherst replaces Town Meeting with a City Council, watch the "big money" roll in to fund campaigns for office. And here's a quote to keep in mind, dear Amherst voters:

"…billionaire's don't buy Town Meetings!"

- Bernie Sanders (late Tuesday night, who won the March 1 primary vote in Amherst by a 2:1 margin)

Larry Kelley said...

Amherst doesn't have any billionaire's.

Anonymous said...

Yep. 65. You'd like to shut me up, and I feel the same about you. Trump 2016/2020

Michael Greenebaum said...

Nick - you are mistaken. There have been two Charter Commissions. I was elected to the first one in 1994. Its charter proposal was rejected by the voters. The second charter commission's charter was voted down twice. This is all a matter of record and non-controversial.

Michael Greenebaum

Nick Grabbe said...

To Anon 1:37:
Do you have evidence that "big money" controls the campaigns for councils in Northampton and Greenfield? And who do you think controls who gets elected to Town Meeting? Voters? In about half the precincts, voters have no real choices, and 90 percent of eligible voters have been staying home over the last five years. You call that democracy?
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

UMass students should let us vote in their SGA elections. They'd have to make an appeal to the townspeople regarding what they'd do about students pulling false alarms, other stuff that taxes our resources via AFD, communicating with students about living in our neighborhoods, the like.

Anonymous said...

We live in Southwest a lot of the time they're here, after all.

Anonymous said...

Did he really say that?
Bernie Sanders political career started as MAYOR of Burlington, Vermont.
If Burlington still had town meeting, there no would be no "Feel the Bern".

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are at least 3 influential "billionaires" (corporately) here:

Amherst College

University of Massachusetts (and UMassFoundation)


Anonymous said...

"Amherst doesn't have any billionaire's."

Actually it does, not that the one I know tries to influence town politics. I don't think she pays any attention to it.

Scrooge McDuck said...

Michael Greenebaum, maybe you forgot what year it is (2016)? Grabbe said there has only been one charter action in the last 20 years and he was correct. That is because 1994 was more than 20 years ago. "This is all a matter of record and non-controversial."

Larry Kelley said...

Anon 10:14 AM
W.D. Cowls is not a billion dollar corporation.

Nick Grabbe said...

To Michael Greenebaum:
As you write, the first charter commission, on which you served, was created in 1994. That was 22 years ago. The "No" flyer says there have been two commissions in the last 20 years.
Why exaggerate? Why not just say there have been two commissions in the last 25 years and be accurate? That wouldn't diminish the strength of the argument.
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

Feel the Marxism!

Anonymous said...

@10:28 That 1994-elected commission performed its work over several years: it's proposed charter was defeated in the
April 2, 1996 town election by a vote of 1272-1509 (

@10:45 Depends on how Cowls's worldwide land holdings are valued - you're the investigative reporter - investigate!

Larry Kelley said...

I already did.

Cowls is the largest private landowner in the state, but the vast majority of their property is woodlands with a pretty low valuation per acre.

Anonymous said...


1) Cowls property is not only located in Massachusetts.

2) Assessors valuation is NOT the same as appraised or market value - that's why Chapter 61 and 61A exist in Massachusetts, and similar real estate tax breaks are offered in other states - the result is assessed value is a tiny percentage of market value.

3) Since you "already did" your investigation, please share what you found, and we can recalculate the market value here on this blog.

By the way, it's nothing to be ashamed of to own so much land - Cowls has earned kudos for its important environmental stewardship, and it's been a pleasure to know and work its owners.

Larry Kelley said...


$1,000 and I'll be happy to share.

Anonymous said...

If people are concerned that not enough students are in Town Meeting, why not spend some serious time trying to get them to join? If you are a Umass professor concerned about this issue enough to research and write about it in the local paper, why not talk to your students. Will students run for a town council? Or for mayor? What about this government would lead to a younger government?

For the people not voting, how does anyone know what they are thinking? Maybe they are happy with how Amherst is run because it's such a great town. Maybe they are busy? Maybe they don't know when town elections are since there is almost no advertising. Maybe some aren't interested in town politics. How does Mr. Grabbe know their thoughts? He seems to be projecting his thoughts on thousands of people. I find that a bit odd.

Also, what is Town Meeting doing that is actually wrong? What Town Meeting votes do its critics disagree with? Passing a balanced budget year after year? Having a full rainy day fund? Town Meeting seems to be working well with its many, many town residents participating.

Nick Grabbe said...

If the first charter commission was created in 1994 and the vote on its recommendations was held in 1996, and a new one is created in 2016 and a vote on its recommendations is held in 2018, that is clearly more than a 20-year interval. The "No" flyer distributed at the polls Tuesday said there have been two charter commissions in the past 20 years. That is clearly a falsehood.
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

The Build Baby Build folks aren't getting their way.
The large democratic town meeting won't let them.
Democracy is a B**ch!
So let's do away with town meeting and...
Build Baby Build!!!

Scrooge McDuck said...

@2:26, "what is Town Meeting doing that is actually wrong?"

The status-quo is unsustainable. Taxes go up every year, with the prospect of massive capital spending. Parents are jumping ship with their children - either to other towns or charter schools. More "open space" is protected each year, reducing the tax base, but never balanced by rezoning in logical places to allow commercial or residential development. Anti-growth policies are the rule. Infrastructure maintenance and DPW are underfunded at the expense of millions of dollars in LSSE, library, town hall, and school administrator salaries. Unlike many towns, we have no municipal trash or yard-debris pickup despite our sky-high taxes. The colleges and university can refuse to contribute and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. There will be nothing left of our town in 20 years if we can't reverse these problems and grow to match the power of the university and colleges.

As for TM itself, the bullies have their way every time. They are not subject to open meeting laws or conflict of interest rules. It only takes a few demagogues to derail any reasonable plan to grow and change the town. The moderator aids and abets this, by never setting time limits for debate and allowing good articles to killed by death of a thousand cuts. And the same people are reelected year after year by the few people that bother to vote at the "town election" which is held separately from the November elections that are generally well-attended.

Shall I go on?

Anonymous said...

The large democratic town meeting that represents a small sliver of the Town's demographic

Larry Kelley said...

Archipelago seems to be doing just fine.

And they are about to build baby build One East Pleasant Street.

Anonymous said...

I regret to inform Mr. Grabbe that 20 years from the time of the failed 1996 charter vote will fall on April 2, 2016, nearly a month IN THE FUTURE.

And it will still be 4 days IN THE FUTURE on March 29, 2016, the date of the next Town Election.

If Mr. Grabbe admits he made an honest arithmetic mistake, he will be forgiven.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, Cowl's land is worth what someone else is willing to pay them for it.

Even if they won't sell it.

Larry Kelley said...

Well Cowls only owns property in Massachusetts, and who would want to buy land there?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. McDuck,

Where have you been during Town Meeting votes on the budget? Have you advocated adding staff to DPW, cuts to admin salaries? To the Finance Committee, Select Board, Town Manager? Were you at the School Committee budget committee meetings on the budget making your points? Told the Planning Board and Planning Dept they've drafted a Zoning Bylaw complicated beyond the understanding of mere mortals?

Stop complaining about Town Meeting -- which is not All Powerful -- about your issues with zoning, taxes, the schools, salaries. Talk about your issues on the floor of Town Meeting, not just here. File comments. Sit in front of the microphone at a hearing. It's a democracy. Lots of moving parts that don't work without people getting involved.

Come out of the closet. Go on record. Flap your feathers proudly!

Janet McGowan

Larry Kelley said...

Don't feed the ducks.

Scrooge McDuck said...

Ms. McGowan, with all due respect it's unrealistic to think a major change in course can happen without restructuring the town government. Presenting me with long strings of questions about whether I personally attended various meetings of various committees is not helpful. (Although it does help identify you as the likely author of a prior post). The SYSTEM, including the school committee, library trustees, and right on down the line, is set up in a way that fosters the status quo.

And I respectfully disagree with you on one point: I believe Town Meeting is, in fact All Powerful. It controls the purse strings. All budget requests are made with one purpose in mind: to gain the approval of Town Meeting. It has repeatedly rejected smart growth zoning initiatives, often just shy of 2/3 vote. Its members can, and do form cartels and special interest groups that operate in the shadows to serve their narrow special interests. Some districts with vacancies while others are hotly contested is the opposite of democracy.

So don't preach to me about how I can get involved and make a difference. To quote the Dowager Countess, "Tell me, does it ever get chilly, up there on the moral high ground?"

Nick Grabbe said...

To Anonymous 12:33,
It doesn't make sense to compare the timing of the end of the first charter process to the beginning of the third one. It makes more sense to compare the beginning of one to the beginning of anotheer. So why not say there have been two charter commissions in the past 25 years? You don't lose any of the impact of your argument, and no one doubts its accuracy. And can I ask who I'm having this debate with?
Nick Grabbe

Anonymous said...

That moment when you realize you are in a blog back and forth with someone calling themself Scrooge McDuck.


Jerry Guidera said...


Amherst For Change, the newly established entity formed to promote Charter Commission candidates, has announced its slate of nine preferred candidates. Please help us elect those committed to real change in Amherst town governance.

We've reviewed the Amherst For All surveys, the League of Women Voters profiles, and other candidate information to come up with the following slate for Charter Commission:

1, Andy Churchill
2, Tom Fricke
3, Nick Grabbe
4, Mandi Jo Hanneke
5. Phil Jackson
6. Bernie Kubiak
7. Maureen Raab
8. Irv Rhodes
9. Julia Rueschemeyer.

This strong slate of candidates (see attached PDF) is a dedicated group of neighbors with a variety of perspectives and experiences who share one thing in common - they believe it's time to make changes to our governance structure. We're fortunate to have so many qualified candidates for the Commission to chose from, but we feel that forming a slate of only nine candidates is our best way to push for the kind of change that got some 3,500 residents to sign a petition in only four months this past year. There's a formidable number of candidates running for the Charter Commission with the sole purpose of defending Town Meeting and our current, flawed system - please help us defeat them.

Amherst for Change will support our slate of candidates through newspaper advertisements, informational-mailers, electronic communications, fliers, yard signs, etc. to advocate for these candidates To fund this effort, we need your help: Please support the election of these candidates by providing a personal or corporate donation of any amount.

Donations can me made online at or by check payable to:

Amherst For Change
C/O MaryAnn Grim
65 Alpine Drive
Amherst, MA 01002

Don't forget to vote March 29 and vote for real change!

Anonymous said...

Who is McDuck supporting? McDuck, with his naddering beak and paddling flat orange feet, I'll follow him anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Even if it was, is there something wrong with being a billionaire?