Town Clerk Sandra Burgess swears in the 9-member Charter Commission
The first meeting of the Amherst Charter Commission in over a dozen years went as well as could be expected, probably better.
All nine newly elected members showed up, the meeting started on time and the Commission organized itself with unanimous votes making Andy Churchill Chair, Mandi Jo Hanneke Vice Chair and Nick Grabbe clerk.
All three officers had been supported/endorsed in the election by Amherst For Change, an offshoot of the group who helped collect over 3,000 signatures required to force the potential change in government question on the ballot.
The Commission heard an Open Meeting Law primer from town attorney Lauren Goldberg who formerly worked for the Secretary of State and specializes in governmental issues like this.
She laid out the state mandated time frame starting with a public forum to get public comment that must be held within 45 days of the election, meaning not later than May 13th.
Within 16 months after the election they must publish their "preliminary report" and then within four weeks of that hold another public forum to get public reactions to the report. And the drop-dead deadline is 18 months from their election to get their "final report" to the Select Board for placement on the town election ballot.
About 2 dozen spectators showed up for the meeting and it was broadcast by Amherst Media
As for discussion in general among the Commission it didn't take long for the battle lines to be drawn. When Chair Andy Churchill brought up the $30K request of Town Meeting for charter related expenses the three Town Meeting loyalists -- Diana Stein, Gerry Weiss and Meg Gage -- balked.
They said it was too early in the process to be asking for so much money and it would breed discontent and suspicion.
Irv Rhodes worried about losing six months by waiting for Fall Town Meeting and he pointed out that if any money is left over at the end of the process it automatically goes back into the town coffers.
In his first act of diplomacy the Chair decided to put off the vote until their next meeting Monday night.
Churchill had gone before the Finance Committee last week and Select Board last night on his $30K proposal but both bodies requested he get a vote of the full Commission before they decide on whether to recommend it to Town Meeting.
Temporary Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said he was paid $22K as a Charter consultant by Wellesley and he suggested the Commission stick to the $30K figure.
The first vote next week on the money request will be indicative of how the process will play out over the next year. And two-thirds support is plenty enough.