Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Charter Commission: So Far So Good

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.


Anonymous said...

The "School Nutz" regime-an autocracy-power corrupts-absolute power-corrupts-absolutely -is this what they know-that we don't ? Just say'n..go figure..ya think ???!!!

Anonymous said...

Fortunately Maurianne Adams didn't get elected to the commission but that's not going to stop her from using the public comment period as a bully pulpit to poison the process. She thinks she knows better than all people on all issues. She's well past her prime and seems to have aged past the point of objective observation and critical thinking. The commission will have to find a way to rein her in so they can go about their business of trying help Amherst find the best form of government for the future.

Larry Kelley said...

Ageism aside, it is going to be interesting to see how they handle Public Comment.

They should have a brief 15 minute period at the very beginning of the meeting for simple declarations (like Select Board does) but should also allow comments at the end of any agenda item that stimulated a lot of discussion within the group.

And then it would not hurt to allow brief comments at the end of the meeting. Brief being the key word.

Larry Kelley said...

And maybe limit any one speaker to two comments so for instance Maurianne could make a brief statement at opening of meeting and then comment in the middle of the meeting on an issue that stimulated a lot of Commission discussion, but then would not be allowed to make a closing comment.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter if you set limits - the People will steamroll any restrictions to what they deem is their free speech. Just remember the clock debacle with school committee...

Anonymous said...

With 9 members and probably 25 advanced degrees among them, including 2 law degrees, couldn't the Charter Commission start it's work without hiring consultants at $100s/hour? Gage is right, there already are several Charter Commission reports, consultant reports, websites full of info. Read that and figure out next steps before heading into the public trough. Aren't they supposed to do this work? They couldn't even say what the consultants were for. $35K to start and then how much more?

Larry Kelley said...

If they only use $10K of the $30K then the remaining $20K instantly goes back into the town treasury, so what's the big deal?

The Town Attorney pointed out things have changed somewhat dramatically with Open Meeting Law since 2010, and the last Charter Commission met in 2003 so a consultant would presumably be up on all those changes and whatever else has changed over the past dozen years.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's an appealing request. Basically the people who want to get rid of town meeting want town meeting to give 30K to get rid of town meeting. Why not ask all the downtown business owners, landlords, property owner and property management companies that funded the charter effort for the money?

Anonymous said...

I think we're going to discover that it's a minority in town meeting that want to hang on to their position of power at all costs. There were a lot of town meeting members that signed the petition for a Charter Commission. They've been in a good position to see how and why town meeting doesn't work.