Tuesday, May 17, 2016

(Endangered) Elephant In The Room

Amherst Town Meeting:  Too large (white, rich, old, clueless)?

The Amherst Charter Commission in their 1st meeting since the state mandated public forum last week discussed "themes" they heard both at the forum and in emails to the Commission over the past month or so.

The fate of Town Meeting seemed to be the paramount concern or as the music industry used to say "Number one with a bullet."  Of course supporters fear Town Meeting will be "terminated with extreme prejudice," aka a bullet to the back of the head.  (Metaphorically speaking of course.)

 Charter Commission met last night in Town Hall prior to Town Meeting

Back in 2001 when the previous Charter Commission was formed the Select Board allowed a non binding advisory question on the ballot asking voters if it was time to terminate Town Meeting.  And voters said "Yes" by a healthy margin (1,832 to 1,307).

Commissioner Diana Stein started the discussion by pointing out 24 of 37 speakers supported Town Meeting in some form.  Although fellow loyalist Gerry Weiss was to quick to admit the most common comment was "to make Town Meeting smaller."

Chair Andy Churchill thought most of the 50+ attendees were, "Insiders who don't think outside the box."

 The Charter Commission was pleased with the turnout for the 5/12 Public Hearing

Commissioner Nick Grabbe rattled off a list of common criticisms including "long sessions, not enough candidates, grandstanding, absenteeism, lack of preparation prior to meetings, reflexive opposition to staff proposals, acting with no constituent feedback, and name recognition key to getting elected."
 Chair Andy Churchill took notes

Other members mentioned how Town Meeting can act as an "incubator" for entry into town government and the large legislative body acts in a checks-and-balances way to keep town officials and the executive branch (Select Board) in line.

But most agreed the overall form of government is diffuse without any one entity vested with the power to get things done or be held accountable when they fail.

 Click to enlarge/read

Commissioner Irv Rhodes wondered if a Flint Michigan water crisis scenario occurred in Amherst who would be to blame: the Select Board, Town Manager, Town Meeting,  DPW Director?  

After last night's petulant Town Meeting, perhaps drinking the Kool-Aid is more in order.


Anonymous said...

We have become ungovernable. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Tell Irv that there was a mayor and governor involved in Flint and what did that do for the people of Flint?

We aren't ungovernaable, we are a very successful town. Look around and appreciate how much we have here in Amherst. Take a visit to Holyoke, Palmer, Orange--and a lot of surburban towns without cafes, museums, Atkins, tons of activities, etc.

It's not a water half empty outlook--people don't even see there is a glass.

kevin said...

My wish for a governing body:
1) I want a Town government without Open Government, that is free to make deals behind closed doors on a closed listserv, like Town Meeting;
2) I want a Town government that is immune to conflict of interest, like Town Meeting;
3) I want a Town government without fiduciary duty, like Town Meeting; and,
4) I want a Town government where elected officials are free to use their elected office to influence a state-mandated board for personal reasons, like Town Meeting.

What do you like about our current government?

Anonymous said...

"Look around and appreciate how much we have here in Amherst - and a lot of suburban towns without cafes, museums, Atkins, tons of activities, etc."

And they don't have ridiculous taxes that subsidize a train wreck for a school system and businesses that pay no tax.

Anonymous said...

I think there is an opportunity being missed here.

The people of Amherst debating on how to design a government that has control or a say in literally every aspect of one's life, but they feel good about it on average. A big challenge.

Designing a communist government as a result of fear of free will.

Thus, endless entertainment as there is no mathematical solution aside from conflict, which is actually the goal, right? The leaders always win when the people are in conflict, the solution is always a clamp down.

Please bear in mind that if this results in less government and more respect of the people, this would be one of the first such transitions in history without the use of violence. Thus, unlikely to go that way, like very unlikely and this should be obvious to an educated population. It is more likely that people will have less control, less respect and be more frustrated.....after having spent much time and money.

But they will have hope as they dive down this dark hole. Hope is valuable, in the short term anyway. The problem is that most of us will make it until next year and have to live with the worse results of this game.

Anonymous said...

The Commies are coming.....the Commies are coming...yeeesh...good rational post...I thought we were suppose to worry about Sharia Law and who is in our bathrooms?

Anonymous said...

That's a completely nutty post. You do know they are just voting on the town budget, which is school spending, road paving, park maintenance, police, fire department, etc.? These are all the same budget items that we will have whether we have town meeting or not. Unless you are so libertarian that you prefer to pave the roads and put in the sewer pipes yourself. In that case, by all means go ahead. I'll come and watch you.

Anonymous said...

You say communism like this would not be a good thing.

And we are worried about who is in our bathrooms, what type of fixtures are there, whether they are approved by national approval bodies and properly inspected many times before restricted use by a limited number of people that have permission and a permit to be on site....what temperature the water is.

Sharia Law - oh no, we certainly don't need any more laws, especially those that will be partially and unevenly enforced like most of the rest of them.

Again, people historically do not get more say in government without violence. That was my point. And even with the violence, they usually only end up with a dictator. Rock the boat, fall out, that is the point.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow.

It will be an incremental change if a new form of government is voted in. The town won't be rent asunder, falling forever into the abyss no matter if TM stays or goes.

But as I am not (nor have I ever been) a Town Meeting member, my vote will be for a town council and professional town manager. In my view my interests will be better represented, and we will have elected officials that are legally required to follow open meeting and conflict of interest laws.

Jackie M'Vemba said...

You know, more thinking INSIDE the box might just be a good thing.