Friday, June 10, 2016

The Ghosts Of Charters Past

Amherst:  A unique college town

The 9-member Amherst Charter Commission (V3) heard a post mortem analysis from two previous Charter Commission members last night on what went right and not so right with their individual Charter efforts circa 1996 and 2003.

 Bryan Harvey (left) Michael Greenebaum (right)

Bryan Harvey and Michael Greenebaum agreed a common thread running through both Charter efforts was the dissatisfaction with Town Meeting.

Greenebaum chuckled saying their response "gave everyone something to hate," because Town Meeting loyalists didn't like the reduction in size from 240 down to 150 and anti-Town Meeting voters didn't like that they maintained it at all.

The 1996 Charter (V1) came up with a "hybrid government":  a 150 member Town Meeting and 7-member Town Council a Mayor AND a Town Manager.  Yikes! It failed fairly resoundingly 54%/46%

Whereas the 2003 Charter (V2) terminated Town Meeting but confusingly maintained a full time Town Manger and added a Mayor/Council.  It failed narrowly the first time 50.1% to 49.9% and by slightly more the 2nd time 52.2% to 47.8%.

When asked about regrets or "do over" Harvey said he would have articulated better to the voters the roles of mayor and town manager.

His Commission had taken pains to clearly give each position defined roles and powers but some voters were concerned about overlapping responsibilities aka stepping on each others toes.

Although that fateful decision was barely supported by the full Commission in a 5-4 vote with the minority more interested in a strong Mayor/Council.

Neither of the previous Charter members said they used surveys although Harvey said they had invaluable information from a non-binding ballot question the Select Board placed on the same 2001 ballot as the Charter question asking voters if it's time to do away with Town Meeting.

At the time Harvey was Chair of the Select Board and had become disillusioned with Town Meeting.  

That question passed handily 1,832 yes to  1307.

Both Greenebaum and Harvey said this current Charter Commission is off to a good start with members first trying to ascertain the big picture, what people like about our current town government and what could change for the better but still maintain the unique cultural values of our town.

At the end of their one hour presentation the Charter Commission thanked both parties for their illuminating presentations.

 Charter Commission (V3) last night

Bryan Harvey quickly responded, "Thanks to you.  We know what you're in for! But it was one of the most interesting experiences I ever had."

The Charter Commission and about a dozen audience members applauded as the two left the room.

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