Charter Commission opened with a moment of silence for Stan Ziomek
If aliens were to lay seige to our little college town, Thursday night would not have been a great time to attack as we had three Town Managers on site -- former 23 year occupant of Town Hall's top floor Barry Del Castilho, current Temporary Town Manager Pete Hechenbleikner and about-to-be Town Manger Paul Bockelman.
Pete Hechenbleikner, Barry Del Castilho, Andy Steinberg
Of course that could also bring up the old concern about, "too many cooks spoiling the broth."
At the Charter Commission meeting Thursday night the nine Commissioners interviewed Del Castilho, Hochenbleikner, and Select Board Vice Chair Andy Steinberg about the executive function of our current antiquated town government.
The usual questions interviewees will hear over and over is what works and doesn't work now, and how can we make it better?
Naturally Representative Town Meeting -- our oversized, unrepresentative, legislative branch -- is a key concern, as is the power of a Town Manager vs that of a Mayor.
Interestingly Del Castilho, with 23 years experience as our Town Manager, thought a mayor gets more respect in Boston -- even a weak mayor.
Mr. Hechenbleikner on the other hand thought legislators in Boston treated town managers with the same respect as mayors. But he thought our current Town Meeting could definitely be improved as the Amherst "legislative process is unusually difficult"
He went on to say, "Town Meeting artificially focuses activity into two periods of the year. Most government functions grind to a halt during Town Meeting. Other forms of government spread it out over a year."
Both Hechnbleikner and Steinberg championed the notion of "stability" of a town manager vs a mayor who faces reelection every two years. Of course the Charter Commission can enact a minimum four year term for the mayor, which is the average nationwide.
And while Del Castilho served admirably for 23 years some officials seem to have forgotten Larry Shaffer (or blocked it out) who served not so admirably for only four years.
One of the key areas of concern for any chief executive in a "college town" is how to get that tax exempt college or university to pay their fair share for public services provided by the town. Something Mayor Dave Narkewicz has seen success with recently in our sister city to the west, Northampton.
Our new Town Manager Paul Bockelmen (starts August 22) was in the audience
Mr. Bockelman peeved Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer during the interview process when he spoke about the inadvertent impact of UMass on the town as being like Godzilla's tail on Tokyo.
Specifically he cited expenses relating to children from UMass tax-exempt housing coming into our public schools, something Superintendent Maria Geryk estimated cost taxpayers over $1 million per year.
All three of the executive branch panelists agreed about how critical it is for strong "collaboration" between the Town Manager and Select Board.