Saturday, July 9, 2016

Who's In Charge?

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.

23 comments:

Kevin said...

There is more than one way to select a Mayor. Cambridge has a interesting setup. It's called "Plan E".
PLAN E: Government by a city council including a mayor elected from its number, and a city manager, with all elected bodies elected at large by proportional representation (from Chapter 43 of the Massachusetts General Laws)
https://www.cambridgema.gov/citynewsandpublications/publications/documents/p/planecharter

RKA45 said...

Our acting town manager obviously doesn't understand our town or how it came to be. I'm glad Alissa was irritated with his comment. While at times Umass may act like godzilla's tail, it is still the main artery that supplies blood to our area. I can't think of one family in town that doesn't have a family member connected to the campus in one way or another. I can't think of one business that hasn't profited from the students or professors being here. I do think there should be some equitable agreement between the university and the town to offset the costs of educating children that live in tax free housing. It would be nice if the university and the town could come to a mutually agreeable number, possibly the school choice number (5,000) to help offset those expenses.
Rebecca

Larry Kelley said...

It was our incoming Town Manager who made the remark not our current Temporary Town Manager.

Although Mr. Bockelman once lived here while attending Hampshire College, that was a while back.

RKA45 said...

OH Well that may make the future interesting !!

Anonymous said...

Can you explain why you're so high on the idea of a mayor, as opposed to town manager, Larry? I agree that our government needs an overhaul but also really value the professional management skills brought by folks like Musante and Hochenbleikner. Don't mayors tend to be more political figures as opposed to professional municipal managers? Where will the basic day to day "know how" come from within a mayoral scenario?

Larry Kelley said...

I assume a Mayor would hire a solid Director of Finance, which Mr. Musante started out as.

Anonymous said...

And, what do you envision the role or purpose of Mayor being?

Larry Kelley said...

Occupy the desk where the buck stops.

Anonymous said...

Larry I 100% percent agree...who am I suppose to batch to now?....Helen Berg?

Anonymous said...

One interesting & important function of Northampton's major is to serve as chair of the city's School Committee. Perhaps Amherst should consider something similar.

Larry Kelley said...

Considering public schools spend the lion's share of local tax dollars, absolutely.

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Larry is right the way things are now no one takes responsibility for making decisions.

Anonymous said...

It would have been great to have an Amherst mayor as chair of the Regional SC the last two years instead of that fool Baptiste. But even under a new system the Amherst mayor would not be chair if the region. We would still have to suffer under the non-leadership of someone like Baptiste. I'm glad we survived his era of looniness. He still has no clue of the role of the SC or, even worse, the role of chair.

Dr. Ed said...

The solution is simple -- Amherst leaves the district, runs its own schools and permits other towns to contract.

Then you only issue 1-year contracts for Supt.

Ed Reform eliminated tenure admin to hold them accountable, but then gave them the power to be independent as well.

It's like the UMass Police Chief who "serves at the pleasure of the Chancellor" -- and can be fired tomorrow for without a reason. Things would be different if Maria "served at the pleasure of" a Mayor worried about re-election....

Dr. Ed said...

The flip side of this is Michelle Rhee in DC -- She was free to do lots of things, much to the chagrin of the NEA and others, bot was gone when the NEA got the mayor defeated.

Of course, those who opposed her reforms would argue that the system worked.

Maybe we should elect Supts in district-wide elections.

Dr. Ed said...

Prior to 1855, Amherst had a Municipal Minister -- all MA towns were required to -- and Town Meeting annually voted to retain or fire the minister.

Imagine how things would be different if Maria had to obtain a majority vote of TM each year to retain her job...

Anonymous said...

"Ed Reform" would be great but I don't think Dr Eddie is reformable!

Anonymous said...

Larry have you ever lived in a town or city with a mayor? It's no guarantee of anything and opens the door to favoritism, nepotism, corruption, etc. as well as the usual things found in govt/ What happens when the mayor doesn't do what you want? You wait 3 years, then make a contribuation for the opponent -- and then if the mayor is re-elected? How can ordinary citizen voices be heard when the mayor doesn't support their position? What's their leverage?

Larry Kelley said...

No but I've lived next to Northampton all my life and they have a Mayor.

You sound pretty self centered. How the Hell can a Mayor, Council or even Town Meeting always do what EVERYBODY wants?

Anonymous said...

We need a mayor and a town manager, because a mayor can be any idiot, and probably will be. At least a town manager had qualifications.

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...

It would be nice to have a person with actua authority on the school committee. It seems to me that our super is the only authority figure in the room and the rest of the school committee are just ppl she bosses around. Even though that.isnt the way it is supposed to work. There is litle evidence that our current school committee members have the bravery to stand up set policy and supervise Maria. They might aa well set up a tea cart and show up in slippers with manicure kits.

Anonymous said...

The current school committee and select board members are pretty passive. It doesn't have to be that way.