Friday, November 4, 2016

Not Worth A Bucket Of Warm Spit

Amherst Select Board at last night's Charter Commission Hearing

At least Vice President Garner played second fiddle to one of our greatest Presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Pity your basic Amherst Selectman as they are best described as "one-fifth of a Mayor" with all the real power vested in an unelected Town Manager.

Last night the entire 5 person Select "Board" appeared before the Charter Commission to give their take on our town government, and not surprisingly were kind of like the lookout on the Titanic ten minutes before she hit the iceberg proclaiming it "All clear.  Keep steaming full speed ahead."

All five were big fans of maintaining  a professional full-time Town Manager, although support for Town Meeting was not nearly so overwhelming.

Connie Kruger was her usual forthright self in describing Town Meting:

"About as polarized as I’ve ever seen it.  They distrust staff and board members and it got in the way of good decisions. Really uncalled for.  The number of nights presents a barrier to participation.  Acrimony over Library expansion last spring was particularly appalling."

Even Chair Alisa Brewer, who gets paid more than the other four but has no more real power stated:

"I fought to save Town Meeting last time. But now I’m concerned.  Public hearings attract the same people, with the same complaints.  Need to make the entire system easier for average person to engage. "
The Select Board members all reaffiremd that they are collegial and caring among themselves as a board and even try to act Mayor-like in attending public events.

But again the problem is each member has only a one-fifth official say in anything official. Which makes them hard to take seriously when anytime one of them is in room of heavy hitters from UMass, Beacon Hill or even a major business convention.

The big mistake the last Charter Commission made 15 years ago was keeping a powerful Town Manager and throwing in a weak Mayor to the mix.  The big thing they got right was dumping Town Meeting in favor of a full time professional town council.

Since Amherst is such an academic little college town lets hope this Charter Commission will not fail to learn from history, and doom this vital endeavor to repeat a monumental mistake.


Anonymous said...

Bucket of warm spit lol! I just wanted to comment how wonderful Paul is,if we get a mayor he's got my vote! He really is a pleasure to speak with. He's very down to earth. Unfortunately I can't say the same about select board.

Larry Kelley said...

The actual quote is "bucket of warm piss," but I try to be family friendly.

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to vote to eliminate town meeting.

Anonymous said...

A town manager is a trained professional that is hired from a pool of applicants. A mayor can be anyone, qualified or not.

Larry Kelley said...

Who will then hire a trained professional to be Finance Director.

Dr. Ed said...

Are you sure, Larry? Remember this was in the era of chewing tobacco and spittoons.

Anonymous said...

Finance director and town manager are different jobs.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Larry is sure. Who knows a warm bucket of piss better than Larry Kelley? Afterall, his blog is just that.

kevin said...

The big story is the Planning Board, who appoints the Planning Board. Town Meeting, made up mainly of property owners -- homeowners and landlords -- has final say on zoning. And the average age of Town Meeting members voting on zoning is 67, retirees. Who don't care about jobs, just keeping things the same. The pro-Town Meeting members will hold out for an elected planning board. But zoning has a 50-year horizon, not even ten or twenty years. That would make them what, 113 by then? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

"A mayor can be anyone, qualified or not."

Shows the value of voting.

Scrooge McDuck said...

Kevin 3:04

I agree that the planning board is super important and with your permission would like to expand on your statement. The board members have to act like a panel of judges when considering permit applications. So they should be appointed, not be elected, to avoid "tyranny of the majority." Massachusetts was able to lead the country in same-sex marriage because it appoints, not elects its judges.

Just look at the difference between our elected school committee (grandstanding, ineffective, and combative) compared to the appointed planning board (who all get along, and have been highly successful in encouraging new development). This concept should carry over to the planning board and ZBA under any new government.

But the planning board can only propose new bylaws, not approve them. Once town meeting is gone, I think all new bylaws and zoning bylaws (and the budget) have to be approved or denied by the town council.

Larry Kelley said...


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the judges of one's property should not be appointed or elected as both these methods seem to avoid the concept of property all together. I suggest the traditional method of getting to be judge what can be done on a property is to pay money for the property or negotiate rights and seal them with a contract. Let the owner decide and it is his property, let someone else decide and it is their property. If the property was owned and now is not, but was not bought, then has it not been stolen?

Bottom line, the who decides what rights someone has on a property is the owner. Paying endless taxes while having rights reduced or bowing down to endless restrictions is what peasant tenants do.

David Williams said...

I may be simple but I believe that ultimately the office makes the person, not otherwise. So whatever the outcome, we ultimately come to the high ideals of the office wheather mayor, TM select board or a hybrid. This is a principled community and that will always will out. Many thanks Larry for having this forum you've created. A beautiful fall to all.....Dave Williams

Larry Kelley said...

Thanks Dave!

Been a great fall so far.

We do live in interesting times.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scrooge

The person(s) who appoint(s) the Planning Board should be elected.

Right now an appointed Town Manager appoints members of the Planning Board. To use your comparison--an elected governor appoints the judges.

Scrooge McDuck said...

I agree. Council or mayor should be the appointing authority. Currently the town manager nominates and select board appoints. Similar would probably be okay if there's a mayor, or if there is to be a manager, the town council could do both.

Anonymous said...

It does seem like the consensus is that that someone else besides the owner should decide how to use the property and that this person could be appointed or elected, but no matter what, it should not be the person that owns and invested in the property?

Is this a UMASS philosophy experiment to see how much people can bend over, while debating the color of their socks?