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.