Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Fateful Decision?

Charter Commission last night (Julie Rueschemeyer not yet arrived)
 Town Meeting last moth:  four sessions, 3 hours each; Nine sessions last Spring

The Amherst Charter Commission, after nine l-o-n-g months of public meetings, made their first real decision concerning a core requirement for any form of government that's legal in Massachusetts and fortunatley it was the right one:  replace Town Meeting with a smaller more efficient and professional Council.

The first hour or so of the meeting saw each member give a brief presentation of where they are at and it was quite clear that five favored replacing Town Meeting and three did not.  But Julia Rueschemeyer was missing at the time due to car problems.

Nick Grabbe however hit the nail on the head during follow up when he said it's better to go with the right Charter even if it is only endorsed by a 6-3 vote than to compromise too much to get it to a 7-2 or 9-0 vote of the Commission.


Ironically the nine-member Charter Commission is pretty much acting like a nine-member City Council:  put them in a room to deliberate over a given problem and let them come up with a solution.

So even a 5-4 vote passes, and somewhere down the road if voters give it that same 55% approval it pretty much proves the Council/Commission "represents/matches the will of the voters."

Fifteen years ago in the early stage of deliberation the Charter Commission took their fateful vote and decided to ditch Town Meeting by a 7-2 margin.  And six months later when the Charter was completed it was the exact same 7-2 vote to send it to the voters.

In fact the two Town Meeting loyalists back then became almost obstructionists after that initial kill-Town-Meeting vote and started to work against the Charter well before it was complete.

Of course the other fateful decision they made by a much narrower 5-4 vote was to keep a Town Manager and give him more authority than a Mayor who would be pretty much a ceremonial figurehead.

Let's hope this Charter Commission has learned from (recent) history.


Anonymous said...

yes, bring on expensive political campaigns largely funded by developers and downtown property owners, political appointees running town government and the end to professional management by town managers with management experience! paid city councilors with no particular experience at anything! no more citizen oversight! let the games begin!

Larry Kelley said...

Yes the most recent race for State Rep was won by the candidate who raised and spent the most money but by most measures also the one that worked the hardest to connect with voters, who in turn elected him by a pretty wide margin.

Anonymous said...

I personally cannot wait for everything to be better now and stop the ruining of lives that results from the current form of government.

Perhaps other towns or even countries will learn from what Amherst has now accomplished.

Remember the Russian Revolution, well you wont once Amherst is done having the real one, the one that really changes people and how they interact.

Why is this not making national news, such a significant change that will have such a sweeping effect on everyone related to Amherst is clearly bigger than someone not putting a flag up right?

Larry Kelley said...

Well I wouldn't go that far.

But perhaps a year and half from now when town voters approve the change, it will certainly get a fair amount of coverage.

Anonymous said...

My sense is that the change will be hard to describe or have meaning to anyone that is not drinking the cool aid made from town water.

It would be cooler if they cover the sweeping changes that result. The action item is not the form of government, but the actions they take that show change.

Anonymous said...

From the Gazette:

In straw vote, divided Charter Commission in Amherst to study mayor-council government…...

Gage was joined by Julia Rueschemeyer, Gerry Weiss and Diana Stein in voting against moving toward a mayor-council.

Both Gage and Weiss, a former chairman of the Select Board, advocated for giving more power to the Select Board and Town Meeting.

Gage, who said she has concerns about money in politics, said the commission should instead try to strengthen the Select Board, with ideas floated such as allowing members to sit on both the School Committee and Planning Board.

The concept of a “first selectperson” is appealing to Rueschemeyer.

She said this gives more authority to one member over other members, while retaining Town Meeting in some form. But while this exists in Connecticut, it is not a structure that allowed in Massachusetts. [Although the AG said it did not know.]

Stein said she couldn’t support a plan that doesn’t have a professional manager.

Larry Kelley said...

Yep, and one of the more interesting details they didn't point out was Ms. Rueschemeyer mentioning how she had a private email pow-wow with Gerry Weiss concerning her (illegal) proposal.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53... who...other then ed would mention the Russian Revolution? Ever since since someone outed him as posting all day long...hence not working...ever since then he identifies himself only sometimes. VIVA la Revolution!

Anonymous said...

Since MGL (and the AG's office) is silent on the matter, it would be more accurate to call Julia's interesting proposal extra-legal, not illegal.

Dr. Ed said...

Anon 9:53... who...other then ed would mention the Russian Revolution?

Apparently someone because it wasn't me.
Nor did I quite understand the reference -- while a basically fair election helped Hitler come to power, I'm not aware of the Soviets ever having done so.

Anyway, all of this governance stuff is essentially moot because a house divided can not stand. As long as the purpose is to silence, subjugate, and control half the residents, it will be inherently flawed.

Anonymous said...

I guess every email is secret until it's exposed by the Russians. And not much of secret if you talk about it at a meeting. And there's no law against charter commissioners emailing each other about issues before the commission. The problem is when a majority of commissioners start weighing in on an issue either by email or conversation, sort of like the game telephone. Two people emailing don't violate open meeting law. Having a lay person from the Collins Center say something is illegal doesn't exactly pin it down.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes I'm quite familiar with Open Meeting Law.

I guess the question is did she and Gerry also discuss it with the other two Town Meeting loyalists? Now we're up to four -- the same four who voted no to the unofficial straw vote.

And again that's perfectly legal because four is not a quorum in a Commission of nine. But it certainly violates the spirit of the law.

The Collins Center consultants strike me as extremely knowledgeable, so I would not be so quick to dismiss their friends (expensive) advise.

Larry Kelley said...

"friendly" advise

Anonymous said...

So ther you have it, more of a Hitler style takeover vs. Lenin because it is legal, which revolutions are not.

Hitler made quite a change, somehow Amherst likely and hopefully less so.

Ed has a point, since the goal is to dominate the other half of town that disagrees, it is doomed to be the same as now. Perhaps letting adults decide things on their own except for real crimes could work...you know, liberty? That was the original white man system in Amherst after the natives were wiped out, it lasted quite some time until special interests started to dominate. The real trick is restricting special interests and mass wealth redistribution, which is most of government at this point.

Anonymous said...

Ed is not the only one who wears a thinking cap.

Anonymous said...

Yes but Ed's thinking cap has a little propeller on top!

Nina Koch said...

To 9:05am,

Did it ever occur to you that you are part of a special interest group?

Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,

I think your blog is contributing to a huge misperception about Ms. Rueschemeyer's proposal. You wrote, "[Ms. Rueschemeyer] said this gives more authority to one member over other members, while retaining Town Meeting in some form. But while this exists in Connecticut, it is not a structure that allowed in Massachusetts. [Although the AG said it did not know]."In fact, nowhere does the law say that a "first selectperson" or other person who is popularly elected with a high degree of authority is not allowed in Massachusetts; instead, Massachusetts law stipulates only that a "mayor" is not allowed in a town, in conjunction with Town Meeting. It remains unclear whether a first selectperson is allowed in Massachusetts.

Scott Merzbach repeated your comment nearly to a T, despite it being factually incorrect -- "She said this gives more authority to one member over other members, while retaining Town Meeting in some form. But while this exists in Connecticut, it is not a structure that allowed in Massachusetts" (http://www.gazettenet.com/Amherst-Charter-Commission-to-pursue-mayor-council-form-of-government-6993263.

A commenter on your Facebook page then took this to mean the following: "[Ms. Rueschemeyer] and Diane were holding out for 'the Connecticut plan' which, it turns out, is illegal in Massachusetts (no "First Selectman" ie Mayor in Mass)", which is false. A First Selectman is different from a mayor and acts in conjunction with Town Meeting, and again, nobody knows whether it would be legal or not in Massachusetts.

This does not hold to the high standards of journalism that you normally practice, even though your statement was in the comments.

Furthermore, Ms. Rueschemeyer's proposal adds creativity to a commission that has looked essentially only at two possibilities for Amherst government (town meeting vs. mayor/council), without considering their various iterations or other possibilities outside of Massachusetts. It is a proposal worth thinking about seriously, and writing it off as "not allowed" in Massachusetts ultimately does the town and charter commission a disservice.

Larry Kelley said...

I'm getting old, so I'm not happy about wasting time. And that proposal is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

If you want to look at behind-the-scenes lobbying, look at the advocates for the Mayor-Council. Don't forget the Chair and Vice Chair of the Charter Commission are in constant contact, setting agendas for meetings and controlling discussion topics. It's not a violation of OML for them to talk, clearly...but when they speak individually with their other three pro-Council supporters...and single out other members to try to convince them to move to Mayor/Counil, what then? Let's be careful about tossing out allegations of OML violations without any evidence. Larry you can do better than that.

Larry Kelley said...

Problems with your comprehension? Because it sure was not my writing.

I never even remotely suggested they violated OML.

Or is this a case of, "a guilty mind speaks out?"

Anonymous said...

8:17 has a point -- as both CT & ME were once part of Massachusetts, while not binding, what they permit is often considered relevant in situations like this when there is no clear precedent in MA law.

I like this proposal in that the voters and not the board elects the chair.

And Larry, just because there isn't a law saying you can do something isn't an absolute -- remember how Amherst is allowed to have names in random order on a ballot notwithstanding a state law to the contrary?

(You get a special law, like was done for this...)

Anonymous said...

What a shock that Rhodes, Churchill, Grabbe, Hannike and Fricke voted for a mayor-city council. They were endorsed by Amherst For All and their finanical backers-Jones, Cowles, Roberts, Guidera and an assortment of developers and commerical property owners. It's hard to control Town Meeting votes but not so hard to finance and control a paid mayor and city council. They need lots of money to run. Finally they will get their zoning changes and make more $$$$.