Sunday, January 22, 2017

Charter Challenge

Charter Commission (four men, four women) January 19

Much to the delight of the eight or nine Town Meeting loyalists in the audience the Charter Commission squandered an entire three hour meeting backtracking from their late December decision to pursue a Mayor/Council by discussing ways to improve the current Town Meeting.

Which is kind of like the horse and buggy industry discussing ways to improve that mode of transportation circa 1910 or today's newspaper industry brainstorming ways to make ink on paper more efficient.

The Commission previously voted 5-4 to put Town Meeting out to pasture but the minority folks are having a hard time accepting that vote.  Kind of like the President Trump haters who have come out of the woodwork over the past two months.

Julia Rueshemeyer -- ever the attorney -- who has transformed into an all out Town Meeting cheerleader, pointed out that close vote was only a "straw vote," and openly wondered what happens now with one mayor/council supporter absent (Irv Rhodes) when the revote is 4-4?

Since the illustrious Select Board will vote to allow remote participation at their Monday night meeting that means absent member Irv Rhodes will be allowed to vote from afar his reaffirmation of mayor/council keeping the 5-4 vote intact.

And while he's at it Mr. Rhodes, who is black, should play the race card to offset Ms. Rueschemeyer playing the gender card at the last meeting praising Town Meeting for having 52% proportion of women.

Of course age, income, home ownership and skin color status is wildly out of whack compared to current town demographics.

In a recent memo to the Commission from their Collins Institute consultants the odd idea of creating a Select Board with one member being essentially a "mayor" was pretty much ruled out of order for ideas the Attorney General would allow.

All the state statutes treat a Select Board as a shared power executive branch, so in Amherst each of the five members are one-fifth of a mayor.  Which is of course the problem.  Nobody takes any one of them very seriously.

And insiders would be happy to point out over the past ten years former Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe and current Chair Alisa Brewer do/did act as sort of the Connecticut version of a "first Selectman" but it's made no difference with government efficiency.

Ms. O'Keeffe spoke during the public comment period and pointed out the signature gathering effort to get the Charter question on the ballot "reflected significant dissatisfaction with town government" and any tweaks/improvements to Town Meeting should be handled by the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee, not the Charter Commission.

Specifically addressing Ms. Rueshemeyer's pro-women rallying cry the longtime former Select Board chair said emphatically,  "This is Amherst.  We've had a majority of women on Select Board and as Chairs for decades!"

The Commission has scheduled an extra meeting for January 30th prior to the Special Town Meeting vote on the $67 million Mega School.  But members hope to take the revote after one more hour of discussion at their Wednesday, January 25th meeting, which starts at 6:30 PM.

At that meeting they will hear from Northampton Mayor Narkewicz who will no doubt be subject to "gotcha" type cross examination by the four Town Meeting loyalists.

The Commission will continue to discuss the merits of Town Meeting and perhaps take a revote later that night whether to rescind the previous "straw vote".

So even if Mr. Rhodes is absent and the Select Board has not approved remote participation the vote to reverse direction from the previous mayor council straw vote will still be a 4-4 tie and therefor the motion does not pass.

Simply enough to understand, even for a lawyer.


Anonymous said...

"minority folks are having a hard time accepting that vote"

Except, Trump haters are actually in the majority. By about 2 Million or so.

It should be easier for TM supporters to accept, since they actually lost the vote.

Anonymous said...

I am not clear. Are we saying expert outside consultants were hired and they think things are generally fine. Perhaps this is then a perception issue by locals vs. an actual issue....

The horse and buggy analogy is interesting. Is Amherst really the last community to be using town meeting or is this a gross exaggeration?

If the select board is really in charge, people do not get to ignore them as implied. You can fix that with better basic laws, like removing whatever law there is that makes compliance with laws and decisions optional. It may be worth noting that this is the only place that implied this stuff is optional, probably another exaggeration to try and get one's way.

Perhaps a good traditional American solution would be for the government to only take on things that the general public cannot handle. Amherst takes on far more and ends up competing with, heavily regulating and systematically eliminating private sector activities including providing housing. They replace functional private systems with never ending and poorly functioning public systems.

It is not the brand of government that is the issue, it is the never ending increase in the size of government. Notice how local controversy keeps pace with the local government spending (and blogging)....again, there is no voting about the function of the local grocery stores providing one of the most critical resources in the community, far more important than schools or homes, and there are no food issues because town government and voting is kept at bay, thus we do not run out of food - but somehow we run out of anything the government takes charge of - money for schools, housing, fire, police....please take note of the pattern. All these things are made of local resources and the govt screws them up, but the harder task of estimating the community's food needs and importing such in real time works perfectly every day, every week.

Get the government types out and the problems melt away because non government types have no choice but to succeed. Government types can fail for decades and we just keep on helping them.

Imagine a community with enough education where the people can function on their own?

Anonymous said...

What I love about the Charter 5 is their inability to support their opinions with facts. They just keep saying things like taking away 240 seats in town meeting gives citizens more power.

Anonymous said...

Here's some support that "taking away 240 seats in town meeting gives citizens more power"

It does. The reason being that TM members have no conflict of interest rules, are accountable to no one, can meet in secret, and can freely ignore the opinions of us, their "constituents." I call that "corruption."

Replacing them with an elected council would give us real representation in government, subject to open meeting and conflict of interest laws. I call that more power.

Anonymous said...

"Is Amherst really the last community to be using town meeting or is this a gross exaggeration?"

Most town in Massachusetts use the town meeting form of government. In fact, towns with less than 12,000 inhabitants cannot adopt a city form of government.

Larry Kelley said...

If you read the consultants memo I link to in the story:

"For further context on Rep TM, 53 of the Commonwealth’s 351 municipalities have at one point had RTM as their legislative branch. The highest number at any one time was 50, and there seems to be a slow but steady move away from the form. The last municipality to adopt it was Chelmsford in 1988. Currently, there are 3
6 towns with RTM. If the proposed Framingham charter passes in April, the
number will drop to 35. If towns with populations under 6,000(which are constitutionally prohibited from adopting the RTM form) are omitted from the total, approximately 15% of municipalities that have the option of RTM have it as their form of government."

Larry Kelley said...

Or another way of looking at that: 85% of the municipalities that have the option of using RTM as their form of government chose not to.

Anonymous said...

And that's because hundreds of New England Towns have Open Town meeting. And the term is representative or limited Town Meeting. The vast majority of New England towns have Open and Limited or Representative Town Meeting.

Our 30K consultants seem to have a one way agenda leading to one outcome using a well worn template leading to the mayor.

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that 0% of them or any government anywhere, chooses democracy....where the people decide on the issues and the government's job is to implement, not decide.

Will the people have more or less chances to weigh in on actual decisions if town meeting is eliminated? If we look at the decisions of the last decade or two, how would things have been better or different and what specific steps would have made it that way? How would taxes be lower?

Rene said...

@Anon 11:18,

Having a City Council form of government, however, does not guarantee there will be no "corruption" as you characterize our current form of government. Future Council members while subject to open meeting laws (which, btw, all current Town Committees, and Select Board are subject to) and conflict of interest laws would still be capable of "corruption" from conflict of interest, ignoring their constituents, etc. as well as in other ways: campaign contributions influencing their vote, patronage, etc. Another words, all the ills that plague any respresentative system of government would potentially be there as well.

I don't think that one system is inherently better than the other; rather that individuals have preferences in the form of government that reflect their interests, political beliefs, and experience. Having lived in Amherst going on 35 years now, I have experienced the good, bad and ugly of our current system. And, while I could (and have) complained about various aspects of the current form of government and would like to see some changes, I've yet to see any arguments to change it wholesale that I find convincing enough.

Two questions I would like to see answered are: (1) how/why would a Council form of government with 7 to 13 members be less susceptible to "corruption" as you describe it, and (2) how would you prevent the influence of money from corrupting the electoral process directly or indirectly?

Larry Kelley said...

Because it's a lot easier to keep an eye and focus a spotlight on 7-13 members than it is 240.

Especially in this day and age when media watchdogs are ABD. (All But Dead)

Anonymous said...

The number of mayors in prison for corruption far out number the number of town meeting members. The mayoral system is the hotbed of cronyism and corruption.

Larry Kelley said...

First of all that statement is impossible to prove since any anonymous idiot can be a town meeting member.

And even if true, this is Amherst. We're different. (Some would say unique.)

Anonymous said...

Good point Larry. N. Korea is able to put quite a spotlight on just one person. What kind of BS did they use to justify it, you may want to take note to keep this "sounds good" propaganda going.

The ability to keep an eye on a government system is proportional to the number of people in literally suggested the sun comes up in the evening.

For stuff like this, I suggest you look less to how the thing you are saying sounds and use simple "limits testing". Limits testing is cool because people with relatively little logic skills can do it, they don't have to "wrap their heads around it".

When there is a dictator, one person to keep track of, you have the least rights and you know the least about what the government is doing. When there is liberty and the people decide on their on, you can always keep track of the leader (you cannot get away from them) and you always know exactly what they are doing and exactly why. The idea is to only sacrifice liberty when there is no other reasonable option so that you have the most control of the government and your life. Amherst abhors liberty and thus ends up with the current piss poor options - it looses either way and pays for it over and over.

My sense is that Amherst Schools do not teach limit testing.

Larry Kelley said...

Lucky for me I went to a little Catholic school across the river.

Anonymous said...

$50K to run for mayor in Northampton, $15-20K to run for city council, elections without opposing candidates, no one showing up to budget hearings…welcome to Noho.

Anonymous said...

How can a city councilor represent me better than me if I am in town meeting-or my neighbor?

Anonymous said...

Larry, what changes would you like to see in Amherst? Could you raise these issues as a town meeting member? By a petition article? Have you tried? I know you have brought up the golf course over and over as a wasteful expense. What about a petition article calling for a committee to look at alternatives to the golf course? It could have another recreational use that is not so expensive. Do it this spring and see where it goes.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense that a Catholic school would not teach limits testing, why you do not use it and come to conclusions that having less overseers makes them easier to control or keep track of, despite this being the opposite of historical experience. Limits testing would suggest a god is not likely to exist. It would be like teaching Amherst kids about liberty, which could show the value of not regulating everything.

What Amherst lacks is the ability to keep someone honest - or even the desire to do so. Not so ironically, the Catholic groups are typically the same.

Just please do not let these town government fools start running our food supply, it is not optional like schools, police, fire, roads, permitting, building departments, zoning, planning boards, town meetings, consultants and those other petty things we let the town play with because they could not find real jobs. Food actually matters, we need it vs. want it.

Anonymous said...

You want a mayor? Enjoy these headlines.

Ex-Chicopee mayor sentenced to two years in prison

Mayor of Providence sentenced to five years and four months in prison

Former Clinchco, Va. mayor sentenced to prison

Ex-Paintsville mayor sentenced to prison for theft, bribery

Judge sentences former Lake Station mayor to 4 years in prison

Former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell Sentenced to Prison

Former Kennesaw mayor sentenced to prison

Former Detroit mayor sentenced to 28 years in prison

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been sentenced to 10 years in prison

Anthony M. Ardolino former chief of staff for ex-Mayor Michael J. Albano sentenced to a year in federal prison

Former Manalapan, NJ mayor sentenced to 5 years in prison

Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon Sentenced to prison

Mayor Katherine McQuistion entenced to 10 years behind bars

Ex-Bridgeport, Connecticut Mayor Goes to Prison

Larry Kelley said...

But this Amherst, we're different. Some would say unique.

Anonymous said...

Why would Amherst be any different. Candidates running for paid positions that control millions and millions of public dollars. A mayor will appoint his/her own paid staff, with the people who ran the campaign as top aides. No more professional town manager. A town hall run by political people. No bossy town meeting members scrutinizing each budget line. What could go wrong?

Anonymous said...

Mayors go to prison for bribery, illegally awarding contracts to friends, hiring friends and family, and all the other corruptions that Amherst has never had to worry about.

Larry Kelley said...

Paranoid much?

Anonymous said...

You've already got your mind made up. But others might want to look at the facts.

Larry Kelley said...

Sounds like your mind is pretty well made up as well.

And you're an Anon, so who cares?

Anonymous said...


Nice Google research!

I googled "Selectman sentenced..." and came up with 3530 hits.

"Selectwoman sentenced..." led to 73 hits, such as:

"Carole Swan was sentenced on Friday to 87 months. Swan, who spent 19 years as selectwoman, was convicted in September of extortion for using her position to seek kickbacks from a contractor who plowed the town's roads. She also was convicted last July of workers' compensation fraud and income tax fraud."

"Town Meeting Member sentenced..." is a more difficult search, because in some towns everyone over 18 can be a Town Meeting Member.

Anonymous said...

Did someone suggest that Amherst is not corrupt? The size of the government in a community that is quite advantaged is corruption in itself. We are wealthy and still seek any funds we can get, we are smart but ask the govt to do everything for us. We have no issues taxing those poorer than us to get what we want as they sacrifice what they need for it against their will. If we as a town the way we go about things don't define corruption and greed, what does? Mayor just changes the brand, not what is stated above, it is the greedy people of Amherst that are corrupt, the govt is just representing and doing our bidding to horde resources away from others.

Anonymous said...

Last poster has a point.

I googled "person sentenced" and came up with 67,000,000 results. "Amherst Man Arrested Massachusetts" gets 1.3 million results. "Amherst Massachusetts Corruption" has 4 hits per resident. In 1981 the New York Times featured Massachusetts Small Town corruption because it was a way of life, locals barely notice. According to older folks and family members still in Mass, this tradition of screwing your neighbors has been the way in Massachusetts for at least 90 years. Again, you likely do not even notice because you are busy playing the game going after other peoples' resources with the help of your town.

The people are the corrupt ones, the town employees are helpless to stop their greed and benefit quite well from it.

Anonymous said...

And if you think it's bad here, try Ludlow

Anonymous said...

Seriously look at how well our school committee worked previously.. I'm not sure I like that form of government where no one can get along or have the balls to make a decision

Mariaelena Garcia said...

This entire article was so full of snark and labeling.. "pro-women" input,"kind of like the Trump Haters" "playing the race card" and sarcastic inferences as to Town Members, Attorneys, etc., that you've lost me.
Open, non-biased reporting on the Agenda would go alot further in assisting us all to come to our own fair and democratic voice, regarding this very important decision!

Larry Kelley said...

Feel free to start attending their public meetings.