Nine member Amherst Charter Commission
After almost two hours of deliberation comparing a Mayor/Council to the current Town Meeting/Select Board the full Amherst Charter Commission -- with one member using remote participation -- decided not to change course on their 5-4 late December "straw vote " to ditch Town Meeting.
Although they did not take a formal (concrete) vote it was obvious none of the Commissioners had changed their minds and if anything are now only more firmly entrenched.
In fact Town Meeting loyalists Gerry Weiss and Julia Rueschemeyer threatened to write a "robust minority report" although colleague Diana Stein promised to work with the five to create the best Charter possible.
This was the second meeting in a row that stalled momentum although the first hour was particularly enlightening as the Commission heard from Northampton (strong) Mayor David Narkewicz and South Hadley Administrator Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan a former Mayor of Holyoke told the Commission mayor/councils are not a one size fits all because every community has a "different texture ... a different fabric -- but if you can adopt what Northampton has go for it because it works really well there."
Mayor Narkewicz pointed out he has a highly trained credentialed finance team in place to handle the complicated finances of a city and their charter -- which gives the mayor a four year term -- makes very clear distinctions between the legislative (Council) and executive (Mayor) branch.
Sullivan concurred adding, "Mayor/Council form expedites things."
Mayor Dave Narkewicz (ctr), Mike Sullivan (rt)
When asked about corruption Sullivan thought, "The only safeguard against corruption is individual honesty, no matter the system."
Mayor Narkewicz said Northampton passed an ordinance restricting political contributions to $500 even though the state allows $1,000 and he pointed out the Open Meeting Law keeps folks honest since anyone could access his campaign contribution report via the web.
Narkewicz acknowledged he was recently surprised to learn Representative Town Meeting members are exempt from state Conflict of Interest and Open Meeting Laws and he thought that, "was a recipe for problems."
Charter Chair Andy Churchill asked if they had any final suggestions for his Commission and Mayor Narkewicz told them "Make roles very clear. Don't come up with a diluted mish mash. Know where the buck stops. Don't go with a fake Mayor."
The Mayor/Council/Manager Charter proposal in 2003 lost by only 14 votes and one of the main reasons for failure was the (unelected) Manager had more power than the (fake) Mayor.