Carl Erikson: Must understand details in charter

Thursday, March 08, 2018
Must understand details in charter

“A Town Council will be much more efficient than Town Meeting.”

This narrow propaganda pitch from those pressing for approval of the proposed new Amherst charter obscures the power grabs and potholes lurking in the 37 pages of single-spaced legalese of this charter. These details will be the real town government Amherst will have if this proposed charter is approved.

A mere 13 people will grab the power of 245 people (Town Meeting and Select Board). People will need lots more money and free time than most people have to campaign every two years for Town Council.

These people will set their own salaries. They will grab from the voters the power to name every member of the Redevelopment Authority, which determines what gets built in our town. Increasing the number of signatures required on petitions will let Town Council escape many issues that Town Meeting now must consider. The finances of Town Council, School Committee and library board will be freed of regular audits.

Some of the potholes in this proposed charter are deep. Every elected position in Amherst government ends on the same day every other year, destroying institutional memory. No public notice of Town Council agenda items will be needed. Town councilors will not have to hear citizen objections and concerns.

The annual evaluation of the town manager, the town’s chief administrator, will happen without input from the citizens, the primary objects of his actions. Town Council can act without the votes of a majority of the members on many matters. Town Council decisions need not be reported to the public. Town manager must address the town three times a year on school matters, which aren’t his responsibility.

Details can be devils or angels, so it’s always best to know which you’re picking before you grab. Understanding all of the details in the entire new proposed Amherst charter isn’t easy work, but if you don’t, you’ll be stuck with lots of devils for a long time.

Carl Erikson