Thursday, December 28, 2017
Town Meeting not representative

My husband and I moved to Amherst a couple of years ago, and we’ve enjoyed the process of settling in and getting to know the town.

We generally feel that our values are well represented here, so I find it surprising that I’m uncomfortable with local politics, namely, with Town Meeting. It is supposed to be a representative body, but in practice, it is not.

I have found it incredibly difficult to learn about where Town Meeting members stand on issues. I have not met my Town Meeting representatives personally, and with a baby at home, I have not been able to attend the actual meetings.

I was recently interested in learning how my Town Meeting representatives felt about the net- zero energy building article, so I made an effort to contact them. The link to phone numbers on the town website was broken (it has since been fixed), but I was able to find physical addresses. I sent out 24 letters with my phone number, e-mail, and physical address, and asked for a response. Only three of my representatives responded — four if I count one member reporting for her spouse as well as herself.

Since then, I have heard from longtime Amherst residents that Town Meeting is intended to be representative in a different way: members do not answer their constituents, but rather represent a cross section of Amherst. They represent us, therefore, by simply voting their conscience.

However, the composition of Town Meeting differs from Amherst as a whole: for example, the average age of its members is greater than the Amherst average, and members are more likely to be white and own a home.

Judged in one way or the other, then, Town Meeting falls short of representing us. It may be possible to remedy the situation by recruiting more diverse members to serve.

It would be far simpler, however, to try a different model. I support the council-manager charter that will be on the ballot in March 2018. I would rather deal with two representatives than with 24, especially if they have a clear duty to engage with and respond to constituents.

Making this change will bring greater transparency and participation to Amherst.

Kendra Brown