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Susan Tracy: Need responsive, full-time government


Thursday, March 22, 2018
Town Meeting has structural problems

As a Town Meeting member, I have been dismayed by our inability to address the significant issues facing us — starting with the need for new schools and other new public buildings.

I think that Town Meeting is plagued by inherent structural problems that stand in our way of effective governance.

From the start, the self-nominating process for Town Meeting members discourages candidates from canvassing their precincts and meeting people they don’t know, which means they aren’t sharing their perspectives on the issues with those they ostensibly represent, nor are they learning what their fellow citizens think. In reality, they represent themselves.

However, some of the Town Meeting’s 240 members have divided themselves into factions whose members stake out their positions, dismiss town committee and board reports, and disparage the views of the opposition. As a result, when controversial issues are on the floor, Town Meeting is marred by rancor and mistrust rather than informed and respectful debate.

Finally, our budget process is structurally problematic and has encouraged suspicion about the intentions of the budgetary committees among some Town Meeting members.

Because it is impossible and impractical for citizens to review the budget at an early stage in its development, Town Meeting members are left either to ratify everything in the budget or amend selective items in the budget. The more intrepid members amend it, but as they spend money in one category, they don’t cut that amount from another category. Often, they request that the money be taken from the reserve fund, undermining its purpose and leaving it to the town manager and the finance director to “fix it.”

Having read the charter proposal, I think it addresses each of these structural issues superbly. Amherst, with its population of nearly 40,000, has evolved beyond the capacity of Town Meeting to govern it accountably and effectively. We deserve a full-time government that is nimble and responsive to events and to citizens.

The new charter provides numerous gateways for citizen participation, and is the best way for us to move into the future together.

Susan Tracy

Amherst

The writer is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 6.