Around Amherst: ‘A Better Amherst’ blog to open for public comment

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 01, 2018

AMHERST — As the debate over whether to adopt a new charter continues, a blog led by two members of the Charter Commission who support the plan is expanding to include commentaries from the public.

While the “A Better Amherst” blog, at abetter amherst.org, was started by commissioners Nick Grabbe and Mandi Jo Hanneke to explain the details of the proposal, it is now an online forum where residents can endorse the new government structure of a council and professional manager, as well as where civil debate takes place.

Grabbe said between Jan. 22 and 29, the blog averaged 295 page views per day, and since its launch has in October has gotten 13,674 page views by 2,556 users.

Recently, former Finance Committee Chairwoman Kay Moran wrote a piece for the blog outlining her reasons to recommend approval.

Moran, a former writer and editor for both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Bulletin, wrote from her experience on the appointed committee and as an elected Town Meeting member.

“A council that meets twice a month would be far more nimble at responding to town needs,” Moran wrote. “Councilors who meet that often would gain a greater understanding of the day-to- day workings and needs of the town than Town Meeting members get.”

The blog also had a column from Dr. Kate Atkinson, using her experience in 2009 of trying to get zoning passed through Town Meeting that would allow her medical office to be built in a professional research park. She observed a “dysfunctional” process, with people making accusations about her intentions.

“These things that happened made it clear to me that we need more centralized leadership,” Atkinson writes. “We need people elected who want to learn the governmental process, become informed of the issues and work in a collaborative manner with other representatives.”

Three groups have formed to oppose the charter change, Not This Charter, Town Meeting Works and Vote No on the Charter.

Members of the Vote No on the Charter campaign recently used the second annual Women’s March in Northampton Jan. 20 as an opportunity to showcase their concerns with a possible change in Amherst government.

Spokeswoman Carol Gray said members, holding signs with phrases such as “No to the Charter” and “Support People Power,” saw the march as aligning with Amherst values that include opposing consolidation of power and more money in politics, and eliminating the voice of the average citizen.

“Town Meeting is fundamental to preservation of the rights of women, minorities, the poor, immigrants and other populations that need a voice in government,” Gray said.

Specific to women, Gray said that a change would likely reduce the participation of women in Amherst politics, where they make up 56 percent of the legislative body. Of towns with a council and manager, Gray said only Palmer, with four of seven female councilors, has a majority women.

Foster care

Local foster parents and Department of Children and Families employees will be among those offering information about how the Amherst community can better support youth and families through foster care at an event at the Jewish Community of Amherst, 742 Main St., Sunday at 1 p.m.

The session will provide an overview of becoming a foster parent, a DCF-approved child career or providing logistical help and support with transportation, house repair and yard work, as well as emotional support.

The JCA is planning to create a new liturgy and ritual for foster and adoptive parents.

Super Bowl bet

A food wager is being made between the University of Massachusetts and Penn State on the outcome of Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.

On the line is 5 gallons of seafood chowder offered by Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass, and three containers of Berkey Creamery ice cream provided by Lisa Wandel, director of residential dining at Penn State.

“We are excited to continue the tradition of friendly wagers with our dining colleagues,” Toong said in a statement. “It will be a tough, hard-fought game, but I believe our Patriots will pull out another close one.”

Nomination forms due

The deadline to turn in nomination forms for townwide office and Town Meeting seats is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

To get on the March 27 ballot, 50 signatures of registered voters are needed for the townwide positions, and just one signature necessary to run for Town Meeting.

Democratic caucus

Registered Amherst Democrats, including those who will turn 18 by Sept. 18, on Sunday will hold a caucus to elect delegates and alternates to June’s Massachusetts Democratic State Convention. Doors to the caucus open at 1 p.m. at the Jones Library’s Woodbury Room.

Amherst can elect 23 delegates and five alternates to the convention.

Those interested can get more information from Bob Pam at 835-0082 or by going to www.amherstdems.org


MONDAY: Amherst School Committee, 6 p.m., high school library; Select Board, 6:30 p.m., Town Room, Town Hall.

WEDNESDAY: Zoning Board of Appeals, 7 p.m., First Floor Meeting Room, Town Hall.

THURSDAY: Zoning Board of Appeals, 6 p.m., Town Room, Town Hall; CDBG Advisory Committee, 7 p.m., Glass Room, Bangs Community Center; Charter Commission, 7 p.m., police station community room.