Arthur S. Keene: Town Meeting has wealth of expertise

Friday, January 05, 2018
Town Meeting has wealth of expertise

I have been a member of Town Meeting for roughly 20 of my 36 years living in Amherst.

One of the things that I have most enjoyed and admired about Town Meeting is the wealth of expertise in the room. There is the obvious boundless professional expertise. We have medical professionals and legal professionals and educators, and tradespeople and engineers and scientists and architects and food workers and artists and small-businesspeople and social service providers and real estate agents and landlords and renters and stay-at-home parents and firefighters.

There is also a wealth of life experiences. The room is filled with so many folks whose life experiences have been so different from mine, and I am never surprised by how much they can teach me. I always appreciate how much I learn when I listen to my fellow Town Meeting members.

Do we get the occasional silly question? Sure. Do some people talk more than they need to? Of course. But for me, that’s a small price to pay for the incredible wealth of insight that people bring to the room.

I love living in Amherst because it is a thinking community. Our ability to draw on this collective expertise and intelligence, schooled and unschooled, has made us a stronger and better community, and I mourn the contempt that the charter supporters have shown for their fellow citizens who disagree with them or who bring a contrary analysis to the select board on a minority of occasions.

It is tragic that the charter proponents have so much contempt for deliberative democracy that they disparage their fellow citizens, even — as was the case in the net-zero energy article — when the professional expertise that was brought to bear dwarfed their own. This contempt reveals a strong anti-democratic affinity in the Amherst for All campaign.

With the wealth of experience, expertise, intelligence, curiosity, clarity, and integrity available in Amherst, you need to engage in some pretty specious verbal gymnastics to make a case that 13 elected part-time officials will invariably know more than the community at large.

Arthur S. Keene


The writer is an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.