Language finalized for Amherst Charter ballot question

  • Kevin Gutting Kevin Gutting

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Language for the yes-or-no question related to adopting a new town charter, and the wording for an accompanying 11-paragraph summary of the contents of the charter, has been finalized by the Charter Commission.

At what was expected to be the nine-member commission’s final meeting on Jan. 8 before the March 27 town election, its members voted 5-1 in favor of how the question and the synopsis will be written and printed on the ballot, along with those residents running for townwide office and Town Meeting seats.

“I think our goal as a group was to be as clear and ‘just the facts’ as possible, but that’s in the eye of the beholder,” said Commission Chairman Andrew Churchill, who voted with the majority in approving the choice of words associated with the question and summary.

Commissioner Julia Rueschemeyer was the lone member to vote against what will be put on the ballot, while three commissioners, Meg Gage, Irv Rhodes, and Diana Stein, were unable to attend the meeting or cast votes, Churchill said.

On Monday, the Select Board will be provided the information about what should be on the ballot, after the commission’s work is reviewed by attorney Lauren Goldberg of KP Law.

The question explains that a vote in favor of the proposal “creates a Town Council/Town Manager form of government” while a vote against “retains the current Representative Town Meeting/Select Board/Town Manager form of government.”

Churchill said the discussion centered on what should be included in the few paragraphs that would fit on the ballot and whether it accurately summarize the 37-page charter, which was mailed to all households in the fall and which is also available on the town’s website.

The summary on the ballot is required by statute. Churchill said it is largely modeled on a summary presented on the ballot in Framingham, which voted on a charter change last year.

The summary explains the details of what the change would mean, including the creation of a 13-member town council, which would replace Town Meeting, its role in policy leadership, budget approval, borrowing authorization and enacting bylaws and resolutions, and the town manager’s role in overseeing day-to-day operations, preparing the annual budget and negotiating contracts.

In addition, the synopsis notes the move of elections from March to November in odd years, the mandate that district councilors must hold two district meetings per year, and the three townwide forums annually for public discussion of the budget, the schools and the master plan.

The charter, it notes, also allows voter-driven initiatives and repeals of town council actions through a “voter veto” process.

And for those concerned about Amherst losing its town status, the ballot language states “the Charter provides a city form of government when state law distinguishes between ‘towns’ and ‘cities.’ Amherst will continue to be known as the “Town of Amherst.’”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.