Christiane Healey: Amherst town council would be transparent, accountable

Tuesday, December 05, 2017
Town council transparent, accountable

I have served for five years on the Amherst Conservation Commission, which is governed by the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law and conflict-of-interest laws.

It never occurred to me that the same may not apply to Town Meeting. This seems to be a particularly egregious violation of the spirit of democracy in our town. The 240 members of Town Meeting are free to discuss the Town Meeting articles and their votes well outside of any public scrutiny, through various electronic mailing lists and other off-the-record means of communicating among themselves.

Plus, there are no rules against voting on issues on which a member’s business interests may influence their vote. For example, landlords can vote on the very rental property regulations that may deeply affect their own businesses.

In terms of transparency and accountability, it does not help that the public is not privy to Town Meeting members’ decision-making process before a vote. This is unlike smaller town government bodies, such as the Conservation Commission and the School Committee, whose members discuss agenda items during public meetings.

Open meeting and conflict-of-interest laws are important. So is transparency and accountability. These are some of the important reasons why I support the town council proposed by the Charter Commission.

For the future of our local democracy, I hope you will vote for the new proposal in March.

Christiane Healey