Elisa Campbell: Town Meeting not representative

Thursday, March 08, 2018
Town Meeting not representative

Imagine that you are reading about a town in, say, Alabama, where the average age of the elected officials is 61.2 years, although the average age for registered voters is 34.5.

The deciders are 95 percent white; among registered voters, 79 percent are white. While most of the voting-age citizens are tenants (51 percent of registered voters), the body that determines the town’s policies and budgets is overwhelmingly (80 percent) composed of homeowners.

Would you be outraged? What if the people exercising power claim to be representatives, even though they often win office in elections with no contest and don’t have to listen to or even reply to the concerns of the voters in their precincts?

Those are Amherst’s numbers in recent years, not some town in an area we tend to think of as discriminatory.

There are many fine people who are active in Town Meeting. I hope they will continue to serve in town government. I am surprised at how different our perceptions are of how our local government is structured, and what the results are.

We have learned to look at results for both race and gender discrimination; we need to look at results in politics, too. Our local government does not represent us demographically or politically.

In Massachusetts, every committee is subject to both the Open Meeting Law and laws about conflict of interest. Town Meeting members are not. While the Open Meeting Law forbids communication about issues among members outside of public meetings, some Town Meeting members frequently develop “positions” before the meeting.

Town Meeting members may speak and vote their own financial interests without declaring their interest; for example, owners of rental property vote on bylaws regulating rentals or allowing the construction of new rental property which could be a competitor for their own.

For these, and other reasons, I support the proposed charter. I hope you will join me.

Elisa Campbell