Gerry Weiss: Setting a dangerous precedent

Friday, September 25, 2020

I’d like to offer a simple way to look at the controversy surrounding the appointment of Johanna Neumann to the Planning Board and the corresponding non-appointment of Michael Birtwistle, who had served for four years.

The long-standing tradition, encoded in the Amherst Appointed Committee Handbook: “Generally, if a person is serving a first term, they are given preference for a second.” The handbook makes two specific suggestions about reasons not to reappoint: conflict of interest and poor attendance.

Thus, to not give someone a reappointment after their first term, would require one of those two conditions to exist (barring any egregious behavior). On my six years on the Select Board, those guidelines were always followed. Since neither of those conditions was given for Mr. Birtwistle, one has to wonder why the council would kick off the Planning Board a thoughtful, hard-working member of the board, who after four years has learned much about planning and zoning in town.

It’s hard not to conclude it was a political decision. If so, this is a dangerous precedent to set with committee membership, creating an atmosphere of “go along with the majority if you want to stay on a committee,” or perhaps in time, if you even want to be on a committee that has political and structural influence in Amherst.

Gerry Weiss


The writer is a former Select Board member.