Lee Edwards and Kent W. Faerber: Jones Library veto petition a foolish bet

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Signing the petition calling for a referendum to overturn the Town Council’s decision on the Jones Library project is not a simple exercise in democracy. It is a very expensive, high risk, low return bet on the outcome of that referendum, which, whether it sustains or overturns the council, is decidedly inferior to the result that the council’s vote achieved; like buying a lottery ticket with no winnings — only losses.

Even if the voter’s veto fails and the council’s decision is not overturned, it could mean a year’s delay. This delay will raise the cost of the project by $1.6 million (or eliminate some of its features, like those reducing the carbon footprint?), and postpone receipt of the state’s first $2.7 million grant payment. And elections cost money to run.

Success in overturning the council’s decision will require not only a majority of votes, but a turnout of 20% of the registered voters — 50% higher than the turnout last fall. And if that happens, the overwhelming evidence, confirmed as “reasonable” by the unanimous vote of the Finance Committee after an exhausting analysis, is that the town will face the same level of expenditure to do necessary repairs to the library building as its share of the cost of the renovation and addition project. What do you get with that outcome — a bill for $14 million to $16 million for patching an inadequate building.

What are the odds that the voter’s veto referendum might succeed? Ten of the 12 councilors who voted (more than the two-thirds needed), representing their constituencies, voted yes; 72% of the 280 letters received by the council were in favor of it; those who spoke at the numerous public meetings airing the project were similarly aligned. And, in two townwide contested elections for library trustee (in 2017 and 2018), the slate of candidates that ran solely on a platform of opposition to the project were decisively defeated by the incumbent trustees who have been guiding the project.

So, this lottery ticket gives you the right either to: find an additional $1.6 million for the project, or win an invoice for $14 million to $16 million for something that doesn’t come close to meeting your needs. Amherst residents should refuse to sign this petition as a foolish bet.

Lee Edwards and kent Faerber


The writers are co-chairs of the Campaign Committee, Campaign for a 21st Century Jones Library.