Nick Grabbe: Goal for councilors to have mandate from voters

Thursday, February 01, 2018
Goal for councilors to have mandate

In a letter in the Jan. 5 Bulletin (“Town Meeting has wealth of experience”), the writer asserts that supporters of Amherst’s new charter have “contempt for deliberative democracy.” I think it is the Town Meeting system that is short on both deliberation and democracy.

At Town Meeting, there are a lot of speeches but little give-and-take, and misinformation often goes uncorrected. Decisions are usually made in one night.

The 13-member Town Council proposed in the new charter would be able to deliberate issues for as long as is needed. “Alternative facts” would be exposed, additional information would be gathered, and all citizens would have the right to voice their opinions.

By “democracy,” the writer must mean that a large group of people makes decisions, but he apparently doesn’t care whether or not voters have actually chosen those people. Over the last 10 years, about half of Town Meeting members have been self-appointed, meaning they have been among eight or fewer candidates for eight seats per precinct. There has been little debate over issues before the election, and voter turnout has averaged only 15.8 percent.

The Town Council would be chosen in competitive elections, with multiple candidates for each seat, ample discussion of issues, and increased voter participation. The goal is to have councilors with an actual mandate from voters.

Nick Grabbe


The writer is a member of the Charter Commission and the co-writer of the A Better Amherst blog.