2nd Select Board supports charter change in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 01, 2018

AMHERST — A second member of the Select Board has announced her intention to vote in favor of the proposed change in Amherst’s form of government this spring.

Connie Kruger, who was elected to the board in 2014, wrote an opinion piece for the Jan. 26 Amherst Bulletin explaining she favors the proposal, to be voted on March 27, that preserves the professional town manager, but creates a 13-member council, which would be elected in alternating Novembers, and eliminates representative Town Meeting and the Select Board.

Representative Town Meeting, Kruger said, has accomplished a lot since it was established in 1938. But 80 years later, it no longer meets Amherst’s needs, she said.

“On balance, when I see its shortcomings, I don’t see it as the best vehicle to move us forward in 2018,” Kruger said.

In December, board member Andrew Steinberg drafted a Bulletin commentary in favor of the charter, but the full board later opted against taking a board position.

Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter and board members Alisa Brewer and James Wald have not yet taken public positions on the charter. Slaughter said he likely will, but is still working on articulating his view.

One of Kruger’s main concerns with Town Meeting is the lack of confidence many members have in the Select Board, Planning Board, School Committee, trustees for the Jones Library and other elected boards.

“Board and committee members work diligently and are well informed, but when they come to Town Meeting they don’t have their information trusted,” Kruger said. “It’s become detrimental.”

Supporters of Town Meeting, including Moderator James Pistrang, observe that the legislative body allows for a range of opinions, and that sometimes those opinions differ from the Select Board and other committees.

“Nothing to do with trust and nothing to do with respecting or disrespecting the Select Board,” Pistrang said in an email.

The charter proposal includes a town manager, which Kruger supported keeping, noting that she worried about including a mayor in the new government.

“The main thing I asked for is in the charter,” Kruger said.

She disputes the idea that businesspeople would have more influence if the charter is passed, which is often mentioned by critics of the proposal.

“I find it ludicrous. I’ve never experienced a businessperson, developer or real estate person try to influence me,” Kruger said.

And the argument that there would be less gender equity in the future is what Kruger calls “a red herring.”

“Women have always been well represented and had a voice in Amherst,” Kruger said.

Two members of the Charter Commission argue that Town Meeting more closely aligns with the town’s values, as illustrated by its support of a zero net energy article that mandates municipal buildings produce as much energy as they use.

“The Select Board, committees and town officials do a good job of running this town,” said Julia Ruscehemeyer. “Ideally, we could figure out ways to keep them better informed of the political priorities of the electorate.” 

Gerry Weiss said he still hasn’t heard good arguments for eliminating Town Meeting.

“We live in a beautiful, well-managed town with a full-time government, not an occasional government, (with) excellent services, excellent staff, excellent schools and beautiful open spaces,” Weiss said. 

If the charter is adopted, Kruger said she would serve until November, but will not pursue a seat on the council.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.