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Amherst TM OKs council elections for September, November

  • Gerry Weiss walks to the podium before speaking during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Oldham, top left, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst Select Board Chair Doug Slaughter speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • John Page, right, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. Listening, left, is Select Board member Jim Wald. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Meg Gage, top, holding microphone, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Pistrang, who is the moderator, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rob Kusner, holding microphone, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mandi Jo Hanneke speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Pistrang, top, who is the moderator, speaks during Amherst Town Meeting, Monday, April 30, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. Members of the Select Board and others are seated below. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2018

AMHERST — Though lingering concerns remain about whether all voters will be able to participate, Amherst’s first election for the 13-member town council is expected to coincide with the state’s September and November elections.

At a special Town Meeting Monday, preceding the final sessions of annual Town Meeting, the 240-member body agreed to have the Select Board petition the Legislature to allow a preliminary election Sept. 4 and main election Nov. 6, dates set out in the charter adopted by voters March 27. If all goes according to plan, the council should be seated Dec. 3.

The vote, 127-72 in favor, came with a provision aimed at addressing worries that local college students wouldn’t be able to participate by making nomination forms for the seats available Tuesday afternoon. Officials also pledged to work with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College to educate current and incoming students about campaign deadlines and how to register to vote or to seek an absentee ballot.

But the decision was only reached after Town Meeting narrowly rejected a petition from Charter Commission member Gerry Weiss that would have adjusted the calendar, with a preliminary and general election later in the fall.

Leo Maley of Precinct 5 said Nov. 6 is 186 days away and Sept. 4 127 days away, giving people considerable time to get their names on the ballot and to campaign.

Maley added that college students will be participating in the election, either as voters or candidates, because of the statewide races that will generate enthusiasm.

“Trust me, students will be voting that day, those elections do matter to them,” Maley said,

UMass junior John Page told Town Meeting he will seek a seat on the council, and anticipates that student turnout and engagement will be bolstered by the elections being held the same day.

Joel Bard, of KP Law, said town officials are governed by the provisions of the charter, and that there are no constitutional issues with the schedule, even though arguments have been made by Amherst attorney John Bonifaz and others that students could be deprived of their constitutional rights.

Select Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter said the board was comfortable adjusting filing deadlines. Nomination papers with 25 or 50 signatures, for the 10 district and three townwide seats, respectively, will be due June 29 at 5 p.m., rather than Aug. 1.

The election turnout was a reason to keep the calendar in place, he said. “That opportunity to vote is one we wanted to take advantage of,” Slaughter said.

Had Town Meeting not voted in favor of the article, the election would have defaulted to Jan. 24, 2019, with the council seated Feb. 4.

The amendment from Weiss called for the special election for Dec. 4, with the preliminary election on Oct. 16, and signatures due Aug. 28 at 5 p.m.

That failed 105-100 after 90 minutes of debate.

Weiss said he offered this as a way to find common ground and fix the problem of students not being able to campaign on their campuses in advance of the election.

“This is a hard decision we have to make tonight, and we cannot achieve perfection,” Weiss said.

He was supported by other members of the commission, including Meg Gage of Precinct 1, who said the revised calendar was a creative solution.

“The problem I have with the Select Board proposal is we’d have a campaign period between July 13 and Sept. 4,” Gage said.

The advantages of incumbency, she said, will be pronounced.

“We really need to make sure it’s not the same people who have been holding office forever,” Gage said

Commission member Diana Stein of Precinct 9 said summer is a dreadful time to campaign and that debates and forums would have limited participation.

“All of that would be precluded by a Sept. 4 primary election,” Stein said.

But Commission Vice Chairwoman Mandi Jo Hanneke of Precinct 5, who helped draft the charter language, said the Weiss amendment would require voters to go to the polls four times within a period of 13 weeks, thus reducing turnout.

Baer Tierkel of Precinct 4 said he wants as many voters as possible to participate, and the state elections would bring thousands more voters to the polls.

“This is not a process that will encourage and allow students to vote,” said Janet McGowan of Precinct 8, adding that Amherst needs a calendar that works for everybody.

Kay Moran of Precinct 4 said the charter was developed over many months and meetings and voters knew last September the likely schedule.

“Town Meeting owes it to voters to reflect their clearly expressed will,” Moran said.

After the vote was announced, Jerry Guidera, a spokesman for Amherst for All, the organization that endorsed the charter change, said he appreciated that in the end the schedule adopted by Town Meeting aligned with what was in the charter.

“The vast majority of Town Meeting understood it was important to go along with the will of the voters,” Guidera said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com