Editorial: Amherst voters opt for steady leadership of top board

Friday, March 28, 2014
As many expected, Andrew Steinberg and Constance Kruger handily beat Helen Berg and John Boothroyd on Tuesday to win seats on the five-member Amherst Select Board held by two two-term veterans. Stephanie O’Keeffe and Diana Stein did not seek re-election.

During their campaigns, Steinberg and Kruger each said they hoped to carry on the approach to governing these women exemplified. Kruger noted the stability and good governance they brought to the board. Steinberg praised their leadership. The last few years, he said, “we’ve had a very effective Select Board that has listened to the people, has had thoughtful and open discussions and has made thoughtful decisions and given appropriate direction to the Town Manager.”

We thank Berg and Boothroyd for engaging in the democratic process that helps Amherst guide its future. Their candidacies raised issues that might have gone unconsidered. It is too bad, though, that just 13 percent of eligible voters in Amherst participated in this election.

In 2008 O’Keeffe and Stein emerged victorious from a field of five seeking two seats on the panel. Before their wins, complaints about the board had included inefficiency and micro-management.

The two leave a more orderly governing body than they joined.

In their first campaigns both had called for the board to work more as a team, set policy and, in conjunction with the town manager, see that the town ran more efficiently.

Shortly into her first term, O’Keeffe became chairwoman and her focus on procedure has contributed to a smoother operation. A board that had met every week for long and sometimes unwieldy sessions has become a body that gets a full slate of work done in a three-hour meeting twice a month. She guides the sessions with a stern eye on the rules of order.

She’s put her trust in Town Manager John Musante to run town business, but established a multi-tiered evaluation system to hold him accountable. It is done openly and involves setting goals that both Musante and the board evaluate. Results are posted online for all to see.

O’Keeffe, who has served as a liaison to numerous groups and committees, also made herself available to the public every Monday morning and has been able to keep her finger on the pulse of the community for her fellow Select Board members. She’s been a vocal member of the town/University of Massachusetts committee working to get excessive student drinking that has disrupted the community under control.

Stein, with her celebrated attention to detail, has ensured that meeting minutes are precise and accurate. She has often served as the lone dissenting voice on the panel. Though disagreement has been collegial, Stein has taken strong positions in 4 to 1 votes. One of her notable minority stands was her support for a proposal last year that the town purchase acreage in Cushman to block the student housing plans of a Georgia developer.

That housing, called The Retreat, continues to be a lightning rod in Amherst as it begins its trip through the permit process. Stein also was unwavering in her more than two-year effort to get various boards, including the Select Board, to approve a town flag.

Encouraging economic development, wrestling with tight budgets while meeting demands for services were prominent issues when Stein and O’Keeffe first ran and they continue to be among the challenges Steinberg and Kruger list as their priorities. Affordable and student housing have worked their way to the top of the list.

The two new Select Board members are veterans of town government themselves. Steinberg is chairman of the Finance Committee and Kruger is a member of the town’s Planning Board and Housing Authority. As Select Board members, they say they are ready to roll up their sleeves and continue the work of the two they’ve replaced. We wish them well.