Columnists Johanna Neumann and MaryAnn Grim: Everyday Amherst residents support positive change

  • Johanna Neumann, right, speaks in favor of the proposed Amherst charter at The Black Sheep during an event sponsored by radio station WHMP on Feb. 27. At left are opponents Michael Greenebaum and Maria Kopicki. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Are you ready for the developers to take over Amherst?

To hear the rhetoric coming from opponents of the March 27 ballot item to update the town charter, you’d think a wrecking ball was hanging directly over Town Hall, and a fleet of bulldozers was fueling up at the Cumby in anticipation of the changes.

For months, many of the more prominent voices opposing the charter commission’s recommendations have repeatedly stated that those who support updating our system of government are simply pawns of developers.

But the data are in and tell a very different story. The truth is that there is deep grassroots support for change in Amherst, made up of regular voters from all walks of life. Here’s what we mean:

To date, the list of supporters for change has swelled to more than 1,700 — teachers, stay-at-home parents, environmental advocates, students, university employees, business people, retirees, public servants, town employees and many more. Of these, at least 173 are current or former Town Meeting members — people who have experienced the shortcomings of Town Meeting firsthand.

Supporters of these changes are regularly accused of being bankrolled by developers and big business. How else could we afford to spend so much on our outreach and education efforts?

The fact is that everyday Amherst residents — friends, neighbors and family members — have contributed to the campaign. In 2017, 160 individuals gave to the Amherst for All campaign. The average donation was $70. The largest gift was $250.

We have real issues to discuss in Amherst: Rising taxes. Affordable housing. Preservation of open space. The continued marginalization of voices from underrepresented communities. Aging school and public safety infrastructure. And much more.

Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of many engaged Amherst Town Meeting members and others, our outdated system of government remains opaque and unaccountable. That’s why last fall, we hosted a series of “district meeting dress rehearsals” — sample meetings that shone a spotlight on a key feature of the Charter Commission recommendations, and offered an open forum for discussion among attendees.

It’s why we leaped at the opportunity to participate in debates on this issue. But it is difficult to discuss the real issues when we have to constantly work to clear up misrepresentations of who exactly supports these changes. Today, perhaps we can put these misconceptions behind us and focus on an important vote for our town.

Why has our campaign attracted so much positive attention in Amherst? We hear the answer time after time from the voters who lend us their support: They believe our town deserves year-round government. They want a more thoughtful approach to planning and spending. And they want to keep what already works. The charter recommendations will help our town in each of those critical areas.

We’re everyday Amherst residents. We don’t drive bulldozers — we drive Priuses (and other sensible, boring cars). And on March 27, we’re going to walk, bike or drive our sensible, boring cars to the polls to vote for a positive change for Amherst.

We hope that you join us — your friends and neighbors — in voting “yes.”

Johanna Neumann, chairwoman of Amherst for All, is also the donor development director for Environment Massachusetts, a board member of Toxics Action Center, and the mother of a preschooler and second-grader at Fort River Elementary School. MaryAnn Grim, treasurer of Amherst for All, is a paralegal and has lived in Amherst since 1977. Her three children attended Amherst public schools, and her granddaughter attends Amherst Regional Middle School.