Amherst council may get its own application form for board appointments

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2019 12:00:07 AM

AMHERST — Residents interested in serving on the three municipal panels whose appointments are made by the Town Council may have to fill out distinct applications to be considered for those committees in the future.

As the end nears for the first round of appointments to numerous boards and committees by the Town Council and the town manager, District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, chairman of the Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee, told the council this week that problems were discovered with the community activity forms, or CAFs, being submitted for both council- and manager-appointed boards.

Ross said the idea is to separate out applications for the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and nonvoters on the Finance Committee, whose members are appointed by the Town Council, from applications for the various committees to which Town Manager Paul Bockelman names people.

In a memo to the council, the subcommittee noted a concern about having to make decisions before understanding the pool of people applying:

“Because all CAFs are received by Town Manager staff, OCA had no knowledge of the status of the applicant pool until after all CAFs for that multiple-member body were received,” the subcommittee wrote. “This meant that OCA had no sense of the size or diversity of the pool ahead of time, and no way to assess whether additional outreach and recruiting was needed.”

Ross said a formal proposal for how this process will be adjusted is expected to be developed before the council’s Oct. 7 meeting.

Ross said the information requested on the application forms, which includes employment, gender, languages spoken and racial and ethnic background, is unlikely to change, though this could happen when the applications are separated.

The appointments process has come under scrutiny from some councilors and residents because the town has not used a fully open and transparent process. People interviewed and passed over, for instance, are not publicly known, and some of those who may have reached a finalist stage, before withdrawing, are also not made public.

A Gazette appeal to the state’s supervisor of records for disclosure of the candidates’ applications last spring, after the town denied access to the records citing a personnel exemption in the state’s public records law, led to officials providing some identifying details about people who had applied.

Following a subsequent appeal, the town released all appointment memos sent by Bockelman and Council President Lynn Griesemer to the Town Council.

Amherst’s approach to records access differs from the city of Northampton, where all applications to serve on boards and committees can be viewed by the public at City Hall.

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