Attorney asks Amherst registrars to side with residents in petition effort

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2021 8:03:16 PM

AMHERST — An Amherst constitutional attorney is asking the Board of Registrars to agree with residents suing the town over a failed petition effort, which would pave the way for a referendum vote on renovating and expanding the Jones Library.

John Bonifaz, founder of Free Speech for People, sent a letter to the registrars Monday night, and also informed Town Manager Paul Bockelman of his appeal, to address the Supreme Judicial Court lawsuit that aims to get more signatures counted toward a voter-veto petition.

Petitioners needed to get 864 signatures, or 5% of registered voters, but only 842 signatures were certified by the town clerk’s office. More than 70 signatures are at the center of the lawsuit.

“Now that voters whose petition signatures were disqualified have filed this litigation, the board can opt to waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees fighting this case in court, or can opt to settle the matter with the plaintiffs via a consent decree,” Bonifaz wrote.

But Bockelman informed Bonifaz that the lawsuit is not a matter for registrars to address.

“Under the town charter, the town manager is responsible for defending and compromising all litigation to which the town is a party,” Bockelman wrote. “Since there is a pending lawsuit against the town, actions to settle the lawsuit or enter into a consent decree would be by the town manager.”

The $36.3 million Jones Library expansion and renovation project is moving forward following a 10-2 vote in April by the Town Council in support of borrowing $13.87 million.

Still, the Board of Registrars, at a meeting Tuesday, voted to hold a future executive session to discuss the pending litigation. Registrars will have Bockelman and an attorney with KP Law present when that session is held.

During public comment at the meeting, Bonifaz told the registrars that the consent decree would validate signatures that were not counted and set a date for an election.

Gregg Corbo, an attorney with KP Law, advised the registrars not to discuss the matter since it was not on the agenda and would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

Also during public comment, Rita Burke of Henry Street said the lawsuit is a matter of voting rights and the consent decree would be a way to resolve it without further town spending.

Adrienne Terrizzi of Pondview Drive, who has lived in Amherst for more than 50 years, said an impasse between those who support the library project and those who have concerns with it needs to be resolved.

“Please find a way and come together,” Terrizzi said.

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

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