Allowing vote on Jones Library project won’t stop Amherst petition lawsuit

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2021 7:55:18 PM

AMHERST — Despite the Town Council’s putting a referendum for the Jones Library project on the Nov. 2 town ballot, residents who filed a lawsuit against the town over disqualified signatures related to their voter-veto effort intend to press on with the case.

In a statement released Wednesday, Rita Burke, an Amherst resident for four decades, said that continuing the Hampshire Superior Court lawsuit is about protecting voting rights, and that the councilors’ decision to bring the $36.3 million expansion and renovation plan to a townwide vote doesn’t resolve the matter.

“The town’s scheduling of a vote on the Jones Library measure shows that it wrongfully failed to certify signatures,” Burke said.

The 40 plaintiffs in the suit want a Hampshire Superior Court hearing on Aug. 23 before Judge Richard J. Carey to be held so he can examine the signatures and addresses of those rejected for certification by the Board of Registrars. Though petitioners submitted 1,088 signatures, only 842 were certified, falling 22 votes short of the 5% threshold of voters required by the town charter.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said this week that he will direct town attorneys KP Law to settle the lawsuit. The growing legal costs associated with the lawsuit was one of the reasons Council President Lynn Griesemer cited for the decision to bring the project to voters.

The project, approved by the council in April on a 10-2 vote to authorize $15.75 million in borrowing, aims to expand and renovate the building for the first time since 1993. Proponents have noted that various renovations needed bring the building up to code will cost the town as much or more than the preferred project, which is receiving a $13.87 million construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Burke said the hope is that a judge will render a decision that would prevent the rights of her and other plaintiffs, as well as the rights of other voters, from being violated in the future.

“The plaintiffs’ lawsuit seeks not only a vote, but a court order to redress the violation of their rights and to ensure that the town does not wrongfully reject signatures and deprive voters of their First Amendment rights again,” Burke said.

“Absent a court order, anyone could have their signatures wrongfully rejected again in the future,” she said.


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