Home-rule petition allowing Amherst reparations under review

  • Michele Miller is a co-chair of Amherst’s African Heritage Reparation Assembly. Gazette file phoeo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2022 4:48:59 PM

AMHERST — Draft language for the special legislation allowing money and scholarships to be provided to Black residents through Amherst’s reparations account, and the process for filing the legislation, are in the midst of being reviewed.

The African Heritage Reparation Assembly on Monday began examining the language for the legislation, as drafted by attorney KP Law of Boston, and the way in which the legislation will get through the state Legislature. 

But Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer cautioned that the entire process could take time, observing that the council filed special home-rule petition legislation in December 2020 to implement ranked-choice voting, or instant runoff voting, for elections, but that has not yet been adopted.

“From the experience we’re having with ranked-choice voting, it's nothing but frustrating,” Griesemer said.

The special legislation’s language and an outline of the process will be brought to the Town Council for its Aug. 15 meeting  following councilors’ decision in late June to approve transferring up to $205,000 annually, from certified free cash, into the town’s dedicated reparations fund. Over the next 10 years the hope is to have the town’s contributions to this fund equal $2 million.

“The legislation is only necessary if you are going to be asking to distribute money to individuals,” Griesemer said. “Other than that, we wouldn't need to file any legislation."

The council voted unanimously in March to pursue the home-rule petition for the reparations initiative, which is aimed at ending structural racism and achieving racial equity.

Without such legislation, the town would be limited in how it can use the money, such as funding a community development corporation that might provide and develop affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, or contributing to a nonprofit organization that aids targeted communities. In both cases, though, the reparations would likely go to a larger population than what the Town Council has intended.

District 1 Councilor Michele Miller, who co-chairs the African Heritage Reparation Assembly, said a consultative process with the Black community is just beginning and that it will take time to determine how the money will go to members of the community.

Miller said that the creation of a robust reparative justice plan may not be complete by January or February, when the special legislation could be submitted. The reparative justice plan will include eligibility criteria and recommendations about usage of funds, and will be completed by next June.

Griesemer said she encourages the assembly to get as far along in the process as it can before bringing legislation to the council.

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