Change ‘isn’t cheap’: Amherst to invest $80K to confront systemic racism 

  • Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tracy Faulstick, left foreground, of Shutesbury, and Amherst native William Rock, right, now of Holyoke, stand in the median of South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a peaceful protest against racial violence on Sunday, May 31, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2020 1:46:35 PM

AMHERST — Ongoing efforts by Amherst officials and employees to work with residents and others to identify and deal with systemic racism in the community will be supported through this year’s municipal budget.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman announced to the Town Council on Monday that the $81.3 million fiscal year 2021 budget — which features $2.34 million less in operational spending as a result of anticipated reductions in state aid and other revenue sources — will have $80,000 set aside to “explore, plan and implement strategies to confront systemic, structural and institutional racism.”

Bockelman said he isn’t yet sure how this money will be spent but that it is important to have available for programs, workshops, speakers and other events and actions in the new fiscal year, which began Wednesday.

The money was put in the budget as calls for defunding police departments or reallocating spending for law enforcement have intensified in other communities, and concerns have been raised in Amherst about how the town and schools handle equity, racial justice and social justice.

“It’s not just the police department, but it is the police department, and it’s not just town offices, it is town offices,” Bockelman said, “but it’s also a broader conversation.”

“This is one of those things I feel it’s really important to listen and hear what the need is,” Bockelman added. “I know change doesn’t come easy, but it also isn’t cheap, and you need to have money to support these activities.”

Previously, School Superintendent Michael Morris pledged to develop an anti-racist curriculum for grade school students in Amherst and Pelham.

The announcement of the spending comes as the Town Council will convene a special virtual meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. in which it will learn about policies, procedures and practices of the Police Department.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said he and his team are working on the presentation.

“Enforcement of laws is really a small part of what we do as an agency, so it will be an opportunity to educate the public, but also to listen to the council and hopefully the community on what they want from their police department moving forward,” Livingstone said.

Bockelman said he wants the police administration and officers to be part of the conversation about the role they can play in anti-racist initiatives in the community.

In addition, Bockelman said he anticipates municipal staff being part of the work to take down barriers of institutional racism.

Following the Town Council session, the Human Rights Commission is sponsoring a forum on equity, racism and justice that takes place July 11 at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, the proposed town budget is removing the equivalent of three full-time benefited positions and several part-time positions, all of which are already vacant.

The permanent positions that are not being funded include a half-time budget analyst, a half-time assistant to the assessor, a full-time program director for Leisure Services and Supplemental Education and a conservation department administrative assistant. The part-time positions include seasonal jobs such as lifeguards. 

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


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