‘Voter veto’ maneuver launched to challenge Jones Library approval

  • Jones Library in Amherst STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEN HEIDEL

Staff Writer
Published: 4/9/2021 5:12:44 PM

AMHERST — A campaign to use the “voter veto” provision of the town charter to force the Town Council to reconsider its support for the Jones Library expansion and renovation project — which could culminate in a townwide referendum — is underway.

Vincent O’Connor of Summer Street picked up forms Tuesday at the town clerk’s office at Town Hall, a day after the Town Council voted 10-2, with one abstention, to borrow $15.75 million to support the $36.3 million project. The council also approved a memorandum of agreement related to the project between Town Manager Paul Bockelman and the elected library trustees, and agreed to use $1 million from the town’s Community Preservation Act account for the library’s special collections room.

At the Town Council’s meeting Monday, O’Connor was one of a handful of residents who spoke against the plans, expressing concerns about insufficient funds in future operating budgets and the library’s endowment to staff the expanded building, along with two branch libraries.

He also argued that the plans to use an open space design for improving the library are not necessary. “I do not support a building concept that empowers or directs a primarily white staff to become visual controllers of as much space as they can visually control, and do their other duties,” O’Connor said.

Reached by phone Friday, O’Connor declined to comment about the veto effort.

The charter spells out what has to happen to trigger a successful veto. The initial step is the forms must be physically signed by 5% of registered voters at the time of the most recent town election. That would temporarily suspend the council’s action and require the council to take a revote: “The Town Council shall, at the next regular Town Council meeting, reconsider its vote on the measure or part thereof protested against.”

Town Clerk Susan Audette said based on the most recent voter rolls in advance of the presidential election, the town has 17,269 voters. That means O’Connor will have to collect signatures from 863 voters and submit them to her office by April 20.

While petitioners normally would have two weeks from the date of a council vote to collect the signatures, the April 19 Patriots Day holiday means O’Connor has an additional day. 

Should he get enough signatures as certified by the Board of Registrars within 10 days of submission, the council would likely be forced to take action. If councilors fail to change the outcome of the vote, or as the charter states “the measure is not repealed,” and the town attorney finds that the measure can be challenged, “the Town Council shall provide for the submission of the question for a determination by the voters either at a special election, which it may call at its sole discretion, or at the next regular town election. Pending this submission and determination, the effect of the measure shall continue to be suspended.”

If the matter gets to a referendum vote, the council’s action would be canceled if a majority of voters vote against the project, and at least 20% of voters participate in the election.

Others who have voiced concerns about the Jones Library project said they didn’t initiate the petition.

Save Our Library Chairwoman Terry Johnson said she appreciates the many townspeople who have participated in opposing what the organization views as an “extravagant expansion.”

“Although the Town Council voted to approve this financially risky demolition-expansion project, we’re pleased with the impact our concerns had on the final plan and will be shifting our focus,” Johnson said.

Though not involved in the petition, former Jones Library Trustees President Sarah McKee continues to worry about the plans.

“Speaking for myself only … I continue to think the library project financially shaky and ill-advised for other reasons, as well,” McKee said.

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


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