Amherst town councilors raise flags about appointments process 

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 4/26/2019 3:30:53 PM
Modified: 4/26/2019 3:30:43 PM

AMHERST — As the Town Council prepares to form new town committees and make appointments to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, a discussion continues about the best process for tapping community members to serve on them.

The Town Council’s Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee, a five-member subcommittee also known as OCA, is charged with developing that process; however, some councilors are concerned it will not be done in an open and transparent manner.

“Will it be public information and if not, why not?” District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said.

At this week’s Town Council meeting, councilors had an extended discussion on the appointments process, which is being expedited to ensure both the Ranked Choice Voting Commission and the Participatory Budget Commission can be created, as well as to make appointments to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals before June 30.

Schoen said she would like to see the names of all people who fill out community activity forms and who are interviewed for specific positions to be made public. She wonders if councilors would ever be able to see the full the pool of candidates.

District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz, who chairs OCA, said a written report of the entire appointment process, including all materials used and interview questions, would be provided to the Town Council, but the names of applicants would not be made public. This would be a way to protect applicants and make the appointment process less intimidating, she said.

“As far as I know, you will not be receiving the CAFs (community activity forms) for the entire pool,” Swartz said.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said the names of all applicants would not be made public, or even known to the full council. “That is the way process stands at this point,” Griesemer said.

In March, Swartz was also named the OCA designee, meaning she will be the lone councilor to assist with privately conducting interviews and narrowing a field of candidates. Town Manager Paul Bockelman, a committee member and a staff liaison, could be asked to participate in the candidate interviews if needed.

OCA’s charge is to make recommendations to the Town Council regarding all appointments by the Town Council, to serve as the committee to review and advise the Town Council on all candidates forwarded by Bockelman for employment as department heads, and to serve as the committee to review and advise the Town Council on all candidates put forward by Bockelman for appointment to “multiple-member bodies.”

District 5 Councilor Darcy Dumont, who is on the OCA, said she is concerned about the appointments process. 

“As a group, we have not decided that this is the process we want, because we have not voted on it,” she said.

Dorothy Pam, as a District 3 councilor, agreed that the policy for making appointments needs to be voted on by the full council, rather than a subcommittee. Pam added that there should be a clear policy so the public, and those applying, understand how appointments are made to committees like the Planning and Zoning boards.

In Northampton, similar application forms from residents interested in serving on city committees are made publicly available.

District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, who is a member of OCA, said it is too late to revise the appointments process, and that if councilors feel that someone is not qualified to serve on the Planning Board and Zoning Board, then that concern should be expressed at the time the appointment is announced.

Swartz said “time is of the essence” and that interviews with applicants need to begin. In order to meet the deadline to have appointments completed by June 30, interviews were scheduled to start April 15, with a vote on applicants by May 13 so recommendations are sent to Town Council by May 20, giving the committee two full meetings to review candidates.

District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis said the council should put faith in OCA and see how the process goes.

District 4 Councilor Stephen Schreiber said he thought in the new form of government, Amherst might see people campaign publicly to serve on the boards, especially the Planning and Zoning boards, essentially making positions on those boards become elected positions.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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