Charter debate in Amherst set for Thursday

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Monday, January 08, 2018

AMHERST — Supporters and opponents of the proposed change to Amherst’s charter will have their first opportunity to debate the merits of the measure at a forum Thursday.

The Amherst Democratic Town Committee is sponsoring the two-hour event, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library.

Voters on March 27 will decide whether to support the Charter Commission recommendation that would replace the five-member Select Board and 240-member Town Meeting with a 13-member council. A professional town manager would remain part of the government.

Johanna Neumann, president of the pro-charter Amherst for All, will be joined by one of the elected commissioners who made up the 5-3 majority in favor of the change, either chairman Andy Churchill or member Mandi Jo Hanneke, while Not This Charter members Julia Rueschemeyer and Meg Gage, both elected commissioners who voted in the minority, will represent those opposed to the change.

Robert Pam, chairman of the Amherst Democrats, said in an email that the possible change to government structure is the most significant issue Amherst must address in the coming years. He anticipates asking several questions during the first hour, with each side given about 10 minutes for answers. The public will be able to ask questions in the second hour.

Neumann said those who endorse the change argue that residents don’t feel represented by the current government, and there is no way to hold Town Meeting members accountable with few contested elections.

Rueschemeyer said those who oppose the change argue that a new government would consolidate all legislative and executive power in a council, and that members will be farther removed from the will of the people.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com