Amherst officials’ actions limited until new council seated

  • People cheer as results favoring the Amherst charter revision are received Tuesday, Macrh 27, 2018 at The Pub. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/4/2018 11:21:30 PM

AMHERST — Restricting when guns can be shot at a firing range in South Amherst is an amendment some residents hope to embed in the municipal noise bylaw when annual Town Meeting convenes later this month.

But even though a petition article is being brought to the legislative body, it appears unlikely that the 240-member Town Meeting will be allowed to act on it because of the new town charter adopted by voters last week.

The petition is just one example of how certain actions will be prohibited in the coming months until a 13-member Town Council is elected and seated. The charter calls for phasing out representative Town Meeting and the Select Board.

Language in the charter states that “between the adoption of the charter and Dec. 3, 2018, the Select Board, town manager and Town Meeting shall limit their respective actions during this transition period to those matters essential and necessary to the current operations of the town, such as the annual budget, taking no actions contrary to, or that frustrate the purpose of, this charter.”

That language seems to bind elected officials to only doing enough to maintain the functions of town government, and not inhibit what a town council might do, said Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

Bockelman said town attorney KP Law will be consulted in advance of Town Meeting. While the petition article must remain on the warrant, it likely doesn’t meet the “essential and necessary” clause in the charter, he said.

“It’s a conversation the town attorney will have with the town moderator on how to manage that process,” Bockelman said.

Sandra Gesuell Hart of McIntosh Drive, the lead petitioner, said her hope is to amend the noise bylaw so gunfire at the Norwottuck Fish and Game Association shooting range at the Notch could only happen between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from April 1 to Nov. 1. The idea, she said, is to improve the quality of life for residents who live near the firing range, with noise currently allowed to come from weapons fired there until dusk. The noise has increased in recent years with the removal of trees during the widening of Route 116.

Bockelman said he expects the question about what actions can be taken to come up several times over the next several months, including for items as seemingly simple as land acquisitions and for decisions that might otherwise be considered important to town values.

Another Town Meeting article that likely won’t get decided due to the charter’s passage is the possible transfer of the East Street School property to the Amherst Affordable Housing Land Trust, which hopes to convert the building into housing for low-income families.

“Town counsel felt this was one that would not comply with the charter because it is transferring land,” Bockelman said.

Bockelman added that he has been instructed by town counsel to take off an article that would dissolve the Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, and there are also questions about whether any further discussions should be held about creating a new Sustainability Committee.

One minute before the 7 p.m. April 30 start of annual Town Meeting, a special Town Meeting will begin to take up two articles. The first petitions the state Legislature to allow town elections in Amherst to coincide with both the state primary Sept. 4 and the state election Nov. 6.

Bockelman said this would ask Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg to file the needed special legislation.

The second article would seek to disband the Town Meeting Advisory Committee, a Town Meeting-created to provide advice on all warrant articles.

Once these actions are complete, the special Town Meeting would dissolve, allowing its votes to become final.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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