Maura Keene: Finds irony in editorial about town meetings

  • mactrunk

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Finds irony in editorial about town meetings

I read your June 5 editorial on Town Meeting with a sense of irony and great disappointment (“Town Meeting gives a voice to residents”).

You praise giving citizens a voice in their government and offer many examples of how residents of several western Massachusetts towns made decisions that determined the course of their community by bringing issues to the town meeting.

Where was this admiration for town meetings when the Amherst Town Meeting was up for a vote in March? The Gazette endorsed the new form of government with 13 town councilors replacing the 240-member Town Meeting and five-member Select Board, claiming that Amherst’s high level of civic participation was both inefficient and ineffective.

Our new charter offers virtually no avenue for public input outside of the elections. There is a 15-minute public comment session before the monthly council meetings and a cumbersome petition process in which members of the town can bring issues to the council. But the council is under no obligation to hear and decide on these issues.

There is no mandate for making council meeting minutes available to the public in a timely way. Instead of real public input, there will be a paid community engagement officer and a couple of district meetings a year.

I was thoroughly impressed with my first sessions as an Amherst Town Meeting member this spring. Many citizens raised thoughtful issues that were not considered by the Select Board or Finance Committee. Those boards mostly voted unanimously on issues, even controversial ones.

I am sad that Amherst has lost all of these knowledgeable and diverse viewpoints in favor of a small group of people making virtually unchallengeable decisions about the fate of the town. Sure, we will have another election in three years, but a lot of damage can be done before then.

I am sorry the Gazette took such a strong stand against keeping Amherst Town Meeting, dismissing for Amherst what you find so desirable for Belchertown, Westhampton, Granby, Hatfield, Hadley, Southampton and Shutesbury.

Maura Keene