Amherst votes for charter commission

Clear majority favors new look at town government, possible change

  • A group of people gathered to support the Amherst Charter Commission react to winning Tuesday at The Pub. In the front row, from left, are Anastasia Ordonez and Laura Kent, who won School Committee seats. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jennie McKenna, from left, Freddie Manning and Paige Wilder chat while waiting for election results at a gathering for those opposed to the Amherst Charter Commission, Tuesday at The Hanger.

  • MaryAnn Grim, front row from left, Clare Bertrand, Julie Marcus, Yuri Friman and Mickey Marcus monitor election results Tuesday at The Pub. Also looking on, background center, is Nick Grabbe, who won a seat on the Amherst Charter Commission.

  • Jim Oldham, left, and Gerald Weiss chat while waiting for election results at a gathering for those opposed to the Amherst Charter Commission, Tuesday at The Hanger. Weiss won a seat on the commission.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2016 11:56:35 PM

AMHERST – A charter commission to study Amherst government, and possibly recommend changes within two years, was approved by voters by a wide margin at Tuesday’s town election.

Those in favor of creating a charter commission won 60 percent of the vote, with 2,039 in favor and 1,340 against.

The 3,474 voters who cast ballots represented 17.5 percent of the town’s 19,840 voters.

Jerry Guidera, spokesman for the Amherst for All group that collected the signatures to bring the question to voters, said the clear result is that residents said it is “time for a new form of government.”

“From the perspective of Amherst for All, the focus was to get as many people out to vote and provide an opinion on this,” said Guidera, who was celebrating with other charter supporters at The Pub restaurant. “The bottom line is overwhelming numbers said the system we currently have doesn’t work.

“And the irony is that the Town Meeting loyalists turned this into a referendum on Town Meeting,” Guidera added.

Rolf Karlstrom, of Fearing Street, who was at the Hangar where those affiliated with Town Meeting Works were gathered, said Town Meeting remains the best form of government for Amherst and its strength, like that of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is that it is not beholden to special interests.

“What we need now, more than ever, is Town Meeting,” Karlstrom said.

He points to the success of the representative legislative body in preserving owner-occupied homes next to the University of Massachusetts campus.

“I don’t think we’d have a healthy peripheral neighborhood around the university if not for Town Meeting,” Karlstrom said.

Even the process of studying the current form of town government, which includes a five-member Select Board, 240-member Town Meeting and a professional town manager, will create division, as it did 15 years ago, Karlstrom said.

Voters last established a charter commission in 2001, but two years later narrowly rejected a proposed change that would have eliminated representative Town Meeting and replaced it with a mayor, town council and professional manager. This same proposal was rejected by a wider margin in 2005.

The nine residents elected to the commission, based on unofficial results posted by the town clerk on the town website, show that six endorsed by Amherst for Change, the political action committee spun off from Amherst for All, will be on the commission, with three members part of a slate for those opposed to the charter study.

Former School Committee member Andrew M. Churchill, 59 Pine St., led the way with 1,657 votes, followed by Nicholas P. Grabbe, 84 Eames Ave., with 1,514; Irvin E. Rhodes, 173 Pondview Drive, 1,437; Diana B. Stein, 140 Red Gate Lane, 1,433; Thomas J. Fricke, 32 Railroad St., 1,415; Margaret E. Gage, 208 Montague Road, 1,405; Gerald S. Weiss, 277 Middle St. 1,364; Julia R. Rueschemeyer, 165 North Whitney St. 1,281, and Mandi Jo Hanneke, 52 Orchard St., 1,262.

Not elected were Maurianne Adams, Amy Gates, Frank M. Gatti, Robert E. Greeney, Philip S. Jackson, Bernard R. Kubiak, Janet Louise McGowan, Jennifer E. McKenna, Maureen A. Raab and Christopher E. Riddle.

The commission will meet for the first time at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the First Floor Meeting Room at Town Hall, when it will elect a chairman, vice chairman and clerk, and set a calendar of meeting dates.

As a supporter of the charter commission endorsed by Amherst for All, Grabbe, a former editor and reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin, said he believes it can make recommendations for a revised government that will win support from residents.

“I’m looking forward to working with all members of the commission and reaching out to the 38 percent of voters who voted no, and to address their concerns,” Grabbe said.

Those endorsed by Town Meeting Works say they will listen to their counterparts on the other side, and the community, to understand why there is apparent frustration with Town Meeting.

“I want to hear the concerns about why Town Meeting isn’t representative,” Gage said. “I’m interested in listening.”

Gage said having younger voters involved in the process, possibly through a special act of the legislature so those under 18 can participate in local elections, might help change the makeup of Town Meeting.

Weiss, a former chairman of the Select Board, said he will go into the process asking questions.

“What is working? What is your evidence of what is working? What isn’t working? What is the evidence it is not not working?” Weiss said. “I will ask those questions and the answers have to be convincing.”

Michael Alpert, of Butterfield Terrace, came to the Amherst for All get together and said he is hopeful about the commission’s work, but the vote doesn’t mean Town Meeting will go away.

“This is the beginning of a long process,” Alpert said. “All options are on the table.”

Besides the candidates for charter commission, the only other townwide race was for School Committee, with Laura E. Kent, 50 Aubinwood Road, and Anastasia E. Ordonez, 1 Dwight Circle, easily outpacing Vincent J. O’Connor, 175 Summer St., for the two, three-year positions.

Incumbents who won reelection without challengers were Alisa V. Brewer and James J. Wald for three-year terms on the Select Board; Robert Pam and Jonathan P. McCabe for three-year terms as trustees for the Jones Library; James W. Pistrang for one year as moderator; and John W. Coull for one year as elector under the Oliver Smith Will.

Newcomers elected included Stephen W. Jefferson for a five-year term on the Amherst Housing Authority, and James R. Turner for five years on the Amherst Redevelopment Authority.

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




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