Amherst town officials say Jones Library petition short on signatures

  • Jones Library in Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2021 1:12:41 PM

AMHERST — Petitioners seeking to overturn the Town Council’s decision in favor of the $36.3 million project to renovate and expand the Jones Library fell just short of collecting enough signatures to initiate a voter veto, according to a tally completed by the town clerk’s office Wednesday.

A memo issued by Brianna Sunryd, the town’s communications manager, states that 842 signatures were certified as valid on the voter veto petitions, 22 signatures below the 864 needed to initiate a process that would force the Town Council to reconsider its April 5 vote to authorize $15.75 million in borrowing for the project. Of the 13 councilors, 10 voted in favor, two voted against and one abstained.

While the petition appears to have failed, those advocating for the council’s reconsideration and a townwide referendum have already initiated a Hampshire Superior Court process seeking to extend the period of time for collecting signatures, reduce the number of signatures required to 50% of the town charter requirement, and provide for the submission of electronic signatures. A court hearing is scheduled for April 28 at 10 a.m.

In addition, the petitioners say they are questioning the determinations made by the town clerk’s office regarding verifiable signatures, and are asking to review all documents and related procedures, observing that they delivered petitions with 1,088 signatures.

“The town clerk’s office rejected more than one in five of the signatures we submitted,” said Carol Gray, lead petition organizer, in a statement. “We will be investigating the process by which the town disqualified signatures, and will examine every signature that was disqualified.”

Gray also expressed concern that the verification of signatures was done in haste and may not have allowed for a determination of voter intent.

“We are committed to ensuring that every voter’s voice is heard in Amherst,” Gray said.

The petitioners are also contending that while the verified signatures have not met the threshold that is based on the 2019 town election, when the town had 17,269 registered voters, the town clerk should have instead used the number of eligible voters at the 2020 presidential election, when there were 16,572 voters. Using that lower number, the petitioners needed signatures from 829 voters, instead of 864.

The town charter sets the threshold, stating that voter veto petitions must be “physically signed by a minimum of 5% of the registered voters as of the date of the most recent town election.”

In addition, the charter defines “regular town election” as those “held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in each odd-numbered year.”

The signature collection had to be done within 14 days of the Town Council’s vote, though one extra day was provided due to the Patriots Day holiday.

Marla Jamate, another petitioner spearheading the signature drive, said that all voters who have asked for a voter veto petition need to be counted.

“We have a high level of confidence in the volunteers who canvassed for this petition, despite the additional burdens imposed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of any accommodations from the town,” Jamate said.

Had the petition been successful, the council would be required to revote and, if the result is upheld, later schedule a townwide referendum on the project.

On Tuesday as the petition sheets were delivered to Town Hall, Gray, a former Jones Library trustees, said a referendum vote is appropriate under the circumstances due to the significance of the project, as well as other capital projects looming, including a new elementary school, Department of Public Works headquarters and South Amherst fire station.

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

 




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy