Town Meeting mirrors voters of Amherst
By IRA ADDES
Thursday, February 22, 2018, Amherst Bulletin, Letter to the Editor
Is Amherst’s Town Meeting responsible for the failure of the Wildwood co-located school project last year? Many of those supporting the Charter Commission proposal say so. However that’s not accurate and it’s dishonest to make that claim.
I’ve been on Town Meeting for years and I’m convinced that Town Meeting, with all its quirks, accurately models Amherst public opinion. This contentious school vote happens to illustrate this fact extremely clearly.
There were four votes on the school project, two in Town Meeting, and two in townwide referenda.
In November 2016, there was a townwide Proposition 2½ override referendum on the Wildwood project. It passed (barely) by 50.5 percent in favor to 49.5 percent against.
A week later, there was a Town Meeting vote to borrow the money for the same project. It failed, by 49.5 percent in favor to 50.5 percent against.
It could not be more clear that in November 2016, the town was about equally divided over the school issue, as evidenced by the townwide referendum, and confirmed by the Town Meeting vote a week later.
Since borrowing by state law requires a two-thirds majority, the Town Meeting vote was far shy of what would have been required to move the project forward. At a special Town Meeting in January 2017, the school proponents (I was one of them), launched an extensive advocacy campaign and successfully secured a reconsideration of the November vote. The re-vote showed a significant increase in support, 57.2 percent in favor to 42.8 percent against, but still not the required two-thirds.
The proponents then used a rare petition option to force a townwide referendum on the Town Meeting borrowing vote. After another campaign, the townwide referendum vote on the identical measure was 56.1 percent in favor, and 43.9 percent against.
Please note the remarkable similarity between these two pairs of votes, two townwide, and two in Town Meeting. 50.5 percent and 49.5 percent in favor the first time, and 57.2 percent and 56.1 percent in favor the second time.
The school project failed because it didn’t have the votes among the residents of the town. Town Meeting accurately reflected that fact.