Despite strong advice from the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association (MMMA), the proposed Amherst charter contains language that the MMMA has warned “will very significantly weaken the ability of the Town Manager to function as the Head of the Executive Branch.”
The MMMA is part of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a nonpartisan, statewide association of municipal officials that promotes unified municipal policies and effective delivery of services to community residents.
According to MMMA letters before and after the final proposed Charter was released, the charter contains language that seriously undermines the authority of the Town Manager and gives powers normally reserved for the Executive branch to the Council, which is supposed to be the Legislative branch.
Key among its concerns are that the Manager does not have the capability to appoint heads of departments without Council approval, and that the language of the Charter separating and defining the respective powers of the Council and Manager is unclear and poorly defined.
In its 9-22-17 letter to the Charter Commission, after the final wording of the proposed Charter was decided, the MMMA goes on record chiding the Charter Commission for disregarding its concerns. It goes on record saying that the Town Council should have legislative powers but “not executive and administration powers.” The MMMA continues, "We recommend that the Charter Commission clarify this…adding the word 'legislative' before the word 'powers' in this section [Article 2, Section 2.5].” This didn’t happen.
Amherst voters should be aware that the charter has critical flaws that, although these experts called attention to them, 5 of 9 Charter Commissioners ignored them.
On June 30, MMMA President Rocco Longo and Committee Chair Julie Jacobson sent a number of suggested changes to the Commission, including the recommendation that, “Since the Town Manager is appointed by the Town Council, he/she may be severely hampered in his/her ability to form an Administration by making his/her Department Heads subject to confirmation by the Town Council.” They also expressed concerns that the Charter failed to clarify that all “executive and administrative powers of the Town shall be vested in the Town Manager...and not vested in the Town Council,” pointing out imprecise language regarding the separation of powers.
The final proposed Charter did not incorporate these crucial recommendations, causing the MMMA to be so concerned that they wrote again to the Commission on September 22: “We note that our suggestion that the Manager’s powers be clarified to make clear that the Manager has the executive and administrative powers was not accepted. We respectfully suggest that this be reconsidered.”
They again advised against requiring Council confirmation of all department head appointments, stating, “We recommend that the Town Manager be able to appoint department heads without confirmation. As previously stated, since the Town Manager is appointed by the Town Council, to have also the Department Heads confirmed by the Town Council, could undermine the Town Manager’s authority.”
That the expert advice from the MMMA was ignored and these flaws in the Charter went unchanged, are serious charges.