Democracy already works in Amherst
By JANET McGOWAN
Friday January 5, 2018, Amherst Bulletin, Letter to the Editor
I write in response to the newspaper announcement that Amherst for All is running “practice” or “sample” district meetings to demonstrate how democracy would look under their proposed new charter.
But democracy works just fine under our current system. Since precinct meetings can and do take place now, one wonders why we need to change our entire government to do this? Town Manager Paul Bockelman already holds coffees with residents all over town. The Select Board could do the same if it were so inclined, as previous Select Board Chair Stephanie O’Keeffe used to do.
The Town Meeting Coordinating Committee organizes meetings before spring and fall Town Meeting to discuss the warrant with members and residents. Longtime Town Meeting members, such as Jerry Guidera and Clare Bertrand (founders of Amherst For All), and Andy Churchill and Mandi Jo Hanneke (each Charter Commission members), are free to host regular meetings with residents in their precincts, as other Town Meeting members do, so that they, like others, can stay in touch with the neighbors who elected them.
Residents’ comments at these meetings could be posted on the Town Meeting listserv so all Town Meeting members can see them. Finally, residents now can easily contact most Town Meeting members by precinct.
Amherst could easily add more precinct meetings with Select Board and Town Meeting members to our town calendar — without a wholesale change in government and adding $200,000-plus to our town budget to pay for councilors and a permanent community participation officer.
I will bring the idea of hosting more precinct meetings for town residents to the Subcommittee on Policies & Procedures, which works with the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee to strengthen Town Meeting.
I suggest that the leaders of Amherst For All also bring this idea up to the Select Board as an another improvement to Amherst government.