April 23, 2008 Select Board Meeting

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 6:30 p.m. Town Room at Town Hall

Present:  Select Board members Gerry Weiss, Anne Awad, Alisa Brewer, Diana Stein, Stephanie O’Keeffe; Town Manager Larry Shaffer; Kate Seaman, recording minutes.


Mr. Weiss announced the Earth Day and Arbor Day Celebrations to be held Saturday, April 25th on the Town Common and downtown.

Agenda Review

I requested that the Town Manager include an update on the Hadley ambulance situation in his Town Manager’s report.

Public Comment

No one from the public offered any comments.

Untimed Items

Mr. Weiss said that he and I had visited Moody Field Road, Rosemary Street and Lilac Lane on Friday to do inspections prior to recommending the streets for acceptance by the Town.  He said that because the Select Board would be formally voting on that topic at an upcoming meeting, additional discussion could take place then.

There were no consent calendar items or committee appointments.

Hadley Ambulance Update  (6:38)

Because the Hadley ambulance update was not a timed agenda item, meaning no one from the public would be planning to be present or to tune in at a specific time for that discussion, Mr. Shaffer addressed it now. 

Mr. Shaffer said he spoke with the Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon, after reading the article in the Wednesday’s Gazette, and that Mr. Nixon confirmed Hadley’s intent to solicit alternative proposals for ambulance service, seeking a lower price than that which Amherst is seeking to collect.  Mr. Shaffer talked about fire and ambulance calls to Hadley representing about 19% of Amherst’s total annual call volume and 25% of total EMS volume.  He said that these calls bring in about $365,000 in revenue from insurance reimbursements and about $79,000 from the Town of Hadley’s contract with Amherst.  He said that Hadley had proposed a small increase in that contract fee, and said it was not close to the $100,000 figure he had sought.  [Note:  after creating a “cost-per-call” analysis, Mr. Shaffer had originally suggested that for full reimbursement, Hadley’s payment would need to be several hundred thousand dollars.]  He said that one more year was assured with Hadley, and that what happens the following year is uncertain. He talked about having a long-term commitment from Hadley and the other towns being more important to him than getting the highest dollar amount, because he said that Amherst’s public safety infrastructure needs, such as the potential third fire station, require predictability for planning.  He said that revenues collected for ambulance and fire services are increasing, and that he is not worried about the long-term prospects.

I said that this was a complicated issue and that it needs to be emphasized that if we were to lose Hadley’s ambulance contract, it would not represent a cost savings to Amherst, and would have serious implications for Amherst’s EMS service.  I noted that at a February meeting, Mr. Weiss had requested that a document be created of what Amherst’s fire and ambulance protection and budget would look like if Hadley were not part of the equation, and said that if that had not been shared with the Select Board yet, it is something we ought to see and discuss.  

Mr. Shaffer said total revenues to ambulance and fire are increasing, thanks to negotiations with the other towns and UMass and Amherst College, and that he is confident that will continue.  He said the concern is not short-term revenue but that locking in long-term costs without being able to fund them is a concern.

Mr. Weiss sought additional clarification on the point about whether or not there would be a cost-savings to not serving Hadley if the premise is that Hadley is currently costing Amherst money by not covering its full service costs.  Mr. Shaffer talked about incremental costs and incremental revenues,  and said that the complication lies in the fact that the last calls don’t cost the same as the first calls (as in:  you build a fire station and buy an ambulance.  The first ambulance call could be said to “cost” the full amount of that set-up expense, and once you have a second call, you could consider the cost to be divided among both calls, and so forth as more calls are received.  The “last” calls hence don’t “cost” the same as the first ones, from this perspective.)  He said the issue is trying to measure the cost of Hadley’s calls in relation to all the other service calls, and whether the incremental revenues are worth the incremental expense.  He said there are also equity issues as far as what people in Amherst versus other towns pay on a cost per call basis.  

Taxi License  (6:45)

The Select Board voted unanimously to grant a taxi driver license to Brian Kopinto.

Article 8 – Budget Amendments  (6:50)

Finance Director John Musante said that part B of this article – to amend last year’s budget appropriation and transfer funds from reserves to the general fund, in order to cover additional expenses was expected to be dismissed.

Part A seeks to amend last year’s appropriations by transferring money among the different municipal budget areas of General Government, Public Safety, Public Works, and so forth, in order to use unspent funds from one to cover budget overages in another.   He said that unspent funds were the result of savings in health insurance and property and casualty insurance expenses, and leaving some vacant staff positions unfilled.  He said overages are expected to include the snow and ice account, public safety, veterans’ benefits, and legal services.  He said that the expectation will be to request transferring some funds, but that the amount was not yet known, so no motion or vote on a recommendation was possible. 

Article 18 – Community Preservation Act – Affordable Housing  (7:00)

Community Services Director Roy Rosenblatt explained that this article seeks to amend an action taken at last spring’s Town Meeting which had appropriated $150,000 for three deferred payment loans to help low- and moderate-income families to purchase homes in Amherst.  He said that while that use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds had been considered allowable, the new Town Counsel’s interpretation is different, and that CPA funds must be used to create permanently affordable housing.  To that end, this article seeks to change last year’s appropriation accordingly, having those funds provide buy-down assistance and acquire deed restrictions on the properties to ensure that they remain affordable permanently.  Mr. Rosenblatt explained that there is a complicated formula that would be used to determine how much the property’s value could increase by over time in order to remain affordable.

Ms. Awad expressed disappointment that the properties purchased using these funds would not be countable as affordable under the State’s Chapter 40B guidelines, and Mr. Rosenblatt said that that was a result of the having to change the program to meet this new compliance interpretation after the program had already gone forward, and a lottery had been held with winners determined.  He said that because the original intent of the program was not to be limited only to those whose income would qualify under 40B, it was considered unfair to change the requirements after the fact. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Article 18. 

Article 19 – Community Preservation Act – Affordable Housing  (7:22)

For Part A, Mr. Rosenblatt explained that the Olympia Drive property long owned by the Town and intended for affordable housing was found to not have required frontage for development, and would require a comprehensive permit, which allows suspension of the Town’s Zoning Bylaw.  Preparing the comprehensive permit application to the State requires significant studies, site development plan and architectural drawings, and so $150,000 in CPA money was being sought for that purpose.

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Part A.

Part B sought to provide $30,000 to the four-house Habitat for Humanity development on Stanley Street.  Mr. Rosenblatt said that Habitat had originally requested $60,000 a couple of years ago, and $70,000 now, and that the Town had provided $30,000 then and that the CPAC request now was to provide that amount again.  There were questions about how that amount was arrived at, and Mr. .Rosenblatt said the Housing Partnership/Fair Housing Committee didn’t want to ask for more because of its $150,000 request.  He said that CPAC was aware that the Habitat request had been for more, and could have increased the amount, but opted not to do so. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Part B.

Article 20 – Community Preservation Act – Historic Preservation

Jim Wald, Chair of the Historical Commission, said that that group had changed its focus to concentrate on things with quick results and that were manageable within the scope of its available volunteer and staff time.  To that end, he said, they were requesting in Part A of Article 20 to appropriate $54,400 as follows:  $8,800 to assist with renovations of the Woman’s Club Carriage House; $20,000 to continue the conservation and preservation of the Town’s archival documents; and $25,600 for the second of five annual payments on the preservation restriction on the Kimball House and Farm at 575 North East Street. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Part A.

Part B is about the purchase of two lots on Main Street in front of the former Boys and Girls Club, land that has recently been subdivided and had historic houses moved to three of its parcels.  Mr. Wald said that the developer was offering the two empty lots to the Town for $200,000 each, and that they had value for preserving the view of the Hills Mansion and because they are part of the Dickinson Historic District.  He explained that $200,000 of CPA money was being sought, and that an Urban Self Help Grant was being sought as well.  He said that if the grant comes through, it will cover 70% of the purchase price of the two lots – $280,000 – in which case, only $120,000 of the CPA money will be needed.  If the grant does not come through, the full $200,000 of CPA money will be used to buy one of the lots, and that other options would be pursued for the other lot, or that declining that lot’s purchase might be necessary. 

There were questions about the sentiments of the CPA committee members who opposed this recommendation.  Mr. Wald said that some felt that the property was already compromised with the subdivided lots and the houses moved there, and that there was a sense that purchasing the lots was something of a reward to the property developer. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Part B.

Article 22 – Community Preservation Act – Kimball House (8:07)

Sonia Aldrich, Town Comptroller and staff liaison to the CPA Committee, explained that the $50,000 sought by Article 22 was part of the compensation agreement with the State for the Kimball House preservation restriction.  She said that at a special Town Meeting in 2006, Town Meeting had voted to set aside $50,000 into the reserve fund for open space, while the compensation agreement was being determined.  She said that now that the agreement exists, that money needs to be appropriated to State.

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend the article.

Article 23 – Community Preservation Act – Administration

Ms. Aldrich explained that Part A of Article 23 was to seek $1,500 for membership dues to a Community Preservation Act organization.  Ms. Awad questioned the necessity of membership, with so much information available on-line.  Ms. Aldrich said that no CPA Committee members were available to speak to this and other articles tonight, and that her understanding was the organization had recently begun charging membership fees. 

Mr. Weiss asked about Part B of the article, which requests appropriation of $150,000 of CPA money to a CPA reserve fund for future use, and Ms. Aldrich said that that money was needed for the purchase of the Main Street lots, and would no longer be sought for reserves, and that dismissal of Part B would be requested. 

I asked for the totals of how much CPA money was available and how much was being requested for appropriation.  Ms. Aldrich said that the estimated funds from the CPA surcharge for FY09 were expected to be $345,000, and that the expected State match would be 65%, for $271,000.  She said there was also $100,000 in past CPA reserves, for a total of $716,000, of which she said $694,000 was being sought for appropriation among the different articles.

The Select Board voted 4 to 1 in favor of recommending Part A, with Ms. Awad opposing; and voted unanimously to recommend dismissal of Part B.

Article 24 – Community Preservation Act Ballot Question  (8:20)

Mr. Weiss explained that this article was asking Town Meeting to approve putting a question on the November election ballot to increase the CPA surcharge, and that the Select Board had to determine the percentage to recommend. 

There were questions about the current state of the CPA match from the State, and Ms. Aldrich said that for FY09, all participating communities would be matched at 65%, and that any match money leftover would be divided among the communities who have approved the surcharge at 3%.  If Amherst were to adopt 3%, she said that would be counted as such for FY10. 

Ms. Brewer said that she wouldn’t support the increase or recommending that Town Meeting put the question on the ballot. 

Ms. Stein said she would recommend 3% and has concerns about raising taxes and what the future of the match might be, and feels that the CPA money has allowed for a lot of important projects in Amherst. 

Ms. Awad said she would recommend 3% and called that a modest increase, and said that the Town could point to many valuable investments made with CPA money so far. 

Mr. Weiss said that many in town consider this a valuable tax and want the chance to put the increase on the ballot, and he supports letting the voters decide.  He noted that there is a $100,000 exemption on the CPA surcharge, and thought that an increase to 3% would be about $30 more for the average $300,000 house.  Mr. Musante said he thought the amount would be in that range, and that he would be creating a chart for Town Meeting with all the correct figures.  Mr. Weiss noted that there are additional exemptions for elderly and low-income people, and he said that that made the tax more progressive than many other taxes. 

Ms. Brewer said that Amherst had indeed adopted optional exemptions, and that not all towns had done that.  She noted that the Select Board doesn’t have an opportunity to take a position on a ballot question in the same way it takes a position on a recommendation to Town Meeting. 

I said that I didn’t think the idea of simply “putting it on the ballot so that the people could decide” was consistent with how the Select Board had approached the override question last year.  I said that more importantly, the Select Board should be considering the larger picture of the economic conditions in which such a ballot question would be proposed.  I said that I wish Amherst had adopted 3% originally, but that considering our fiscal woes, the CPA amounts to an override that can only be spent on specific non-priority items, and that if we think the there is still willingness among the voters to increase their taxes, should we ask that they do so for this purpose?  I said that voters don’t have the same detailed context of Amherst’s overall budget and fiscal projections the way the Select Board and Town Meeting do, and so I opposed the idea of simply putting the question on the ballot for voters to decide.  I said that we should also be aware that the November ballot is expected to have a referendum seeking the repeal of the State income tax, and that the kind of anti-tax sentiment that such a question represents was significant and that we couldn’t know what kind of effect the two questions might have on each other.

Ms. Awad moved to recommend to Town Meeting a ballot question increasing the CPA surcharge from 1.5% to 3%.  The Select Board voted 3 to 2 to support the recommendation, with Ms. Brewer and me voting to oppose it.

Capital Program – Articles 14 - 17  (8:36)

Mr. Musante credited all the members of the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC) for their work on the five-year capital plan and its budget recommendations for this year.  He talked about the history of the JCPC, its goal of spending 10% of the annual tax levy on capital, how that amount is only 7% in the current fiscal year, and that recommendations total 7.25% for FY09.  He said that the five-year plan seeks to increase that amount to 9.5%, which would amount to about a million dollars more for capital spending than is available this year.

He explained all the items and projects proposed for funding under each category:  Chapter 90 highway funds ($610,000;) equipment ($1,226,400;) buildings and facilities ($143,000;) and bond authorizations  (three parts:  $420,000, $635,000 and $205,000.)  See the JCPC report for all the details.  With minimal discussion, the Select Board voted unanimously to recommend each of the articles. 

Town Manager’s Report – Fourth of July Parade  (9:17)

First, the Town Manager announced that the Town had been awarded a grant for up to $7,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.  The grant is called a Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Technical Assistance Site Visit Program grant, and will be used to study the feasibility of creating a Business Improvement District downtown.

Mr. Shaffer then read the press release he was issuing regarding his decision to have the Town sponsor and manage the parade beginning in 2009.

Mr. Weiss said that he appreciated and supported the Town Manager’s decision.

Mr. Shaffer said that the problem has been the exclusion of certain participants, and that all should be allowed to participate and carry signs expressing their points of view, unless they express hate crimes or obscenities.

Ms. Brewer then read the parade committee’s regulations regarding signs.  It included:  that one banner may be held by each organization stating its name, but no obscene language or “offensive political statements” may be included, and that the parade committee reserved the right to remove any sign or banner it deemed inappropriate; other signs should be in the spirit of the parade, celebrating the nation’s birth and honoring police, fire, ambulance and past and present members of the military.   Ms. Brewer said that these regulations were similar in concept to the regulations being developed by the committee planning Amherst’s 250th celebration parade.  She asked if it was true that these regulations would remain in place for 2008 while the parade is run by the private organization.  Mr. Shaffer said yes.

Mr. Shaffer said that the Town does and should have a role in the parade and that it should ensure that a celebration for the nation’s birth should not be “besmirched by attempts” to limit freedom of speech.  He said he has talked at length with many concerned citizens and organizations, and that this was not a topic brought to him by a couple of “cranks.”  He said the issue speaks to the nation’s core values.  He praised the hard work of the parade committee for what they have accomplished with the parade and said he hopes to continue to conversations with them, and that this issue is important enough to warrant this action by the Town. 

I said that I was sorry it had come to this, and that I wasn’t sure framing this as a free speech issue was the right way to think about it.  I said that it is really about a private event, and that with so many free speech opportunities, every person’s definitions of freedom did not need to be met by every individual event.  I said that my understanding was that the parade committee had made overtures to compromise, and that where they had first sought to not allow some groups participation, they now allowed all participation but were seeking to limit the messages those groups carry on signs and banners.  I asked what the Town had done by way of compromise, and how it had sought to meet in the middle.

Mr. Shaffer said that no private parade should be prevented, but that the Fourth of July is a special day, and everyone should be able to participate and carry the signs they want to carry on a parade that day on Town streets.  He said this year’s private Fourth of July parade will happen and will include the Town vehicles.  He said that the Town will run the parade next year and the private group will be welcomed to participate, along with all others.  He said that no groups would be unwelcome to participate in the Town parade and said that there has been the feeling that some groups were unwelcome in the private parade.  He said he has met repeatedly with the parade organizers, and that they have not changed their position, and that they remain determined to control who will march and what banners they can carry.  He said that he believes in compromise and communication and that his dealings with the parade group and have not been productive on those points.

Ms. Brewer said that she is sure that LSSE would do a good job with the parade and noted the demand it would place on staff and volunteers as well as next year’s budget.  She also suggested discussing whether or not the Select Board would participate as a board or might participate as individuals.  She said that some in the Town have felt that the Town has been bullying the parade committee with the threat of disallowing Town vehicles.

Mr. Weiss said he didn’t see the question of allowing Town vehicles as bullying, but rather that he saw it as a situation where a private event was limiting free speech and whether it would be appropriate or legal for the Town to participate given those conditions.  He said that private groups have rights to include or exclude anyone they want but that use of the public resource of Town vehicles was not appropriate.

Ms. Stein said the controversy began with opposition to the Iraq war, and that public sentiment about the war being a mistake was so prevalent nationwide that people carrying signs attesting to that on the Fourth of July should not be regarded as outside the mainstream.  She said the free speech issue was partially seeking to protest the war.

Ms. Awad said the parade had begun after the September 11th attacks and that she and other Select Board members had marched the first and second years of the parade, not by an official Select Board decision, but through individual invitations to its members.  She said that as constraints on the parade grew, and marchers were removed, it became more difficult to justify participation.  She said that it became harder to consider use of Town vehicles appropriate as groups like the League of Women Voters, the Amherst Democratic Town Committee, the town’s Republican Committee, SAGE and veterans’ groups were more constrained by the parade committe.

Mr. Shaffer said he marched last year and would march again if his invitation is not revoked.  He said he is a member of the VFW and served as an Army medic from 1967 to 1970, and said he understands the views of the parade committee.  He said the overarching rights of free speech are important, particularly on the Fourth of July.  He said his door is open and he’s happy to meet with anyone to discuss this, but that he hopes to be able to get around the issue of people carrying signs with sentiments about which they feel strongly.

I said that I appreciated that this year’s parade will occur as scheduled and that the door is still open for next year, and that it might give all involved a chance to reflect on whether they have been too entrenched in their positions and not making adequate compromises.  I said I was concerned about backlash from this and how this precedent might allow change to be forced on other groups using Town property, such as the Farmers Market and other events that occur on the Common.  I questioned whether this decision would be “logically defendable” when considered against other scenarios.

Nancy Foster, a member of SAGE, said that she was speaking as an individual and that SAGE has been waiting for the parade rules.   She said that they have appreciated marching, but have been concerned about the limitations placed on them.  She said that simply carrying signs about the Bill of Rights is inadequate and that outrage needs to be expressed about how those rights have been infringed upon by the Bush administration.      She said there was also concern about the ability to distribute literature on the Common.  She said that speaking out against the violation of our rights is important, and that she is pleased about Mr. Shaffer’s opinion.  She said tolerating and ignoring rights violations is serious and that our local democratic government is right to acknowledge that.

Larry Kelley said he was not speaking for the parade committee, of which he is a member, but as an individual.  He asked if it is true that the Town will not issue a permit for a private parade to occur on the same day as the Town’s parade in 2009.  Mr. Shaffer said that is “absolutely correct,” and Mr. Kelley angrily left the room.

Carol Rothery, President of the Amherst League of Women Voters, said that her group had met with the parade committee in fall of 2006 and urged allowing more freedom of expression, and were not successful.  She said the League decided in spring of 2007 not to participate because of the restrictions on basic rights.  She said that her group felt that a private group holding the parade provided no recourse to those who disagreed with its practices, and that such recourse would be available with the Town hosting it.  She said the League thought the Town running the parade was the best option, and supported Mr. Shaffer’s decision.  She read a message from former Amherst residents who said they supported honoring the veterans and military and emergency services personnel, but that others with differing views should get to have their say as well. 

Mr. Weiss asked Mr. Shaffer to clarify whether or not the parade committee’s permit application could be issued for another day, and Mr. Shaffer said yes, and that they would have to go through a similar process as now, but that the Fourth of July in 2009 has been reserved for the Town’s parade.  He said that July 3rd or 5th would be available, for example.

I said that I support the parade and support allowing SAGE and the League and others to march, and that I have unsuccessfully lobbied Mr. Kelley in the past to be more inclusive.  I said that I am concerned that in all the discussion about free speech, that we are disallowing the free speech of the parade committee.  I said that this is their parade, they revitalized the whole concept of a Fourth of July parade in Amherst,  and that they ought to be able to have it their way, and not be forced to have their parade message redefined.  I said that the views of others could be accommodated through a separate parade or parades. 

Ms. Brewer returned to the concept of the Select Board determining as a body what its policy would be on member participation, and asked that it be a future agenda item. 

The meeting adjourned at 9:57.   The next Select Board meeting will be at 6:15 p.m. on Monday, April 28th, in the music room at the Middle School, prior to Town Meeting.  That will be the time and place of all Select Board meetings until the conclusion of spring Town Meeting. 


neil said:

Thank you for the detail account of the proceedings. I know it is a lot of work and I appreciate it. I appreciate it over and above how you represented yourself and the like-minded constituency on the issue of the Independence Day Parade.

Having read the account of the proceedings, I was left thinking that if Mr. Shaffer had allowed the Select Board to deliberate the issue before he decided on a new policy, that the outcome might have been different and more your liking and mine. Having spent the time to write a press release, I think he was entrenched in his position. I do not believe he is the most nimble of thinkers. I drew that conclusion when Mr. Shaffer argued that the town should not permit the Boy Scouts to use Kendrick Park at Christmas time because every private organization should have the same right. Reasonable, well-reasoning people look for solutions that allow them to say, “yes” not solutions that compel them to say “no.”

You’ve heard me say this before but I think it bears repeating. The town manager is not elected and therefore should not presume his recommendation about a policy solution will be approved before it is debated and decided upon by the FULL five member select board. Voters and I consent to being ruled by the majority opinion of the five-member elected select board. We do not consent to being ruled by the town manager and select board chair.

Good government does not rely solely on righteous reasons to decide issues but other principles as well. In Amherst, we have both eyes cocked towards the lenses that see the issue from a moral perspective. Using that one perspective to drive our analysis and decision-making leads us erroneously toward a self-righteous thinking and self-righteous decisions. Self-righteous thinking throws the baby out with the bath water. Self-righteous thinking decides the Parade Committee cannot have its parade and it’s free speech policy because the Parade Committee’s policy denies other residents the right to use the Independence Day Parade as a vehicle for their protest. Clearly, there is room for two parades in Amherst, even on the same day. And I will say this, I will bring a child to the July 4 parade that celebrates our independence without protest without images of partial birth abortions, war criminals, gitmo torture, and clubbed baby seals the free speech rights of protesters notwithstanding.

Jeff said:
I said that I am concerned that in all the discussion about free speech, that we are disallowing the free speech of the parade committee. I said that this is their parade, they revitalized the whole concept of a Fourth of July parade in Amherst, and that they ought to be able to have it their way, and not be forced to have their parade message redefined. I said that the views of others could be accommodated through a separate parade or parades.

Hear, hear! I will characterize the decision in my own words. This is a tyranny of the majority… not that there was actually a Select Board vote, and of course their should be in a representational government. Not satisfied with creating an opportunity that meets the needs of people who want a protest parade, the town manager and select board chair disregard the "free speech rights" of the Parade Committee and institute their own rules. Their justification is a narrow and self-serving view of free speech rights driven by a narrow and self-righteous view of the same.

When the question is raised whether two parades on July 4 would accommodate the needs of all requesting a remedy, the town manager rejects the solution stating "as that the Fourth of July in 2009 has been reserved for the Town’s parade." This decision was made when and by whom? The decision disregards the fact the Parade Committee revived the parade and is self-funded. Once again the town manager is making policy based on information that he does not present to the Select Board and they do not have an opportunity to review and decide. As such, the Select Board’s authority to make policy is being subverted by the will of an illegitimate cabal, a minority that subverts the authority of a five-member Select Board. Since these conversations are going on behind closed doors, we do not know which Select Board members are involved but if you read through the meeting notes, you can get a good idea.

If Select Board members insist on their prerogative to debate and decide all town policy decisions and relegate Shaffer to fact-finding and enforcement of said policy Amherst Select Board will begin to function as a legitimate representational government.

These opinions are mine and not necessarily the owner of this web site.

Ryan Willey said:

Thank you Stephanie for making sense of the nonsense that the other members of the select board put forth that night. Your support for the parade committee was indeed a brave act; truly you are your own person and that is refreshing in Amherst politics.
Kind Regards
-Ryan Willey

Neil Sagan said:

There is a tension in Amherst between people who want to conduct an Independence Day parade without protesters in the parade and people who want to use the Independence Day parade to protest. Both parties feel it is their right, and both parties accuse the other of denying their right to free speech. It is a quintessentially Amherst kerfuffle that requires adroit policymaking skills to resolve.

A private group of Amherst citizens named the Parade Committee have been fund-raising, organizing and conducting the self-financed event for seven years, since 2002. Prior to that, Amherst had no Independence Day parade for twenty-six years.

The town manager Larry Shaffer stepped into the fray decisively but without the benefit of the deliberation of the elected Select Board.

Once again the un-elected town manager is making policy on matters town residents have an interest, while elected representatives - the ones we chose to represent us - are relegated to the sidelines. Questions like these should be put to the Select Board. Mr. Shaffer is not an elected mayor; he is a hired manager. Elections are the process by which we consent to rule: Mr. Shaffer is un-elected.

Mr. Shaffer's decision was made before it was taken up at the 4/23/8 Select Board meeting. There is no deliberative record of the analysis that brought Mr. Shaffer to his decision. From the public record we know, Mr. Shaffer had been unable to convince Parade Committee representatives to accept protest marchers as part of the parade. It is not clear if Shaffer, the Parade Committee or the Protest Group considered alternatives to full accommodation. Alternatives might include an adjunct event such as a protest rally, a second parade directly on the heels of the first, a protest parade on another day, or protest as spectators along the parade route.

Mr. Shaffer decided the Amherst Independence Day parade has an obligation to provide the opportunity to protest in spite of the Parade Committee's purpose.

Mr. Shaffer decided the way to accomplish it was to deny the Parade Committee their 2009 Independence Day Parade application and direct Leisure Services to organize and conduct the 2009 Parade in such a way that two parades on July 4th 2009 day would be ostensibly impossible. The LSSE application indicated the parade will start at 9AM and end at 5PM on July 4th 2009. It is possible that Mr. Shaffer has directed LSSE to file a fraudulent application unless LSSE in fact intends to conduct an eight-hour parade.

If Mr. Shaffer's policy defines the final course of action Amherst town government chooses, then I submit that Amherst is settling for an unsatisfactory result, based on inferior problem-solving skills, and hindered by poor process.

UMass Student said:

There is an important point being missed here - the ethical principles of town managers (and there are such associations) is that town managers IMPLEMENT policy set by elected leaders, that they do not make it themselves.

Another important point being missed here is that the Amherst 250 parade will be while the colleges are in session, and the principles they set will apply here - the college kids can protest the town. Students now HATE the town, and I can see F*** Amherst banners being in the parade, lawsuits if they are not allowed.

Anonymous said:

To UMass Student,
I was just wondering why the students now HATE the town? Is it any one particular reason or what has built up to this?

Nancy Gregg said:

Your vote to not leave the decision about increase of CPA money to the voters by including it on the warrant reminds me of a vote to not put a municipal housing trust on the warrant when those who tried to do it were told the Select Board was the " gate keeper". There were many who objected to comment at the time.

Eva said:

Nancy, I remember the "gate keeper" incident related to the municipal housing trust very clearly. It was an outrageous action taken at the very first meeting of Hwei-Ling and Rob Kusner on the SB.

However, I think there is a significant difference: the "gate keepers" kept the article that had been submitted by the Housing/Fair Housing Committee off the warrant entirely, with the result that it could not even be discussed by Town Meeting.

By contrast, the CPA-surcharge article is being sponsored by the Select Board and is already on the warrant, for discussion by Town Meeting. The SB vote was whether or not to recommend to Town Meeting how they should vote on the question of putting it on the November ballot. Not putting it on the ballot would deprive the voters of the opportunity to vote on it. But I think that before that decision is made one way or the other, it makes sense to debate the merits of the substance of the article; and that purpose will be served when the warrant article comes up for debate, even if that is not the explicit purpose of the article. I guess both the Yes and the No votes among SB members reflected the views of individual members of the substance -- to raise or not to raise the surtax -- rather than whether to put the question to the voters. It is not easy to separate the two. I think the main benefit of the impending debate is to ensure a more informed vote on the issue if it does get put on the ballot.

Does that make sense, Nancy?



Recent Comments