Other parts of this job

So other than the meetings, this web site and Monday mornings at Black Sheep, what else do I do as a Select Board member?

  As of the May 19th meeting, I’m now doing the minutes.  Seems silly for staff to be attending the meetings and spending time writing up the minutes when I’m doing something so similar.  I was hesitant to do this at first, because I wasn’t sure how it would affect my ability to participate in the meetings, but since I am managing to do the summaries, and minutes are just a very abbreviated version of the summaries, I think it will be fine. 

  Saturday, May 24th, I attended my first UMass graduation at the stadium, having received an invitation to sit in the Chancellor’s tent on the field.  I really enjoyed that.  Living on the edge of campus as I do, I’ve always felt very connected to the ebb and flow of students each year, so it seemed particularly appropriate to get to watch the “finished product.” 

  On Memorial Day, I was in the parade downtown.  That was a kick!  At first, it was just fun to be walking down the street smiling and waving, but then it really hit me:  what a huge privilege it was to be marching with brave and decorated war veterans, in honor of those who died in service to our country.  Wow. 

  June is my turn to be Vice-Chair, a position that rotates alphabetically each month.  Mostly that means I get to be part of the agenda setting meetings with the Chair and the Town Manager.  Since the next meeting is in June, that started this week, but because we have a really light agenda for June 2nd, we didn’t actually have a meeting to create it – we just did it by e-mail.  Next week should be the real deal.

  I’ll attend the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s “New Selectmen’s Training Seminar” June 21st.  I’m looking forward to that.  Diana and I will go together.  It’s being held at Holy Cross in Worcester. 

  And I meet people, constantly!  People introduce themselves to me while I’m walking down the street or in a store – Town employees, people who recognize me from watching the meetings or from the election coverage in the newspaper.  Some congratulate me, others let me know about concerns that they have about stuff around town or stuff the Select Board is or isn’t doing.  I love that.               


neil said:

It was informative an interesting to read "Other parts of this job." I would not have known these things. Thank you for talking the time to communicate about them.

Kay Moran said:

Stephanie: Thank you for volunteering to take Select Board minutes, which saves staff time and therefore our tax dollars. Finance Committee members rotate minute-taking duties, so I know from experience the task DOES take time.

Eva Schiffer said:

Stephanie, I want to add my thanks to Kay's. This just makes so much sense. I've felt all along that your excellent summaries would serve perfectly as minutes of your meetings; so why require staff to sit through evening meetings and then spend several hours of their crowded working days writing up their notes? Good for you.


Lila said:

Stephanie, I, as a member of the Amherst 4th of July Parade Committee, would like to apologize for not being at tonights meeting. I was not aware that this meeting was taking place. Knowing the great deal of time you have invested in the parade topic, I am appalled to hear that Kevin told you no one could come. I know of three members who would have been there, had Kevin let us know that we should have been there. I read on Larry Kelly's blog that we were advised by counsel not to attend, this too was news to us.

I joined the parade committee this year, and grow more disturped with each meeting. It appears that the reason for having the parade gets a little more lost with each passing day. I should have known after reading your baseball blog that this was not going to work out to be as rewarding an experience as I had hoped. Meetings have turned into what "Larry" said today and what Kevin can do next.

Unfortunately, while our leaders duke it out, our committee is falling apart. Many of the wonderful people who have been there since the beginning are too burnt out to continue. All of the new comers, and most of the "committee" have desided that once this years parade is done so are we. Just as your baseball blog went off course, so too have the committee members dreams. Public vs private many not need to be worked out, as the private looks like it will just say uncle, and Larry will be left with his permit and a parade to run.

I trust that you will be able to convience the town manager that you are his boss, and that you can help to establish a policy for granting permits that will make it impossible for the Town Manager to issue hmself a permit, before the earliest date a private group is allowed to apply, and do so under the premis of "First Ammendment Rights".

I hope the problems between Larry, Kevin and Mr Kelly are worked out soon, so that you can spend your time addressing the real needs of the town.
And I hope that your experience in this years parade will be enjoyable, with or without the Select board's missing banner.

That means a lot to me Lila -- thank you very much. Fascinating about the committee. Gotta say, shocked as I was that no one from the committee would be attending the meeting, I was even more surprised to learn that Kevin blatantly lied to me as to the reasons why.

Live and learn.

Anonymous said:

I have read an account of last night's Select Board meeting on parade policy and I wanted to thank you for your work. I was impressed by the discussion - I think Ms Brewer invested much time in framing the questions - I was impressed by the opinions on the issues, and I was impressed by the unanimous 'send of the board', unanimous. And unanimous on a fairly controversial issue. The board has performed magnificently and I credit your leadership, as well as Ms Brewers leadership and Mr Weiss leadership.

I hope the Parade Committee's decision to abstain from the meeting is not perceived as a lack of respect for the Select Board, although their communications about their decision was certainly handled poorly and deserves criticism. The facts about the conflict were well known. It was time for policy deliberation and a decision. The Select Board did that well.

On another matter, I had requested materials on the Kendrick Park committee and raised questions about that here on your blog. I received the materials and thanked the sender. I wanted to thank you too.

Keep up the good work.

I just got a call from a member of the parade committee who said that legal counsel had advised that no one from the committee attend the Select Board meeting, but that committee members had subsequently decided to attend, and that the designated attendee ended up getting called in to work. I apologize for assuming that Larry Kelley's assertion was correct and for concluding that Kevin had lied to me -- I should certainly have double-checked that.

Things are so often more complicated than they first appear.

Neil said:

Impressive, a quick and public correction, apology and explanation. You're the best O'Keeffe.

Larry Kelley said:

Since I am no longer a member of the July 4'th Parade Committee I had no contact with any of them on the 23'rd. But On the 24'th and today I had contact with Kevin Joy and (as someone with a degree in Exercise Science from Umass) I can most certainly attest to the fact that he is still sick and was probably a lot worse two days ago.

And I can also attest to not one but TWO (pro bono) attorney's advising members NOT to attend the meeting Monday night. ACLU attorney Bill Newman and Amherst attorney Mike Serduck.

Richard Morse said:

Moral of story:

When it comes to advancing our interests in Amherst politics, let's do what in our hearts we know is right, and leave the attorneys out of it.

Attorneys' first instinct is to tell people NOT to do things; it's all about their caution and their fear of loss of control.

But sometimes the advice needs to be: 90% of life is showing up so let's be there to listen and be a stand-up guy (or female equivalent).

In other words, no hiding.

Marcy Sala said:

I agree with you Rich. Two of our Select Board members stuck their necks out, along with other citizens concerned with the parade committee's plight, to advocate for an open and civil community wide discussion of the issues and the committee refused (for whatever reason) to participate. What did that possibly accomplish other than reinforcing the notion that what they're really motivated by is "the fight" itself, as opposed to either the reason behind the fight or the potential for finding a solution to it.

Larry Kelley said:

I think what it accomplished was a 5-0 vote to allow the Amherst July 4'th Parade Committee to have their Parade in 2009; and presumably for many more years after that (after all, Shaffer's term in not going to equal the duration of Mr. Del Castilho's)

Neil said:

About the Select Board's 90-minute deliberation of Independence Day Parade issues:

I was not in attendance at the board meeting. I have a no sense of how politically sensitive Select Board members consider this topic. I do not know what clearly communicated expectations Select Board members had of Parade Committee members, such as to testify to the facts, provide a point of view, or participate in a debate on the merits. I do not know what the Select Board hoped to accomplish.

That said, going in, it sounds like the Select Board saw its role as mediator as opposed to policy maker or adjudicator of the Town Manager's policy.

It is my opinion with the benefit of hindsight, the later of those roles, namely 'policy maker' and 'adjudicator of the Town Manager's policy', were the more appropriate roles for the Select Board as opposed to mediator. And as it turns out, that is exactly the role the Select Board took.

The Select Board members did a superb job researching facts, framing the issue, and in the course of the meeting, deciding the issue narrowly with a 'sense of the board' that provided the town Manager clear direction about what he must do to change his policy. He cannot use his authority to create a pretense, a pretense that there is no time available for the Parade Committee to conduct a parade on 7/4/9 because the town plans to conduct one. Instead, the Select Board instructed the town manager to coordinate access to town byways. This is a reasonable decision.

The decision corrects one aspect of the Town Manager's policy that is indefensible but it does not interfere with his (presumed) authority to offer a protest-welcome parade or otherwise address protest advocates' request for access to a protest forum on July 4, (if that is reasonably the town manager's prerogative and I would argue that the town does have an interest in facilitating a satisfactory resolution and the town manager might be the right one for the job.)

I set aside, for the moment, my longstanding complaint about having an unelected official, our town manager, making policy as opposed to elected officials making policy, namely our select board. It is my firm contention that the town manager's authority is rightly limited to how town government departments operate but moving on...

Let's hope the Town Manager is keeping an open mind about how to satisfy protest advocates. Must the solution come in the form of a parade? Is there another equally satisfactory forum (or even preferred) solution? What if parade goers we're invited to follow behind the parade and gather at a spot toward the end of the parade route for a protest rally whereupon informed and inspirational speakers wold talk about ending the war, torture, terrorism, global warming, education, corporatism, fair elections, you name it. I'm just sayin', if you want a protest rally, do it right.

I am interested in learning what effects, and what opportunity lost, resulted from the Parade Committee's choice to not participate at the select board meeting.

Marcy Sala said:

For me, the biggest loss was one of good will; which seems like the least we could shoot for as a community.

Neil said:

I understand the loss of good will. You were disappointed in their lack of candor and I agree.

If the Parade Committee had made their intention and the reason for it known before the meeting, it could have been avoided.

From the other perspective, consider if you will, the lack of good will created by the Town Manager's policy to exclude the Parade Committee from its purpose effective 7/4/9 by pretense, the pretense of conducting an eight-hour Town of Amherst sponsored parade.

I'm not arguing that your loss of good is without merit, I'm arguing that the Parade Committee's lack of candor with regard to its participation in the Select Board meeting occurred in the context of this strong-arm tactic. It is inept to think coercive tactics will bring parties to the negotiating table. I agree that the Parade Committee could have conducted themselves in a more forthcoming manner and avoided the loss of good will but I don't believe they are solely to blame for that result.

To continue the conversation... I am still interested in learning the effects, and what opportunity lost, resulted from the Parade Committee's choice to not participate at the select board meeting.

Anonymous said:

Talk about burying the lead: This is the last paragraph of the Amherst Bulletin article,

“Board OKs private Fourth parade: Shaffer says '09 permit not guaranteed”
By Nick Grabbe, June 27, 2008

Shaffer said that unless the private committee allows free speech in next year's parade, fire trucks and police cruisers cannot participate, and individual public safety officers can march only on their own time. He said the Select Board's unanimous vote to give the committee a time slot on July 4, 2009, doesn't guarantee that it will happen, and said he hopes to continue the discussion with the organizers.

Mr. Shaffer seems determined to use coercive tactics to force the Parade Committee to conduct the parade in a manner our town manager feels is justified, specifically to allow protesters to march in the parade. The tactics Mr. Shaffer feels are justified include disallowing the parade altogether by denying the Parade Committee a permit.

Mr. Shaffer has maintained this position even after the Select Board resolved unanimously that, and I paraphrase, the town parade will not take up the entire day on 7/4/9 and the Parade Committee will be granted a parade permit.

I would ask Mr. Shaffer what he makes of the Select Board resolution that was clearly articulated and unanimously approved. I would ask Mr. Shaffer how, after receiving this unambiguous instruction, he could choose to decide “the Select Board's unanimous vote to give the committee a time slot on July 4, 2009, doesn't guarantee that it will happen.” I would also ask Mr. Shaffer to explain what he makes of the letter from William Newman of the ACLU. I would also ask Mr. Shaffer to explain what he makes of the Parade Committee’s 1st amendment right of association.

Mr. Shaffer has decided to willfully maintain a coercive posture, even after being informed his position is in direct conflict with the Select Board resolution and in direct conflict with the Parade Committee’s 1ST Amendment right of association. Perhaps Mr. Shaffer is getting mixed messages; one message from the board, another one from the chair. That possibility notwithstanding, there is a remarkable disconnect between Mr. Shaffer and the Select Board.

Mr. Shaffer’s presumed authority to override a specific and explicit Select Board instruction is well... inexplicable.

Finally, if there is an obstacle to resolving this issue, Mr. Shaffer's willful resistance is a part of it.

Larry Kelley said:

And need I remind anyone of what happened on the very first meeting of the Kendrick Park Committee where they voted UNANIMOUSLY to allow the Boy Scouts of America to sell Christmas trees next year without a town tax on sales?

For the Select Board to make policy is very important to me. But good policies are broadly applicable and not dependent on the specifics of a given situation. I think that the result of the Monday discussion is that we now have a rough draft of a policy for the future – its details still need to be refined (use of Town vehicles and other resources for private events, for example,) but it’s a start.

To me, the long and contentious history of this situation called for mediation. Creating a policy to fit this drama would have been to shape one with the goal of allowing or disallowing the private parade. That’s not a policy – that’s a justification.

An alternative would have been a vote on the Town Manager’s April decision about the Town taking over the parade. A vote to support that decision would have created a de facto policy, and would have blurred the lines of where it originated – if you can say that the Town Manager was effectively carrying out the implicit or explicit will of the Select Board majority, then whose policy was it? More bad process.

I felt that this issue, like so much else, needed the sunshine of public discussion. Different perspectives needed to be aired, people needed to go on record with their views and ideas, and we needed to see all that happen in order to dispel suspicions of back-room dealings.

And it was a big success. An informed, thoughtful and unanimous vote by the Select Board in support of the Parade Committee holding a parade on the Fourth of July next year is about as far as you can get from (what I suspect would have been) a 3-2 line-in-the-sand vote in favor of the Town Manager’s decision in April.

A lot of effort went in to making this discussion happen, and all participants were acting in good faith. (That the Parade Committee received a favorable outcome despite their absence is a testament to that good faith – it would have been easy to say “Hey, they couldn’t even bother to be here? Screw ’em.”) It was a good discussion, it was good process (better late than never,) it achieved a good result, and the Parade Committee wasn’t there.

We had a problem, and they were part of it. Now we have a solution, and they weren’t part of it. That is what they lost by not being at the meeting. Not a huge deal, just unfortunate.

Larry Kelley said:

And don't you just maybe, kinda think that the letter from the ACLU made a BIG impact (the Town Manager's childish response notwithstanding)?

Anonymous said:

Thank you Stephanie @ 11:17. As always, your star shines bright. Thank you for your hard work and excellent results.

In re-reading my most recent comment, I want to clarify a little.

Per the end: we have a partial solution. Details still need to be worked out – the time of the parade, whether there will be second parade and if so, whether it is public or private, etc. But we went in to Monday night with the Town having an all-day permit for 2009, precluding the private parade, and we came out with a very strong encouragement to the Town Manager to grant the private parade permit. In that sense, we have “solved” the problem of having eliminated the Parade Committee's parade. But there is still work to be done.

Richard Morse said:

As usual, Ms. O'Keeffe is seeing the issues very clearly.

As prudently, she has stayed away from one aspect of this matter: the town manager's role in putting the problem in play, specifically the issuing of a permit preempting the entire day of 7/4/09.

Monday morning, Mr. Weiss essentially thanked the Town Manager for that, or at least absolved him of any perceived misjudgement.

But, from the beginning, it was the wrong thing to do.

Rich Morse

Richard Morse said:

I'm sorry: Mr. Weiss's grant of absolution to the Town Manager was at Monday evening's (not morning) SB meeting.

Neil said:

Of course, it is a problem that the Select Board would unanimously vote to allow the 7/4/9 Parade Committee a permit, precisely the opposite policy as the one Mr. Shaffer advanced, and then have Mr. Weiss tell Mr. Shaffer not take the vote as interfering with what he is doing.

Clearly, the Select Board vote does interfere with what Mr. Shaffer was doing and it does so unambiguously.

At the very least, Mr Weiss' comment is a mixed message. At worst, it makes you wonder whether these two know how their authority is derived and who is accountable to whom. Mr Weiss has not done the Select Board any favors with that comment and he may also have setup Mr Shaffer for failure.

Shaffer is sincere, earnest and committed to a wrong-minded position based on an oversimplified view of the issues. Worse, he fails to recognize, even after the unambiguous direction from the Select Board, that he is not grasping the big picture. He has made his analysis and attached himself the righteousness of free speech and protest in the 7/4 parade, ignoring the the right of association and apparently keeping a closed mind to alternative solutions for people who want the opportunity to protest on 7/4.

We see pretty quickly that Mr Shaffer did not get the "official policy" message sent to him by the vote of the Select Board. In the news that followed the meeting last week:

"[Mr Shaffer] said the Select Board's unanimous vote to give the committee a time slot on July 4, 2009, doesn't guarantee that it will happen..."

Does not guarantee it will happen? When did we elect Shaffer as top executive and policymaker? This response is not atypical of Shaffer's style and it sure makes progress on thorny issues retarded. Mr Shaffer's comment demonstrates that he is not on the same team as the one that will resolve the policy issue.

Instead, he has taken sides and has damaged his credibility as a fair and impartial party. The Select Board must recognize this and marginalize Shaffer's role in determining the town's ultimate policy.

Anonymous said:

Stephanie, I am a member of the parade committee,I would like to thank you for your support of the parade. We all work very hard to make it happen.I personally think that all this bantoring is stupid and uncalled for.I have lived in Amherst all my life.When the first parade went on,I thought what a great thing and to see all the kids faces when the fire trucks went by was wonderful.There was no desire from any of these "protest groups" to march until the last 2 parades.
My feeling is....if they want to march with their signage then let them put on their own parade so the folks who have children can stay home.
Again,Thank you for all your support, its so nice to finally have someone on the select board that listens carefully before making his or her mind up. We have not had that in quite a while.

Ethel said:

Stephanie, someone said that they heard on one of the local stations, that no permits were going to be granted on July 4, 2009, because of a new by-law. Is this true, and if true, when did it become effective, and who proposed it?


Town Meeting approves all new or amended bylaws, and nothing like this came before Town Meeting. Perhaps what the person heard was reference to the fact that the Town Manager has authority over parade permits, and mentioned that at the meeting on June 23rd. I am wholly confident that he will grant a permit to the parade committee for next year.

Happy Fourth to all!


Anonymous said:

Some interesting observations about how the Board of Registrars conducted its most recent hearing.

Anonymous said:

I have said, many times before, that this town is going to the dogs. We the people have no say, or there would not be Tweety Birds at the crossings in town, nor would there be a cross walk every fifty feet. And they wonder how to get rid of all the traffic in town? The cross walks do not stop jay-walkersn and the tweety birds confuse people that are not used to hearing them. Another Ann Awad stunt. That is how things happened the way they did, at the Voter Registrars' office. Hats off to Amherst as it should be, not as it is.



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