The morning after

I found last night’s meeting incredibly frustrating.  Disagreeing with my colleagues and being unable to persuade them is frustrating enough, but regretting my own missed opportunities is even worse.  Among the distractions that kept me awake all night:

  That it had not occurred to me, despite the excellent point made by Jeff Blaustein about it being of questionable appropriateness for Anne to vote on issues related to her successor, to point out that she had abstained from the original vote to schedule the election.  By what logic does she abstain on the original vote to set the special election, but then vote to rescind that date and set a new one?  

  That it had not occurred to me to request that Town Counsel be at the meeting.  This was a discussion about legal questions and legal interpretations, and in a group that gives disproportionate deference to the propositions of Vince O’Connor, we needed the resource and the contrast of professional expertise.

Would either have changed the outcome?  Who knows?  But I would feel better today if both elements had been part of the discussion.  Alas. 


Neil said:

Sorry to hear last night's meeting was so frustrating. Rest assured you have constituents who are extremely pleased with your effect on the Select Board and the new direction of governance in Amherst. The effort and the results are there. Keep up the good work. You will figure it out. Some of it is solvable, some of it is process beyond one person's control. Thank you for being on the Select Board.

Anonymous said:

great job last night, stephanie, you were awesome and so was ms. brewer. hindsight is "20-20". don't kick yourself. yes iagree ms. awad should have recused herslf, and know i feel doubly strong she should have because you pointed out shge did on the original vote.
also, if the selectboard is worried about law suits, i would reccommend that mr. weiss not make a motion like he was about to last night, even though he did not mention a person by name we all knew who he was talking about and that person who have a great case for defamation of charater and libel. as far as i know no legal charges were ever brought against vanyone and ms. awad resigned on her own accord. also mr. weiss did not reconize that person and allow him to speak. (freedom of speech!!!)
once again vince o'connor brings a conversation up in judges chambers that is not case law and the board reacts. let's appoint o'connor in charge.
does williamstown or north adams (both towns with colleges) schedule elections according to the school year
by the way boston, one of the largest college towns (cities) in the country schedules its mayoral and city council primary in september!!!!

Imagine the unthinkable-- something bad happens to somebody on the Select Board next year on April 15'th, and their seat becomes vacant.

Looking at the calendar, 49 days after April 15'th would mean an election June 3-- after the students go away for the summer.
According to the logic of Mr. Weiss and Ms. Stein, the entire process needs to take place either before or after the summer-- so the earliest an election could be held would be October 21'st (49 days after they get back).

Which would mean a select board seat would remain open for SEVEN MONTHS (April 15'th to October 21'st).

Are they really proposing that Amherst forevermore stick to holding special elections only between late October and early April?

Stephanie, at some point in the future that might be a worthwhile topic to bring up; it's obvious that the select board needs a written-down policy on this...

Richard Morse said:

As I watch the replay of this meeting playing to our everlasting horror on ACTV, I was playing out scenarios similar to those spun by Mr. Andresen above. But somehow the impact of that reasoning did not dawn on Mr. Weiss and Ms. Stein.

Ms. Awad's refusal to recuse herself from the decisionmaking last night indicates that she is either a complete scatterbrain or very ethically challenged.

The truth about Ms. Awad's resignation seems to me to be this:
Ms. Awad ran out of gas, i.e. lost energy, about her Select Board job before Mr. Kelley began his unfortunate campaign against her. That campaign gave Ms. Awad the golden chance to resign as a political martyr in almost operatic fashion, and to continue the drama right into last night. The disingenous nature of her exit is in keeping with her leadership through her entire Select Board tenure: she has always been about the political fight.

And, as has happened so many times in recent history, Mr. Kelley stupidly handed the whole political opportunity to her on a silver platter.

Rich Morse

David Mix Barrington said:

I just watched the election-date debacle on ACTV as well (the Sox
were not providing any competition) and I am really regretting my
last vote for Ms. Stein. Based on a legal argument which strikes me
as completely frivolous and which was found to be without merit by
the town counsel and another lawyer, Ms. Stein and Mr. Weiss threw
out an election process that was already under way and left the board
seat vacant for seven unnecessary extra weeks.

Mr. Weiss was presented with several good arguments to change his
ill-considered vote and declined to do so, despite being unable to articulate
his reasoning and making it obvious he had never seriously considered
the reasons against any of the other proposed election dates. Ms. Stein's
overriding concern for lawsuits appeared to go away when Mr. Weiss was
proposing to put the board on record as accusing a citizen of criminal
behavior without this having yet been a matter of law (at least he was wise
enough to realize he needed to work on wording).

Ms. O'Keefe and Ms. Brewer were consistently sensible. Can we hope for
a third sensible person on the board soon?

Jeff Blaustein, if you are reading this, you should write what you said to
the Bulletin -- I was impressed with your clarity as well as your specific

Larry Kelley said:

You think the meeting was frustrating for you, eh? So I show up at 7:30 simply to cover the July 4’th Parade update, figuring it was scheduled for 7:35, would be short (‘Town Manager Report’ rather than ‘Public Hearing’) and made the HUGE mistake of telling my wife I would be home by 8:30.

Almost two hours into the 7:20 elections discussion (and I’m falling asleep) Mr. BenEzra suddenly moseys to the microphone and goes off on a tangent with a Tora, Tora, Tora aimed directly at me. After a pregnant pause or two Mr. Weiss leads the second wave of attack, with Ms. Stein carrying his ammo. And all of it seemed rather pre-planned.

Of course over the previous two hours of discussion Ms. Stein worried immensely about a lawsuit with a less-than-zero chance of happening. Now she really has something to worry about. Eric the Rat is dead; I’m alive and kicking…and very, very pissed!

Anonymous said:

(I tried to register, but never got the email from the system)

David - Thanks. I'll try to get to it.

There are so many things I don't understand about that vote (not an exhaustive list). Why the lack of recusal by a lame duck (a 2 -2 vote would have meant the election went on as planned)? It may have been legal to vote, but it was bad form. Why did one SB member feel bound by a 35 year old memory of a conversation that apparently took place in the privacy of the judge's chambers in a different time under very different circumstances and for which no record is available? How could another SB member's vote be based purely on the threat of yet another lawsuit? Anybody remember the lawsuits that the town won re: the parking garage. Is that all it takes to sway opinion? Should we have voted down the parking garage because of the threat of frivolous lawsuits? And why on earth did the Chair call on the same person *three* times?? And although it should not influence the vote.... what about this claim that was made of a student who wants to run for SB (He wants to run for SB, and he's not around during the summer??)... it will be tough for him to do the work, I would think. And finally, what was the motivation for waiting until the eleventh hour to bring this up? We have known about this election for quite some time now.

All in all, justice was not served last night.

Once again, I commend Ms. O'Keeffe and Ms. Brewer for their heroic efforts. In time, they will pay off.
Jeff Blaustein

Anonymous said:

I do recall that Ms. Awad took her concerns to the police and did not get the results she wanted. So now she is turning the tables and publicly accusing someone of stalking, harassing and physical threats from behind her select board desk. Talk about legal fees for the town....
Second, why on earth are we paying lawyers we won't listen to?

Eva Schiffer said:

Stephanie, after so many excellent comments, and deserved compliments to you and Alisa, I'd just like to add a response to your regret at not having thought of insisting on the presence of Town Counsel:

Yes, but: I had the impression that Gerry asked Larry Shaffer all the right questions, and that Larry answered them fully and with complete clarity: The lawyers both said there was no problem with September 16 because the circumstances were so different from those of 35 years ago. I have no doubt that if Town Counsel had been at your meeting, that's what he would have said. And been ignored.

ed cutting said:

You all dodged a bullet last night -- and need to thank Alissa Brewer for doing it. Had Weiss's motion passed, the town would have been in the hole for a multi-million dollar civil rights suit by Larry Kelley. Forget defamation and libel and such, think the AntiKlan statutes and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. (Think the Rodney King case and the federal prosecution of the cops involved.

It is a FEDERAL OFFENSE to violate any citizen's civil rights "under color of law" and while the precedents involve selectmen rather than selectboards, the vote of the Amherst Selectboard would have been exactly that. Watching the video, I am truly speechless. You simply can't do this sort of stuff -- it is like saying that the town will pay female employees less per hour than male employees. You can't do it...

Was the town manager sober? Was he paying attention? Why didn't he say anything because had the motion passed, you would have lost any lawsuit that Larry sought to file. Like I said, this would have been like a selectboard ordinance that women working for the town be paid less than males and you know how that would have worked out....


Neil said:

I saw it and I couldn't believe it.

When I watched the video of the Select Board meeting, I thought: Weiss is running a kangaroo court.

Weiss, in response to a stirring appeal to emotion, decided to act like prosecutor, judge and jury on a matter that does not belong in front of the select board at all.

If there is any substance to Awad’s allegations, they can and should be brought to the police and/or the DA but definitely not the Select Board for a resolution. Alternatively a civil suit can be filed. Most fundamentally, a protective restraining order can be obtained by asking a judge for one and explaining why. Please note, as far as the public knows, none of these measures have been taken by the aggrieved.

Seriously, what would Weiss’ final resolution say? It is hereby Amherst policy that no citizen may act in a way that makes someone else feel stalked and feel physically threatened and cause them to resign from elected office; ahem Larry Kelley did that to Anne Awad, which we know for a fact and which we condemn him for. Did you laugh? I did, it’s ridiculous.

Its third grader excuse making: He did this stuff to me and then I had to resign.

Weiss assumes Awad’s allegations are 100% fact. The chair of the Select Board is not a fact finder. No evidence was presented. No statement was taken. There was no corroboration by a witness. No police report. No physical evidence, and at the very bottom of it all, no claim of harm. I’ll explain.

The crime is ‘stalking’. If you say that someone made me feel stalked, you are not accusing him or her of a crime; you are accusing them of making you feel a certain way. I don’t understand Awad’s purpose in this, except to be careful of not accusing Larry of an actual crime. Now why if she thinks he did commit a crime, would she not say it and tell it to the police too? Especially because her pseudo-stalking charge is accompanied by a pseudo-physically threatened charge; she feels physically threatened.

Given that observation, is Awad a more credible or less credible witness?

Weiss was actually proposing a resolution on which five Select Board members would be asked to assume Larry Kelley’s words and actions made Awad feel stalked and feel physical threatened. Wow. And we don’t even get a written description of Larry Kelley’s stalker-like actions, physically threatening words.

I’m reminded of the Salem witch trials: If she floats she’s a witch and we’ll drown her, if she sinks and stays down for ten minutes, we’ll know she wasn’t a witch.

Whether Awad resigned for the reasons she stated or other ones, it was HER DECISION. Anyone who doesn't like her decision should talk to her, not the Select Board chair.

Let's look at the allegations. There has been no corroboration of the allegations. They are as difficult to corroborate as they are to find illegal because her allegation are not that she was stalked - about which a finding could be made - but that she felt stalked and felt physically threatened. Pretty squirrely!

I wonder if Awad has a habit of playing the victim. She seems to be playing the victim here.

Previously mentioned in press coverage is that Awad took her concerns to the town police. As of now, no action was taken by the police to serve a warrant, make an arrest, or even ask for a meeting. So either Awad didn't have a case or she did have a case but chose to not press charges.

Apparently, the police or her lawyer or her friends or her husband did not advise her to get a restraining order either. As far as we know, Larry “makes people feel like they’re being stalked” Kelley has not been served with a retraining order.

Based on these facts, how can the Select Board propose a resolution condemning alleged behavior without any fact-finding or without a judge issuing a protective order? Not that they should be spending there time that way anyway.

Its absurd Weiss proposed a condemnation based on unsubstantiated allegations.

The way to manage this is to ask the chair to respond to constructive questions, it will also help him reframe his thinking “Point of order” “Question for the chair” Make it all constructive. “Do we know what the facts are or just the allegations?” “Point of order: the board is considering a resolution condemning a member of the community, should he be given the chance to tell his side of the story or should we move right to sentencing?”

You don’t have to know the way to forward; you just have to ask questions about the direction it seems to be going and the line of thinking.

He was pretty quick on the trigger proposing the resolution. It was as if the discussion of the resolution followed the decision to make a resolution. It seems backwards, squirrely and not above board.

Ethel said:

Stephanie, I really thought that you gave a lot of thought to what was going one, and I agreed with you 100%, even though I do not now much about how your form of government works. I guess I found out a lot on the 28th.

We really need to put the vote for Selectperson back, to the Sept. date, and not have to make the already petetioned persons recollect signatures. That is so UNFAIR.

Anonymous said:

Everyone seems to be missing the true meaning of the rescheduling of the election. What is going on is that Amherst is walking up. The current group in power can not find a candidate. The silent majority is being heard and the desire to get back to Town governing is being heard.

Ed Cutting said:

> Seriously, what would Weiss’ final resolution say? It is hereby
> Amherst policy that no citizen may act in a way that makes someone
> else feel stalked and feel physically threatened and cause them to
> resign from elected office; ahem Larry Kelley did that to
> Anne Awad, which we know for a fact and which we condemn him
> for. Did you laugh? I did, it’s ridiculous.

It actually is worse. Assuming that Weiss managed to actually get the grammar correct, it would have been a bill of attainer. Passed by a body with the power of law, it would have been a violation of his civil rights. What the town would be doing would be to retroactively criminalize Larry's past behavior *and* criminalize behavior that is Constitutionally protected as well. As I understand it, Mr. Kelly has used his First Amendment free speech rights to the chagrin of Ms. Awad and Weiss sought to pass a bylaw that would - retroactively - prohibit him from doing so.

You can't do this - and it is helpful to look at what King Georgie & Co did back a couple hundred years ago that led to our bedrock prohibition on bills of attainer. For example, (and yes, I know this was a century earlier) the Massachusetts Puritans were viewed as being too loyal to Oliver Cromwell so that when he was ousted, they lost their charter for not having been properly loyal to the new king's political friends prior to the new king's rise to power.

A more clear example - lets say that SCOTUS reverses Roe and the next day the Mass Legislature outlaws abortion. (neither is going to happen but this is an example) All they could do is say that any FUTURE abortion would be a crime -- they can't go back and say that abortions performed last year are now criminal too. That is ex post facto and prohibited, they particularly can't say that any doctor who performed abortions last year isn't allowed to drive a car - that is a bill of attainer.

And as the Amherst Selectboard is a designated legislative body, everything they do is "under color of law" and that means that there is a civil rights violation involved.

There really is no difference between this and a police officer threatening to arrest you if your son doesn't take his daughter to the prom. You can't do this sort of stuff....

Ed Cutting said:

Think about Richard Nixon - who was run out of office three decades ago for things he allegedly did. (I wasn't there, and he never was convicted in court of anything.) Was what Woodward/Bernstein did wrong?

What Awad appears to be arguing, and what Weiss seems to be supporting, is that no citizen has the right to question the character of an elected official. (I wonder if they would extend this to Bush & Cheney, but I digress....)

Lets take a hypothetical -- and I repeat a hypothetical -- selectboard member who will be named John Doe. Now lets say that Doe belongs to some truly reprehensible group - the Communist Party in the '50s, the Klan in the '80s, the Reverend Wright's church today. Awad's argument is that a member of the public wouldn't have the right to tell everyone else about this affiliation with said reprehensible group.

So lets say that Selectman Doe is a member of the Klan and another person like Larry accuses him of this and Doe denies it. So the citizen goes and (from the public street) takes pictures of Doe burning crosses on the front lawn and such, posts copies of Klan membership lists, generally follows him around kinda like the media did Gary Hart back in the '80s.

Awad and Weiss apparently believe that this should be prohibited.

Neil said:

Does Amherst award accomplishment, citizenship, leadership and community service? Because if it does, I would like to nominate Ian Fay for the accomplishment outlined in Phyllis Lehrer's recent article

Scout goes to birds for Eagle rank
Amherst Bulletin, July 31, 2008

Scouting activities have filled the past four years. He had to earn the 21 required merit badges. They are sewn on his sash and include backpacking, climbing, chemistry, small boat sailing, painting, first aid, cycling, personal fitness, emergency preparedness, pottery, and citizenship in the world, nation and community.

He was a member of Venture, a coed program geared toward older scouts. He took a 50-mile backpacking trip, biked to Cape Cod, where the Scouts slept in tents.

Fay attended the Youth Leadership program at Camp Chesterfield and was invited to be a staffer. Work on the program starts in January to prepare for the week-long summer session. Leaders learn the syllabus that includes conflict resolution, problem solving, communication, planning and setting goals. He had gone to Wanocksett Scout Camp in New Hampshire as a camper.

"Midway through the season they asked me to join the staff. I didn't even have to apply," he said. This summer he is the assistant director of waterfront activities.

He has helped other Scouts to reach the Eagle rank with their community service projects. "It's a small troop with 15 members. If someone is trying to get their Eagle, we help them out. That's the way it works out."

In June he graduated from Amherst Regional High School, where he was enrolled in advanced and honors classes. He was a member of the National Honor Society and the wrestling team. He said he took two math classes so he could take calculus.

"I like math and science, felt I was better at them," he said. He also took ceramics and his creations grace his parents home, including vases and bowls.

In the fall he will major in mechanical engineering at Western New England College.

"I like to solve problems, build things, think about solutions to problems we have in the world. I likes to work with my hands. I loved to play with Legos when I was a kid. I like to take things apart and see how they work."

Scouting will continue to influence his life. He said he will continue to hike, backpack and go camping. His goal: to hike the Appalachian Trail.

But Scouting did more for Fay.

"It helped me mature, learn how to handle myself and lead other people, to solve problems, learn basic life skills and advanced life skills. What they teach you in Scouting is core values."

Gerry Weiss said:

There is a document that we now have that was unavailable the night of the SB meeting. In the interest of a full public discussion of relevant information, it would be helpful if readers of this blog could see it. Stephanie, can you post it? I'm referring to US Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Argued June 2, 1975, Decided Aug 8, 1975, Chief Judge Coffin.

Gerry Weiss

Larry Kelley said:

So am I the only one who finds it peculiar that ‘His Lordship’ would communicate directives to a fellow Royal via her blog?

Maybe it’s just another one of those “Behold the Power” things…

Okay, ‘Your Lordship’ please enlighten us to how this bolsters your Chicken Little response in rescheduling the election to replace X-Czar Awad originally voted by your board 4-0 with ONE abstention to occur September 16—when all the students and professors ARE back in town?

For instance, this paragraph jumps out at me:

The selectmen are now on record, in a statement adopted while the trial was in progress, as endorsing a policy "to hold municipal elections on dates that afford all registered voters an opportunity to personally participate therein by casting ballots at the polls."

Notice they said, “Participate therein by casting ballots…” not having the time to get 50 signatures to run for the position.

Or this:

In short, we would be disturbed if, given time to explore alternatives and given alternatives which would satisfy all reasonable town objectives, a town continued to insist on elections during vacations or recess, secure in the conviction that returning to town and absentee voting would be considered insignificant burdens.

Since when has Amherst insisted on “elections during vacations or recess”? AGAIN, this election was originally scheduled for September 16--that is neither “vacations or recess”.

You sir, with all due respect, are a ninny!

Anonymous said:

Larry you are a ninny for calling him a ninny

Larry Kelley said:

Hmmm...So ‘His Lordship’ brands me a "stalker" and “harasser” from atop his uber-public Select Board Bully Pulpit (ludicrous allegations that made the AP national wire) and you take offense at me calling him a “ninny”?

And if you take the time to read the court decision he thinks helps his “Little-Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf” antics, you will understand why that alone makes him a “ninny.”

You Sir (or Madam as the remote case may be) are an [expletive deleted by S.O.]

Larry Kelley said:

Okay, now the only problem with Stephanie’s software editing my last word to “expletive deleted by S.O.” (Who would have thought she was old enough to remember the Nixon tapes?) is that readers will wonder what awful word I used and possibly think it was WAY worse than it was.

After all, the Amherst Regional High School allows young girls to publicly use the C-word

So for you inquisitive types: it was three letters, rhymes with "pass" (or just take out the p)

Anonymous said:

What a clown Weiss is. He uses a 30 year old irrelevant court ruling posted on a blog as supporting evidence. Completely unprofessional. Of course his conduct at the previous Selectboard meeting was even more unprofessional. Berating a citizen, trying to use his power to create an election date the would more suit his political agenda, attempting to silence free-speech. Of course the absurd thing is free speech is fine as long as it is speech he agrees with. Amherst continues to be ruled by the few and those with the loudest voices that agree with the politics of Weiss, Hubley, Awad, etc. are the only ones heard. While more moderate democratic voices are suppressed, so the extreme ramblings of Vince O'Connor can be heard. What is sad is this town has serious issues regarding aging infrastructure, decaying capital equipment, inadequate public safety staffing, declining schools, yet we continue to debate things like town control of parades, election dates, and who called someone a bad name and made them feel bad. Is there any wonder why the average taxpayer in Amherst feels so neglected? It is a sad time to be an Amherst resident.

Neil said:

I'm all for doing my homework but until I get my JD, I choose to rely on counsel to interpret this case law and other relevant statutes and advise on what the board can do and cannot do with regard to scheduling the election.

Give counsel time to prepare, even to provide a brief to the board delivered in advance of the meeting, so that questions can be asked, alternatives can be deliberated, and a decision can be taken.

Mary Dunn said:

Hi Stephanie, I could not find the agenda for the 8/11 meeting on the town site. Will you be posting it here or am I just missing it? Also, when is the Town Managers review coming up? Is there an official notice asking for input from the town citizens or do we get input? And, finally, are you still having Monday morning coffee at the Black Sheep?
Thanks! Mary

Hi Mary --

I will be posting the packet and agenda info this morning (Sunday). Sorry for the delay.

The Town Manager's review is getting started. I expect us to talk about the process and how to solicit input at a meeting - probably 8/18, because there will only be three of us at the 8/11 meeting. Town Meeting members have already been sent postcards about it (which surprised me actually, since we haven't discussed this yet...) with a deadline for submitting written and signed comments of September 12. It says to address them to:

Gerald Weiss, Chair
Amherst Select Board
4 Boltwood Avenue
Amherst, MA 01002

On that topic, and this is just my personal opinion, I would like to see lots of input from the community, and I hope that input is given in a "professional" manner. This is a job performance evaluation. People should consider the tone of their own job performance evaluations and those they conduct of their own staff. I don't know how the process works yet, but I would expect letters that are thoughtful and constructive to get more attention than those that simply complain about decisions the Town Manager has made. I don't think he is evaluated on the popularity or unpopularity of his decisions, but rather, on the goals, process and communication about those decisions. Just my two cents.

And yes, I'm still doing office hours at Black Sheep -- non-holiday Monday mornings from 7:30 to 10:00. Come by and talk to me!

Neil said:

Where can I find the town manager's job description and goals for the last twelve months?

The Town Manager's job description, as far as I know, is primarily defined by the Town Government Act, mostly in sections 4 and 5. I don't believe a list of goals for the last year was ever created.

O'Reilly said:

I have some feedback on the Town Manager's performance that I would like you to consider.

1. Rather than accept the funding from Amherst College and draft the job description and initiate the interview process for an Economic Development Director, Larry Shaffer, town manager, has decided to initiate his own plan by negotiating land options at some considerable expense to the town, instead. Why does Mr. Shaffer think that he has the experience, insight, time or prerogative to initiate a self-styled economic development plan? Shaffer's process in this matter comes at a great cost to Amherst, opportunity cost. And his decision is driven by his need to control and to be the hero not his decision to see Amherst succeed in this important matter which we hope can deliver economic opportunity and an increased tax base to address a fundamental structural tax revenue/annual budget imbalance. Grade: F

2. When it comes to establishing policy on issues that relate to Amherst culture, Shaffer has demonstrated a ham-handedness and a tin ear. Even after a loud and clear response objecting to his attempted eviction of the Amherst Boy Scouts from Kendrick Park, he continued along that path with some of the poorest reasoned explanations I have ever heard to justify his new policy. (IE "We must, in the interest of fairness to all private organizations, deny the Boy Scouts the use of Kendrick Park in case another private organization might want to use it." I kid you not.) Grade: F

3. We pay him to author a budget and so what comes of the work is a good starting point. He eliminated budgeting for Memorial Pool and rather than put it in moth balls, he advocated turning it into a sprinkler park "because swimming is an archaic form of recreation." This man should not be anywhere near policy making decisions except as how they relate to the administration of town government not public policy. Grade: C

4.I posed a question on the very first post of the town manager blog. It is a clear and fair question. He has not answered it. Grade: F.

O'Reilly said:

I'd like to Select Board to consider documenting a list of measurable goals for the town manager, which can be used as an objective measure of performance along with his job description.



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