August 18, 2008 Select Board Meeting

Select Board Meeting August 18, 2008
Town Room, Amherst Town Hall


Meeting called to order by Mr. Weiss at 6:40 p.m.


Present: Gerry Weiss, Anne Awad, Diana Stein, Alisa Brewer, Stephanie O’Keeffe Absent:  (none)
Town Manager Larry Shaffer
Captain Mike Kent, Assistant Town Manager/Finance Director John Musante
Rob Kusner, Denise Barberet, Bill Elsasser, Larry Tebo, Harry Brooks, Dano Weisbord, Julie Johnson, Martha Nelson Patrick, Michael Wiseman, Bill Grohmann, Peter Blumberg, Lisa Plantefaber, Henry Pope, Brian Morton, Kay Moran


Mr. Weiss read a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development announcing the Town’s Community Development Block Grant award of up to $799,957.  Mr. Weiss and Mr. Shaffer praised Community Development Director Roy Rosenblatt for his work on the grant application.

Mr. Weiss announced that this was Ms. Awad’s last meeting, spoke briefly about the reception in her honor held prior to the meeting, and praised her service to the community.  He read from prepared remarks, saying that a draft resolution he had proposed at the July 28th meeting regarding the behavior of a community member toward Ms. Awad had been misconstrued as an attack on free speech, and said that the fact that such behavior is unwelcome in the community shouldn’t require a resolution, and that he wouldn’t use his position to legislate against it.  He said that Mass. General Law addresses it, in part 4, title 1, chapter 265, section 43A, regarding crimes against persons.

Ms. Stein announced that she and Ms. O’Keeffe had attended the Amherst Survival Center volunteer appreciation picnic, and cited the recent dramatic increase in people being served by the organization.  She urged people to donate to the Survival Center, Not Bread Alone, and other food assistance programs.

Ms. Stein announced that a meeting of those concerned about the ballot question to repeal the State income tax would be held Friday, August 22 at noon at the Loose Goose Café. 


Rob Kusner spoke about a design and development newsletter advocating for bike lanes that he had distributed to Select Board members, and said he would soon be asking the Select Board to reaffirm its support for maintaining bike lanes, and making sure they are painted and visible.  He also announced a Norwottuck Rail Trail Committee meeting on September 4th and encouraged attendance by a Select Board member.  

Denise Barberet said that her comments were a follow-up to an e-mail she had sent to the Select Board.  She talked about speaking with the editor of the Amherst Bulletin regarding an August 15th editorial she took issue with, and asked that a paragraph be added to the Citizen Activity Form advising applicants that they may be named, scrutinized and judged in the press, and said that would help volunteers decide if their effort was worthwhile. 

Bill Elsasser offered to send the Town Manager to California to see the contrast between the communities of LaJolla and Davis, as guidance for planning Amherst’s future.  Mr. Shaffer declined the offer. 

Larry Tebo, Vice President of the Firefighters Local 1764, read a statement from Union President David Clooney regarding the union’s concerns about losing staffing and compromising protection to Amherst if revenue from providing ambulance service to Hadley is eliminated.  The statement expressed disappointment that the union’s efforts to provide information and to suggest ways of increasing revenue were not acknowledged at the July 7th Select Board meeting.

Harry Brooks said that working with Ms. Awad had been a pleasure.


Sign State Primary Warrant

VOTED unanimously to sign the September 16, 2008 State Primary Warrant. 

Combining Polling Locations

Ms. Brewer asked if Ms. Stein’s suggestion from the July 28th meeting of combining polling places was being pursued.  Mr. Brooks said the Board of Registrars would be considering that at its next meeting.
No action taken.

Vote Language for Ballot

Mr. Weiss summarized the proposed November 4th ballot language for the Community Preservation Act surcharge question that had been provided by Town Counsel.  It was suggested and agreed that the descriptive language and the motion should read “Town Election ballot,” rather than “State Election Ballot,” and that where the descriptive language read “Annual Town Election,” “Annual” should be removed.  The edits involved only the descriptive language and not the ballot language.  It was recommended that all future meeting documents be dated and identify their author.
VOTED unanimously to approve the ballot question and summary language for the November 4, 2008 Town Election Ballot as submitted. 

Special Municipal Employee Status – Public Works Committee

It was agreed that the presence of a representative from the Public Works Committee was not required because there were no questions about the committee’s SME application.  Ms. Brewer expressed appreciation for the committee charge and membership list being provided with the application, and reminded viewers that once granted, SME status remains with a committee in perpetuity until or unless it is actively revoked.
VOTED unanimously to grant Special Municipal Employee Status to the Public Works Committee.

Sunset Avenue Fraternity Discussion

Mr. Weiss said that problems with the fraternity at 118 Sunset Avenue were longstanding, and said that the owners and residents of the house were notified of this meeting, but not in attendance.  Dano Weisbord, an abutter, gave a Power Point presentation on behalf of the neighbors about the history of the property, the nature of the problems, and efforts the neighbors have made to seek resolution.  The property has been a fraternity for many years and its use was grandfathered after zoning changes were made to restrict new fraternities and sororities to specific areas.  Other houses on the street were formally Greek houses as well, but have since become single-family homes.  Partying was thought to have increased there with the elimination of several other fraternity houses, and with the ability for large parties to form instantly through cell phone and text messaging technology. Neighbors deal with significant noise, litter and problematic behavior.  Police are called often and have made numerous arrests there, and police presence is considered an effective but expensive deterrent.  Neighbors have met with the fraternity residents and UMass officials including the Dean of Students and representatives from the Office of Fraternities and Sororities.  The property has been on the market twice in recent years, and neighbors considered purchasing it, but its value as a fraternity made the price prohibitive.  Martha Nelson Patrick, Community Relations Director for UMass, said that there has been much communication between UMass and the neighbors, but that the university’s options are limited due to the grandfathered zoning.  She said that suspending the chapter of the current residents would not be effective because a different chapter would move into the house instead.  The Town Manager said that the Town’s powers in such matters are those of code and law enforcement; zoning; acquiring the property via eminent domain; or the law of escheat, whereby ownership of the property would revert to the Town in the absence of an owner or heir.  He suggested that enforcement was the most practical of the options in this situation.  Select Board members, the Town Manager and others spoke optimistically of the persuasive powers of the nuisance house bylaw, recently passed by Town Meeting and awaiting approval by the Attorney General.  The Town Manager was urged by the Select Board to pursue solutions with the new Chancellor, through new and stronger UMass policies.  Mr. Weiss said the issue would be revisited in a month or so.
No action taken.

Budget Policy Discussion

Mr. Weiss talked about a document he had created and distributed, outlining a potential timeline for a budget process and suggesting that the Select Board meet with department heads about their proposed budgets in the fall.  There was discussion about how such meetings would be similar to and different from those held by the Town Manager and Finance Committee.  Mr. Shaffer said he takes the budget guideline recommended by the Finance Committee in the fall, and talks to department heads about their resource needs for carrying out their respective department missions, and looks for ways to meet those priorities and reduce costs.  He said that he does not distribute the recommended budget increase amount evenly across departments.  There was general consensus among the Select Board that providing policy priorities to the Town Manager earlier in the process was better than later.  Brian Morton and Kay Moran emphasized that the Finance Committee is advisory to Town Meeting; that its long-standing statutory responsibility is to inform and recommend; that its information is collected through the Town Manager’s budget book and its own hearings with department heads; that it is good practice to separate the budget recommendations of the executive branch of Town government (Select Board and Town Manager) from those of the legislative branch (Town Meeting, and its advisory Finance Committee;) and that recommendations involve some overlap between numbers and policy.  John Musante talked about the work of the Community Choices Committee, and how its public education and public input process would help to show the connection between needs and resources.  He said that the proposed Select Board process would aid in that effort, and allow for comparison of the Board’s and the public’s priorities. It was agreed that the “four boards” meeting (Select Board, School Committee, Library Trustees and Finance Committee) was needed for the fall.  Mr. Weiss said he would make revisions to the timeline and bring it back for approval by all parties.  No action taken.

Hills Road – Block Party

VOTED unanimously to approve the request to close Hills Road on Sunday, August 31, 2008 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Rain date Monday, September 1, 2008 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.) for the annual neighborhood block party.

Select Board Meeting Schedule

VOTED unanimously to approve the following meeting dates:  September 15, 22; October 6, 20, 27; November 5, 10, 12, 17, 20, 24; December 1, 3, 8, 15.  The September 15th meeting will start at 5:30 p.m., to be followed at 6:00 p.m. by Open Meeting Law training, and at 7:00 p.m. by Conflict of Interest training.  The November and early December meetings will be held in the Music Room at the Middle School prior to Town Meeting.  All scheduled non-Monday meetings will be eliminated with the conclusion of Town Meeting, and the meeting location will revert to Town Hall.

Approval of Minutes

VOTED 3 in favor (Awad, Stein, O’Keeffe) and 2 abstentions (Weiss, Brewer) to approve the minutes of the August 11, 2008 Select Board meeting as amended.  Mr. Weiss and Ms. Brewer abstained from the vote, as neither was present at that meeting.

Committee Liaison Reports

Ms. O’Keeffe reported that she had conveyed to the Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee the request from the Public Works Committee to assess and make recommendations on the adequacy of bicycle parking at public facilities, as well as the Select Board’s request to assess and make recommendations on downtown bicycle parking.  She said the committee has recommended to the Town Manager and the Select Board that the shortfall in the budget for PVTA service caused by increased fuel costs be covered by an appropriation from the surplus in the Transportation Enterprise Fund.  She said the committee would be exploring new ways of raising revenue for the bus routes, and would be requesting a meeting with the Parking Task Force to discuss raising parking permit fees and violation fines.  Ms. O’Keeffe requested that she be part of the Parking Task Force, because its work is relevant to the Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee and the Public Works Committee, and she is liaison to both. 

Ms. O’Keeffe asked what the next steps would be to take action on the Public Works Committee’s recommendation on the Pelham Road crosswalk and request for a public hearing on changing parking regulations on Cottage Street to improve public safety access.  Mr. Shaffer said that he would advance those issues and recommend them for future agendas when ready.
No action taken.

Town Manager Evaluation Process

Mr. Weiss said that the deadline for the public and the Select Board to submit comments for the Town Manager’s evaluation is September 15th.  Ms. Awad said that postcards announcing the process and the deadline were sent to Town Meeting members and members of boards and committees.  She said she and Mr. Weiss did some editing to the form that the Select Board uses, making it shorter by eliminating some categories and combining others.  Ms. Brewer requested that a copy of the form be posted on the Town web site so that the public knows how the Select Board’s evaluation is guided, and Mr. Weiss agreed to post it for informational value, but asked that it not be used for submitting public comment. 
No action taken.

Annual Report

Ms. Brewer said that letters had not yet gone out to committees regarding the Annual Report, but would soon.  She said that the deadline for submission was not yet determined but would be later than September 1st.  Mr. Shaffer said that department heads had been notified and that they and committees were familiar with the yearly process.  Mr. Weiss requested suggestions from Select Board members for details to include in the Select Board report. 
No action taken.


Special Liquor Licenses – UMass

VOTED unanimously with a single vote to approve two special liquor licenses for events at UMass, as indicated on the motion sheet:  the Special Wine & Malt Liquor License for the University of Massachusetts for September 5, 2008 from 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the Isenberg School of Management Atrium for a reception; and the Special All Alcoholic Liquor License for the University of Massachusetts for September 18, 2008 from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the Studio Arts Building for a reception.


Joint Meeting with Parking Task Force and PTBC

Mr. Shaffer said that he had scheduled a meeting (later confirmed for September 12 at 9:00 a.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall) between the Parking Task Force and the Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee to address the FY09 shortfall in the budget for PVTA service, and ongoing cost issues associated with the bus routes.  
No action taken. 


The meeting adjourned at 9:47 p.m.



  In a strange way, I actually agree with Ms. Barberet’s suggestion about the CAF.  If people need to be informed that service to the Town – elected or appointed – is done on behalf of the public, and hence, is and should be subject to scrutiny by the public and the press, then I say:  let’s inform them.  It is not helpful to the community to have people filling important roles who can’t handle the fact that others will question them, disagree with them, misunderstand them, criticize them and hold them accountable.  Being part of Town government is not for the thin-skinned, and feedback – positive and negative, constructive and obnoxious – is a reality and a necessity.  The media, mainstream and otherwise, is a watchdog – that is its responsibility.  Members of the public are the stakeholders.  The more they care, the better off we all are.  Too often, this issue gets clouded with charges of “divisiveness” and “incivility,” but at its core, this is about democracy.  Those unwilling to get knocked around a bit should probably sit this dance out.

  Special Municipal Employee status – one of my pet-peeve issues.  Since the new policy of requiring committees to apply for the status (rather than all having it by default,) was put into effect July 1, 2007, no application for the status has been denied.  Part of me wonders if we should consider reverting to the old policy; the other part of me says it hardly matters since the status remains forever unless revoked. Probably only a few more committees need to go through the application process (simple enough, but still,) before we’re back to everyone having it again anyway.

  The fraternity on Sunset is a thorny issue.  I hope the nuisance house bylaw helps, and I expect that it will, because people tend to respond to penalties affecting their wallets.  Beyond that and appealing to UMass to exercise more control over student behavior, I don’t know what else the Town can do.  If the fraternity were new, that would be one thing, but it apparently predates all the neighbors.  As I mentioned at the meeting, it is kind of tough to move in next to the train station and then complain about the trains.  Dano Weisbord and the other residents did give an excellent presentation, and they have certainly pursued all of the right channels for trying to improve the situation.  Let’s hope the new bylaw, and perhaps the new Chancellor, will bring some relief.  It would have felt better to have some of the fraternity residents or owners be part of the discussion, but as has been a common meeting refrain of late, the students aren’t around in the summer, making participation difficult.  Funny thing about that.

  The budget discussion felt good – informative and processy.  I like to see a willingness to analyze how things get done, and how they might be done better.  Improvements are the result of asking “how can we do better?” 

  Anne Awad’s Select Board service is over, and I wish her well.  We haven’t agreed on too many issues since I started tuning in to Town politics, but I certainly admire her willingness to hold this position for all these years.  It’s easy to complain from the sidelines; it’s hard to put yourself out there and try to do the work to make the change you think is needed.  But she did, through three campaigns and nearly three full terms.  Gerry calculated the number of meetings and meeting hours to be some ungodly amount.  That is dedication.  Thanks and best wishes to her and to Robie. 


Larry Kelley said:

Yes indeed, Massachusetts has laws against stalking or harassment or threats of physical violence--especial against women.

If Ms. Awad had even a remote case against me for any of those things, I am positive I would have heard from Amherst PD (or State Police) in some shape, manner or form. But I did not.

Richard Morse said:

I read the Bulletin editorial that Ms. Barbaret was referring to, and I thought that the criticism in it was unreasonable. This is Amherst after all, and so two hours of discussion and wrangling is relatively the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things.

As someone who disagrees with her a lot, I can understand Ms. Barbaret's anger. This is a government that requires a very broad base of individuals participating. We don't want to be limited to folks who have taken on government as their primary focus in life. Therefore, I think that a little forgiveness is required with respect to levels of preparation. That kind spirit was not evident in the editorial. I think that Mr. Hoffenberg at the Bulletin has not yet gotten in tune with the political culture of town: we are tolerant, forgiving people who value inclusive, participatory democracy.

Yes, a little "knocking around" is ok, but we need to monitor just how much is going on, and how much is being focused on specific individuals. This is not something to be smug about. I would hope that not too many people will take Ms. O'Keeffe's invitation to "sit this dance out". We have too many of those already. The deterrents to participation are already great; we don't need more.

Rich Morse

Neil said:

Why is Wiess referring to statutes in Massachusetts law implying that these stautes were violated by Kelley when the evidence is to the contrary? It has been reported that Awad consulted with Amherst Town Police, and we have heard from Kelley that he has not been charged or even questioned about his actions.

Weiss continues to misuse his position by taking sides in an innapropriate way. He has no evidence and no authority to make claims about whether Kelley's actions or words or the manner in which Kelley researched Awad's residency claims were a breach of law.

This question is about Kelley's research and pressure on Awad to justify her residency claim. Weiss has repeatdly ventured into discussion about whether Kelly broke the law -beyond his authority as a chair of the select board - in support of Awad.

Whether Kelley "forced" Awad to resign is a matter of defining the word "force." Whether Kelley "stalked" Awad is a matter of law not opinion.

Whether a citizen is entitled to verify a public official's claim of fact is beyond question as long as their actions are within the law.

Awad is is quick to identify concerns posted by bloggers as insignificant. Let the bloggers return the fqavor by sayng we've wasted too much time hearing about her claims of victimization and being forced to resign as a result and let's ask the board to stop discussing it and get on with town business. Blow out the candles, eat the cake, and get to work.

Larry Kelley said:

Oh, yeah Mr. Morse let's by all means protect the poor little volunteers who supposedly make this slacker form of government work.

For Amherst the all-volunteer Town Meeting, $10 per year Moderator and $300 per year Select Board became obsolete about a generation ago.

As a fine Democratic President once stated: "If you can't stand the heat..."

Richard Morse said:

I refer you to the post above.

This is what we've been reduced to. This is the danger in the public debate that we face in Amherst: a complete coarsening of the discussion, and a lack of respect for other human beings, like Ms. Barbaret, trying to make their community better.

This is not unlike what's been happening to some of our urban areas in this country, the supposed seats of civilization in our nation. People are giving up and leaving. Similarly, we may have to leave the blogosphere because we can't have a civilized discussion. It's becoming an increasingly toxic environment.

Neil said:

Mr Morse, I value your opinion. I would apprecite if you would cite the "This is what we've been reduced to." language. I assume you are referring to Mr. Kelley comment immediatly preceding yours but how am I to know what you take issue with unless you refer to it specifically?

Larry Kelley said:

I'm so glad you used the word "toxic" because as I'm sure you may remember that was exactly how Dolly Jolly described Alan Root's private email to her threatening to create an attack ad out of her lousy public speaking skills and resulting in her not running for SB reelection in 2004 thus bringing us 'His Lordship.'

So if someone is "trying to make their community better" then they are immune to the media public spotlight or public (blog) criticism?

No offense or comparison to Ms Barbaret, but Hitler thought he was doing a Hell of a job of making Germany a "better community."

Larry Kelley said:

And I just now noticed under ‘Public Comment’ that Harry Brooks "said that working with Ms. Awad had been a pleasure."

Gee, that would be the same Harry Brooks who sits on the Board of Registrars and decided on July 3'rd that there was not even remotely enough evidence against Ms. Awad (who now seems to admit living in South Hadley) to move on to a formal hearing over her Amherst voter status? Hmmm...

In case I wasn’t clear, I encourage more scrutiny of government by the public and the press. I consider that essential. I also encourage broad participation in government, because we absolutely need many perspectives from many people. But not everyone is well-suited to being scrutinized, so serving in government is probably not the best way for them to spend their time, for their own sake and for ours.

And to further clarify: I am not commenting on Ms. Barberet or the substance of the editorial (full disclosure: my husband serves on the Planning Board and was part of the referenced meeting) but merely on her suggestion that the expectation of public scrutiny be made more explicit to those seeking to serve.

I am glad the press is paying more attention to the process, the decisions, and the people engaged in both. If I need to be reminded of this when I’m on the receiving end of scrutiny and criticism, please, remind me! Ahh, the irony if I were to become a hypocrite on this issue…

Gerry Weiss said:

A comment about Special Municipal Employee Status. The goal was not to deny any committee, but to educate. It had become clear that many committee members did not know what the status meant and did not know what it protected and did not protect. Early applications for SME status bore this out as some petitioners asked for the SME status and gave reasons that were not covered by the law. I've noticed that as time has gone on, applications for SME status are reflecting a greater knowledge of the SME law.

A comment about Sunset Ave. I understand that we scheduled the hearing at a time when students were out of town. However, the students are not the issue. The issue is the landlords and their refusal to work with the neighbors (they didn't show up either and they aren't students); and the issue is how far is the University willing to go to resolve the problem.

Larry Kelley said:

Geeze Your Lordship, maybe you should start your own blog?



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