September 8, 2008 Select Board Meeting

Select Board Meeting - September 8, 2008
Town Room, Amherst Town Hall


Meeting called to order by Ms. Brewer at 6:30 p.m.


Present:  Alisa Brewer, Diana Stein, Stephanie O'Keeffe
Absent:  Gerry Weiss
Town Manger Larry Shaffer
Members of the public:  Rob Kusner, Bob Ackermann, Susan Lemay, Peggy Roberts, Irv Rhodes, Larry Kelley, Robert Phillips, Vladimir Morales


Ms. O'Keeffe noted the September 12th deadline for the public to submit comments for the Town Manager's evaluation, and asked that the Select Board's deadline be postponed a week or more beyond September 15th, to allow more Select Board discussion of the process.  She cited issues such as consideration of public comment and creation of mutually-agreed upon goals for next year, and said that having a quality evaluation was more important than adhering to an arbitrary deadline.  It was agreed to move the Select Board's deadline to September 22nd while keeping the public's September 12th deadline.

Ms. Stein announced the Amherst Survival Center's furniture sale fundraiser to be held September 12th and 13th on the Town Common.

Ms. Brewer announced the September 15th training session on Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest, inviting all members of Town boards and committees, and interested members of the public.


Rob Kusner showed a brief video illustrating an issue with the bike lane on North Pleasant Street's southbound side between Phillips and Fearing streets.  This topic would be addressed later in the meeting.

Bob Ackermann distributed copies of a September 2007 Amherst Bulletin article citing a challenge   Larry Kelley issued to the Town Manager, betting $10,0000 on the outcome of an ethics inquiry that Mr. Kelley had requested, alleging conflict of interest by two Select Board members in their votes to waive effluent water fees to UMass.  The money was to go to charity, and Mr. Ackermann asked if Mr. Kelley had followed through on the payment when the State Ethics Commission found no violation.  Mr. Shaffer said that he had been confident about how the Ethics Commission would rule on the matter but had declined Mr. Kelley's bet because gambling is illegal. 


Special Municipal Employee Status for TMCC

Town Meeting Coordinating Committee Chair Peggy Roberts said that Special Municipal Employee status was sought to make serving on the committee possible for all interested Town Meeting members.
VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to grant Special Municipal Employee Status to the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee.

Committee Appointments

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the Town Manager's appointment of Elisabeth Hamin to the Conservation Commission, for a term to begin September 8, 2008 and to expire June 30, 2011. 

Community Funding Partners Presentation

Irv Rhodes, co-CEO and President of Community Funding Partners, Inc. explained the group's organization and business plan.  It is headquartered in Amherst and in Kensington, NH, with ownership split equally between Mr. Rhodes and partner Jim Gould. The Funding Solutions subsidiary is working to create individualized local web shopping portals for communities around the country to help local businesses compete with chain stores, and to give a varying but specified portion of all purchases made through the site to local charities via locally-established committees.  The Amherst site – – includes community networking features in addition to shopping, in order to create a town square feeling.  Merchants will receive assistance in establishing a web presence and participating in e-commerce, and the site will let them create coupons.  The group is affiliated with several organizations promoting local purchasing.  Mr. Rhodes said that projections are for the site to return $250,000 to local charities after the first year, and said the site would go live on September 15.
No Action taken.

Flying Commemorative Flags on September 11th

Ms. Brewer reviewed some history of the commemorative flag issue:  the Select Board's vote on 9/10/01 to establish the days commemorative flags would be displayed; their display on 9/11 the first few years after the event; Town Meeting's 41 to 96 vote in May 2007, rejecting a request to urge the Select Board to add 9/11 to the annual display dates.  She read a statement from Mr. Weiss noting that history; expressing that while his own feelings are that flying the commemorative flags says “hooray for the USA,”  others in the community feel differently; and that this is a time-consuming and distracting issue each year.  Mr. Weiss suggested a compromise to fly the flags on 9/11 every three years beginning this year.  Mr. Kelley talked about the 2001 vote coming hours before the attack and the associated and sometimes inaccurate news coverage of that vote.  He talked about bringing one of the commemorative flags to Ground Zero and flying it above the Massachusetts State House, and getting multiple political autographs on his Ground Zero photo.  He said the flags would not be displayed in celebration of the U.S. or its military action but in remembrance of the innocent people who died that day.  Ms. Stein read a statement saying she had originally thought she would vote in favor of the proposal in order to bring the community together, but decided to vote against it for two reasons: the 2007 Town Meeting vote and a discussion with someone close to her who was traumatized by the experience of being in New York for the attack.  Ms. Stein said that because the person felt strongly that flying the flags was for celebration and not an appropriate commemoration of this event that Ms. Stein could not vote to support their display.  Ms. O'Keeffe said that she supported Mr. Weiss' proposal as a fair compromise, because while she supported flying the flags each year, the community is not united on the issue.  She said that the compromise addresses the needs of both sides, that she would be unlikely to support a non-compromise proposal next year if the issue returns, and said that the compromise helped the Select Board and the community to move forward on the issue. Mr. Kelley was uncertain about the compromise and said that he was not the only person who might bring the issue forward in the future.  Rob Kusner spoke in favor of the compromise; Robert Phillips said that flying the flags every three years was not enough.  Mr. Shaffer said that an amended implementation policy for flying the flags could be crafted to reflect a new decision by the Select Board.  Mr. Shaffer noted the annual ceremony at the fire station to mark the anniversary and said this year's would commence at 10:00 a.m. on September 11.
VOTED 2 in favor (Brewer, O'Keeffe,) 1 opposed (Stein,) 1 absent (Weiss,) to amend the 2001 commemorative flag display policy to include September 11th in 2008, 2011, and every third year thereafter.  

Alternative Energy Fair – Parking Meter Bagging

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the bagging of 21 parking meters along Boltwood Avenue to Spring Street (Common Side only) from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 4, 2008 for the 4th Annual Renewable Energy Fair. 

Committee Liaison List

Corrections were made to the liaison list, adding Ms. Stein as the Zoning Subcommittee liaison and Ms. O'Keeffe as a second representative Budget Coordinating Group and  the Parking Task Force.  Both agreed to e-mail those corrections to Judith. 

Approval of Minutes

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the minutes of the July 28, 2008 Select Board meeting as amended.

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the minutes of the August 25, 2008 Select Board meeting as amended.

Upcoming Meeting and Calendar Expectations

It was noted how few meetings there will be in September and October, and the many commitments being made on those dates.  Ms. O'Keeffe suggested that additional non-Monday meetings could be scheduled if necessary, and that scheduling other kinds of meetings during the Select Board's usual meeting time be avoided.  Discussion of future meetings and other calendar notes included: 

  9/15 – 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Select Board meeting (2nd floor meeting room,) followed by Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest training (Town Room;)

  9/16 – UMass unions and League of Women Voters discussion about ballot Question 1

  9/17 – 9:15 a.m.; Town officials meet with Superintendent search representatives

  9/18 – noon deadline for SB members to submit questions for packet regarding 9/22 discussion of 10/25 meeting

  9/22 – SB meeting: Mr. Mooring to address line painting issues, SB to discuss ideas for 10/25 budget meeting; Mr. Shaffer will not be present.

  10/2 – 7:00 p.m.; Community Choices Committee forum to present budget scenarios and get public feedback (Town Room)

  10/30AEF Trivia Bee; Ms. Brewer suggested that the Select Board compete as a team

  October (date, time, location TBA): Dept. of Conservation and Recreation's public meeting  to present Norwottuck Rail Trail design plans and get public feedback

No action taken.


Taxi License

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the new Taxi Driver/Chauffeur License for Susan LeMay, 20 West Street, West Hatfield, MA. 

Special Liquor License - UMass

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve  the Special All Alcoholic Liquor License for the University of Massachusetts for October 16, 2008 from 4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at South College for a reception.

Special Liquor License - UMass

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the Special All Alcoholic Liquor License for the University of Massachusetts for October 17, 2008 from 4:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. at Memorial Hall for a reception/dinner. 

Special Liquor License – Atkins Cruise Night

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve the issuance of a Special License for Wine & Malt to R&P Liquors for September 15, 2008 from 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Atkins Farm – Cruise Night event.

Lunch Cart License and Town Common Use – Pizza Shark

The Pizza Shark lunch cart license had lapsed and renewal was sought to allow for operation on the Town Common during the Survival Center's furniture sale.

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve Wild Iris, L.L.C. d/b/a River Shark Cafe a lunch cart license for the term to begin September 8, 2008 to December 31, 2008.

VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to approve  Wild Iris, L.L.C. d/b/a River Shark Cafe the use of its lunch cart properly license with the State of Massachusetts Hawkers and Peddlers license and by Town of Amherst Board of Health for use of the Town Common beginning Friday, September 12, 2008 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., to support the “Trash to Treasures”/Amherst Survival Center fundraising event.


Annual Community Breakfast

Ms. Brewer said  that Select Board members and the Town Manager had attended the annual community breakfast sponsored by UMass and the Chamber, and that about 400 people had gathered to welcome new UMass Chancellor Robert Holub.
No action taken.


Recent Water Issue

Mr. Shaffer reported that test results received on August 30th showed no coliform or E. Coli, and said that the Department of Environmental Protection determined that no limitations on drinking water were necessary.  The original positive coliform hits were theorized to be the result of runoff from the summer's heavy rains, and the E. Coli  hit may have been a false positive.  He praised the DPW and others who had been working hard on this issue.  Vladimir Morales praised the Town Manager for his handling of the water issue and suggested creating a volunteer civil defense network, as he said had existed when he was growing up in Puerto Rico.  Mr. Shaffer said that civil defense is now called emergency management and is one of local government's most important functions.  He spoke of the planning entailed and preparations in place, and used the example of flu epidemic as one of the major crises for which the Town has a ready response network.
No action taken.

West Nile Virus

Mr. Shaffer reported on West Nile Virus being found in local mosquitoes and cautioned the public to take appropriate protective measures with their window screens, clothing and outdoor activities. 
No action taken.

Pelham Road Crosswalk

Mr. Shaffer reported that he and Town Engineer Jason Skeels will meet with the Disability Access Advisory Committee at 3:00 p.m. on September 16th  to plan the ADA-compliant crosswalk that will replace the interim non-compliant one on Pelham Road near the Amethyst Brook Conservation area. 
No action taken.

North Pleasant Street Bike Lane

Mr. Shaffer said the bike lane on the southbound side of North Pleasant Street between Phillips and Fearing streets is about 3.5 feet wide, compared to being about 5 feet wide just north of that section.  The curb had been intended to be moved back, but finishing the project before the UMass move-in precluded that.  The width is adequate, but a section of curb jutting into the lane and a storm drain are problematic.  Ms. O'Keeffe expressed appreciation for the repaving and the bike lanes, and noted that cutting the curb would narrow the sidewalk.  Mr. Shaffer said that addressing the problem would not occur before next spring.  Mr. Kusner suggested lowering the curb as a more immediate interim fix.  There was discussion of a draft proposal Mr. Kusner had offered to the Select Board to reaffirm the Town's commitment to creating and maintaining bike lanes, and it was determined to be best to have Mr. Mooring address the Select Board to talk about issues of painting lines for bike lanes, travel lanes and crosswalks: the repainting schedule, priorities and resource allocation.  Mr. Shaffer said that he would try to have Mr. Mooring provide this update at the September 22nd meeting. 
No action taken.

Planning for Future Uses at Former Landfill

Mr. Shaffer talked about the process for considering reuse options for 51 acres of former landfill space.  A committee with representatives from LSSE, the Refuse and Recycling Management Committee and the public, is studying the issue and considering possibilities including creating recreation land, photo voltaic fields and a new DPW facility.  The committee's recommendations will go to a consultant for further study, followed by submission of the proposal to the Department of Environmental Protection for consideration.  Due to the DEP's concerns about possible hazards to children, recreation land is a less likely re-use, and budget projections and other major capital needs (fire station, school buildings and road repair) also make a new DPW facility less likely.  The Select Board will be updated on the content and timeline of the proposal when it is submitted. 
No action taken.

Kendrick Park Planning

Mr. Shaffer said that 25-30 people had attended a meeting at Kendrick Park with members of Promoting Downtown Amherst.  Gathering thoughts and ideas from businesspeople is among the Kendrick Park Committee's outreach efforts.  A meeting for the neighborhood will be held at the park on Sunday, September 14 at 2:00 p.m., and a general community meeting will be held at Town Hall on Tuesday, October 14 at 7:00 p.m.   A survey was published and distributed by the Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin, yielding many suggestions, and other ideas can be e-mailed to  Mr. Shaffer said he is pleased with the committee's progress and excited about the development of this important parcel.  Ms. Stein said she had attended a park tour and was impressed by the cataloging of the trees.  Mr. Shaffer said all tree and shrub information will be added to the GIS system, and said several subcommittees were addressing different park elements. 
No action taken.

Plum Brook Fields Update

Mr. Shaffer said that the land will soon be slit-seeded with a seed mixture UMass has found to be successful for turf.  The seeds will be purchased locally and a management plan will be presented to the Conservation Commission, and the current 50/50 ratio of grass to weeds should be improved to approximately 80/20, in time for play in the spring of 2009.  Ms. Brewer said that the public needs to remember that the sensitive nature of the Plum Brook parcel means it will not be herbicided and groomed to golf course-like standards.  Ms. Stein said that more frequent mowing may help to increase the grass  and reduce the weeds, due to their different growth patterns. 
No action taken.

Lincoln Avenue Neighborhood Meeting

Mr. Shaffer said a meeting with the Lincoln Avenue neighbors will take place at Town Hall on October 21, and that the DPW report on the traffic cushion experiment will be distributed there, and a recommendation from the Public Works Committee was expected by then as well.  The Fire Chief is being asked to formalize recommendations regarding closing off traffic with gates and similar options, and to explain the necessity of certain emergency access routes.  A request to close off Lincoln and Sunset avenues for Halloween trick-or-treating was anticipated. 
No action taken.

Bus Route 32

Mr. Shaffer said a joint meeting of the Public Transportation Committee and the Public Works Committee will be held Friday, September 12 at Town Hall to discuss ideas for meeting the current budget shortfall for the Atkins to Puffers Pond bus route, and to address future costs.  The original FY09 shortfall has been reduced to less than $10,000 – from an original $25,000, then reconsidered by UMass transit – and would require a Town Meeting appropriation to fund if the contract is not further reduced.  Other options include modifying the route to reduce miles, or as a least-desirable option, suspending service for the year once the current fund appropriation is spent.  Route 32 has the lowest ridership, but that has been increasing.  The meeting is posted as a Select Board meeting, in case three members attend; if that occurs, minutes are necessary.  Ms. Brewer noted that September 24 is the deadline for warrant article language, should an additional appropriation be needed for the route shortfall.
No action taken.

Donahue Institute

Mr. Shaffer said that the UMass Donahue Institute has volunteered to analyze if Amherst's population is being under-counted by the census, at no cost to the Town.  The counts are important because they affect funding formulas, so the Town would benefit from a higher count.  Mr. Shaffer expressed appreciation to the Donahue Institute for taking on this project.
No action taken.

No New Status

Several topics were noted to have no new status to report, including ambulance negotiations with Hadley, the North Amherst PRP land, the Hills House lots purchase, new space for SunEthanol, and the pursuit of a current or multi-year agreement with the Regional Schools for Town use of the Middle School pool. 
No action taken.


VOTED 3 to 0, 1 absent (Weiss) to adjourn the open meeting at 10:10 p.m.



  I’m concerned about the Town Manager’s evaluation process, in that there doesn’t seem to be much of one.  There is a form for Select Board members to fill out, and an announcement is made to seek input from the public, but that’s it.  It seems to me that there needs to be a way to set goals and to measure progress, determined jointly with the Town Manager, so that expectations are clear and so that there is a mechanism for evaluation the following year.  Also, I would think there should be a way to gather input from staff, since in managing the Town, the Town Manager is managing the people who do the Town’s work.  And there needs to be discussion between the SB and the Manager about how we’re working together, and how we can all do better to bring about better results for the community.  Not sure how to make that happen, but the issue needs more attention.

  We have now had two presentations from web businesses that seek to bring money to the community.  I think both are fine concepts, but I’m a little wary about this stuff coming before the Select Board.  The Town and the SB really don’t have an official role with them – they don’t need our blessing or participation, even if they might want one or both.  That means they are not so unlike any number of other businesses which benefit the community in various ways – through taxes, increased downtown vitality, contributions to charities, and so forth.  Should we have a clear policy for why we let certain businesses promote themselves via SB meetings?  Is that being too nit-picky?  Not sure.

  Ahh, flags.  Can’t get enough of this topic in Amherst.  I thought it was a good compromise, and I appreciated not only that it came from Gerry, but that he provided it to us knowing he wouldn’t be at the meeting.  I’ve already written a bit about how I feel about this vote, and I went back to see what I wrote when this came to Town Meeting in spring of 2007 (pasted below.)  I would say my feelings about the issue have not changed at all, but that voting as a Select Board member requires a broader view of the outcome that best serves the community.  The whole thing does make me kind of nuts though.  We’re not talking about the Town’s flag (which flies every day) or privately-owned flags, which can fly whenever anyone wants to fly them – we’re talking about a bunch of flags that get put out for certain occasions.  Is this issue so important that if we didn’t have these flags already, it would be imperative that we acquire them for this purpose?  I doubt it.  But we do have the flags and that means we need to make decisions on their display.  This seemed like a reasonable decision, all things considered. 

  Good information from both the Town Manager’s report and the upcoming meeting/calendar details.  That puts a lot of information out there to the SB and the public, and lets us all know what’s in progress and what’s pending.  One of my recurring themes is that we can’t ask questions about things we don’t know about, so this provided much for follow-up.   And there’s still plenty more out there, but I feel like we are moving in the right direction for announcing and tracking relevant stuff. 

  The AEF Trivia Bee – how fun!  What a perfect way for the SB to do something together that has nothing to do with Open Meeting Law or complicated decisions.  And this is a good time to do it, since we only have four SB members – no one would be left off the team.  I hope we do it.  But if we do, apparently we need costumes or funny hats or whatever.  Hmmmm.


Here is the part of the blog post from the Town Meeting session with the flag vote:

Article 39: Commemorative Flags. Petitioner Larry Kelley made – let’s face it – a stunningly thoughtful and moderate presentation about the first and nearly-final casualties of September 11th, and how they were both gay men, and how broad the diversity was of innocent lives lost on that day. He said that that is what the flag stands for – not militarism or the war in Iraq, but the people of the U.S. He noted the contrast of the Select Board’s unanimous vote to fly the rainbow flag for the anniversary of the gay marriage decision, and how they then unanimously voted to take no position on this proposal to fly the commemorative flags at half-staff every 9/11, and said that the two people he had previously referenced might have found that ironic.

Gerry Weiss said the Select Board would let Town Meeting decide. Anne Awad talked about being on the Board when 9/11 occurred, and all the various flag flying requests the board gets, and all the various tragedies that could be marked. She said that the main Town flag is lowered to half-staff on 9/11 and that it is a somber event. She said the commemorative flags seem more celebratory, and more suitable for Fourth of July. She urged members to oppose the article.

A couple of members spoke to the multitude of tragedies all over the world and throughout history, including those perpetuated by town namesake Lord Jeffery Amherst. One suggested voting against the article in favor of establishing a committee to more broadly honor all such events, and another just wanted it defeated.

A member speaking in support said the red flag stripes denote American blood shed for this country’s freedom. Another suggested that dates for commemorating other tragedies be brought forth as well. Another said that he regarded the article as a call for a day of reflection for a tragic event that affected all of us. Another said that we shouldn’t do what our government has done and link that event to the war.

A member made a motion to refer the article to the Human Rights Commission, not as a way of defeating it, she said, but as a way of reshaping the article in a way that would be less inclined to divide the meeting.

There was a standing vote on the motion to refer. It failed, and I apparently didn’t write down the totals. I voted against referral.

Someone asked what the six holidays are for which the commemorative flags are flown, and if any of those had them at half-staff. The answer to the latter was no, and to the former was: Patriots Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

There was a tally vote on the article – 41 Yes and 96 No. I voted Yes.

This was the third issue of the night that made my brain hurt, and all for different reasons.

First of all, I love the flag, and I have none of the compunctions about it that many do. My personal patriotism isn’t contingent on who occupies the White House or the state of our foreign policy. I recognize that many don’t feel that way.

You get an article like this, and no matter how thoughtfully it was presented, and how thoughtfully it was both supported and objected to, it becomes bigger than the specific issue at hand. It becomes an issue of all the various ways people feel about the flag and the country. It becomes a mutual provocation. It becomes a test. Its significance gets blown out of all proportion by those on both sides of the vote.

I didn’t really like the article. To me, it felt vaguely like using the 9/11 tragedy to provoke an expected reaction. So for a while, I thought I might oppose it. But I also think that people are terribly intolerant of more traditional and optimistic opinions of the flag, and I’m tired of that. How come being progressive and open-minded only applies to that with which you agree?

So I went back to logic similar to that which I used in supporting the resident alien voting article: it is important to some, and should be of little consequence to others. I don’t need to have commemorative flags at half-staff downtown to mark my 9/11 remembrance, but it doesn’t hurt. If you strip away all the overwrought Amherst stuff that becomes part and parcel of this article, it is really saying, “Should we fly flags downtown every year on 9/11?” And to that, I say – “Sure! Why not?” To me, answers to “why not” were not compelling, but of course, I was in the minority.

-- from “With apologies to the Bard,” May 17, 2007; Stephanie’s Town Meeting Experience


YourAdmirer said:

Concerning the Town Manager evaluation: In addition to the "forms", haven't Select Board members also shared detailed memoranda with the Chair; whether those memos ever were or would be incorporated in the final analysis is not clear, but perhaps it's still worth a try?

feedback on the Town Manager said:

There has been feedback on the town manager's performance here in the comments section of you blog. I know. I left it. I hope it finds its way into the evaluation because that is why I spent the time to write it. If your comment section does not qualify as official feedback, I would at least want you to review it, and decide if you agree with it, and if you do, submit it.

Admirer -- I don't know what the practice or expectation is beyond the form. More information is better than less, of course, but I think we need a more systematic approach regarding what it is that's being evaluated, i.e., goals and expectations.

Anon -- Certainly all information, impressions and feedback Select Board members receive help us to "take the pulse" of public feeling about the Town Manager's performance. Blog comments, letters to the editor, and casual conversations aren't collected and submitted as part of the formal process, but they are part of our individual -- and sometimes, collective -- information.



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