If it's Thursday, this must be JCPC

Last week was a doozy - eight meetings.  No wonder I'm having trouble getting other stuff done. 

MONDAY - Budget Coordinating Group and Select Board:  BCG meets many but not all Mondays.  I had expected this meeting to be particularly meaty (I should say "vegetabley,") with a comparison of prioritized cut lists from the Town, Schools and Libraries, but it wasn't.  One reason is that that there is still so much uncertainty - the Federal stimulus situation is completely up in the air, and the results of that will have significant impact.  But the other reason is a general reticence to be too specific about priorities - particularly identifying the lowest ones.  I may well be naïve, but I'm having a hard time understanding that.  First of all, it seems to me that your budget priorities should exist quite separately from your ability to fund them.  Once you know your available revenue, then you know how much of the priorities you can afford.  So I don't really get the idea that the priorities depend on the revenue.  Secondly, it seems to me that we all need to know what it is we are expecting to sacrifice or sacrifice for.  I don't know how you make a compelling argument for using money from reserves, or - gasp! perish the thought! - having an override, or slicing the pie differently to give one budget area a larger "share" to meet a particular need, if we can't clearly state what would be lost or gained.  So one obvious answer is that what we will lose is people, and the explanation is that being too specific with such plans would destabilize the organization and ruin morale, and you don't want to start a panic unnecessarily.  Understood.   But this is the Budget Coordinating Group.  It seems to me that we need pretty specific information in order to form a recommendation about how to distribute the funding reductions across all budget segments.  I remain hopeful that in the coming weeks, we'll get there.  And then there was the Select Board meeting.  You can watch it here, and read a little about it here, so I'm not going to deconstruct it further here, because now we're on to...

TUESDAY - the Regionalization of Veterans Services meeting:  This was at Northampton City Hall, and involved officials from many local towns.  The discussion is about how Veterans services might be combined in a way that will reduce cost for all the participating municipalities, without severely impacting the quality of service provided to veterans.  A notice of this meeting came to the SB and noted that SBs, Veterans agents, Town Managers and Administrators and others from the various towns would be taking part, so our SB thought we needed representation.  While it is always good to know what's going on, I really didn't need to be there.  In small towns, the Select Board negotiates and approves deals like this, but in larger towns like ours, that is the Town Manager's responsibility.  We have already expressed support for exploring more opportunities for regionalization in general, and regionalizing Veterans services specifically, and Larry will keep us apprised of the details and the progress.  I was just an observer at the meeting, while Larry and John represented Amherst's interests, which is as it should be.  Larry and I will provide an update about this meeting at Monday's (3/16) SB meeting.  Of note:  there was a small dog wandering in and out of the meeting.  Maybe our Town Hall needs a pet too!  I think a hamster would be most appropriate, considering the anagram.

WEDNESDAY - Campus & Community Coalition, Agenda Setting and Conservation Commission:  Campus & Community Coalition is one of my liaison assignments.  It is a group that deals with prevention of high-risk drinking among college students, and it involves representatives from multiple "communities" that impact or are impacted by such behavior, including multiple UMass departments, representatives from the Town (SB, Police Department, Health Department;) the business community (the Chamber, establishments that sell alcohol,) landlords and others.  The meeting is primarily a place to share reports of different subcommittees.  I learned about the Communication Subcommittee's plans to do a big informational push after spring break about the Nuisance House Bylaw, and I'll be updating the SB about that.  The Agenda Setting meeting occurs weekly with the Chair, the Vice Chair (which rotates on a monthly basis, and is always the person seated on the Chair's left at the SB meetings; this month it's Gerry,) and the Town Manager.  This is where we decide what will go on the agenda, what order it will be in and how much time to allot.  I do a lot of preparation work before agenda meetings, and I try to pre-plan for future meetings as well, so that the SB has a sense of what's coming up and how it all fits together.  This week's agenda is here.  Conservation Commission is another liaison assignment for me.  They meet the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, and I go as often as I can. (Planning Board meets the first and third Wednesdays, and since my husband is on that, it means that Wednesdays, like Mondays, are lost evenings at Casa O'Keeffe.  This matters most during baseball season.) This was an unusually short Con Com meeting.  I particularly enjoy these meetings (all of them, I mean - not just the short ones) because it is a very sharp group and they do really interesting work.  They have a lot of agenda and minutes info online here, if you want to learn more.  During SB meetings, I try to limit my liaison and representative reports to stuff the SB needs to know, as opposed to summarizing the committee's work, so I don't think I'll be reporting on this one Monday, though I'll have to go back to my notes to make sure.

THURSDAY - Joint Capital Planning Committee:  JCPC meets every Thursday for several weeks in preparation for Town Meeting.  Like BCG, it is made up of two reps each from the SB, School Committee, Library Trustees and Finance Committee, and is often attended by administrative and finance officials from each sector as well.  At each meeting, we get a presentation of each department's capital requests.  This past week was Information Technology for the Town and the Schools (and for IT, the Libraries fall under the Town.)  Next week we'll hear from representative of the Community Preservation Act Committee to learn about their recommendations, and that will wrap up our presentations.  The goal is to spend the second half of that meeting and the full meeting the following week (3/26) formulating a recommendation based on these requests.  As with BCG, the uncertainty of the stimulus money weighs heavily here, as a number of the capital requests have been submitted for Federal funding consideration.  Part of the question of how much to recommend involves what percentage of the tax levy is recommended for allocation to capital investment - and whether stimulus money augments that amount or replaces some of it.  Will we know enough to be able wrap this up in two weeks?  We'll see. 

FRIDAY - Parking Task Force:  We're still grappling with possible tweaks to the downtown parking situation.  We didn't articulate the problem we're looking to address as clearly as I would have wanted to, but the group seems to have coalesced around the idea of being "customer friendly," as a way to move forward with possible incremental changes.  Among those, as you've probably seen in the paper, is consideration of a few 15-minute on-street free parking spaces scattered here and there.  Also for consideration at the next meeting (4/17, 9:30 a.m.) is signage - unanimously agreed to be inadequate and essential; and lengthening the allowed parking duration in some locations.  Stay tuned. 

So those were my meetings. Not every week is this busy, but many are.  Imagine adding in the meetings that the other Select Board members attended. (Many of the meetings listed here included other SB members too:  Gerry was at BCG; everyone was at the SB meeting; Gerry was at Agenda Setting; Diana was at JCPC, Gerry was at Parking Task Force.)  Put them all together, and it is an enormous amount of time to expect from what is essentially a volunteer Board.  And that doesn't count the non-meeting work - there's plenty of that too, plus other events we "should" attend.  For example, UMass Chancellor Holub spoke at the Chamber Breakfast Wednesday morning - an important occasion for Town representation.  Diana and Alisa went to that, as did Larry.   It's all a lot of work, a lot of time.     


Your Admirer said:

Perhaps SB members should receive a more realistic stipend, several times as much as they do now?

Abbie said:

Hi Stephanie,

I am mystified that this parking issue is continuing. To me, it's absurd to think people don't go downtown because they might have to spend 25 cents on a meter. Making it free will only lead to a decrease in town revenues, an increase in parking space squatters and more difficulty finding parking (in my view the main deterrent for folks to go downtown). Our meters are already REALLY cheap. How can only the views of only a few merchants drive this discussion? The reasons people go to downtown Amherst are completely different than going to the Mall (and the gas costs at least the cost of the meters)- its not an either or situation.

I really hope the SB doesn't cave on this.

Richard Morse said:

The amount of time being demanded of Select Board members is a growing problem, but not one that's likely to get any attention in the public discussion. We take a lot of things for granted, and the collective sacrifice of time of elected officials is one of them.

I know that it is not the intent of Stephanie to whine about the time commitment exacted by the job she ran for one short year ago, but I think that it should be of concern to the average citizen in town if the job of SB member requires more than an average of, say, 14 hours per week (2 hours per day), including the SB meetings themselves. My sense is that such an expenditure of time wouldn't cut it on today's Board.

This causes me to wonder if this possibility is looming: what if we had a Select Board election and nobody ran?

I think that the current Board membership needs to consider whether it is starting to bite off more than a person with the average time demands from work and family can chew. That's not a criticism, just a concern.

YA: I don’t know if more money would be better. Part of me thinks, "Why pay more when there are obviously people willing to do it now?" Another part of me thinks, "You get what you pay for." And determining what the "right amount" might be would raise a host of new questions. That really is a conundrum.

Abbie: Thanks for the input. A challenge with the parking issue is that there are many opinions, often passionate and conflicting, but few facts. Hard data might support X, anecdotal data might support Y, and popular perception might support Z, and all might be right. Or wrong. I think that the best that can be done in such matters is to seek a balance among multiple interests and needs. Rest assured that a few merchants aren’t driving the discussion; many different perspectives are represented at these meetings, and all are working to find the best mutually-beneficial solutions.

Rich: Whining? You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet… :-) I continue to try to shine more light on what the SB is and does. It’s a lot more than just sitting at those desks on Monday nights, and people may care to know that. Even with as much attention as I paid to the SB prior to the election, I completely underestimated the time and effort commitment. Your point about overextending is a good one, and raises many interesting questions. My broken-record refrain about SB membership is that it is largely self-defined, and I think that has implications. But I’ll save that topic for another post, another day.

Larry Kelley said:


This time, a strong Mayor.



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