Thursday, November 1, 2007

Random wonderings about how Town Meeting is going to go this Fall 2007

Interesting excerpt from the David Brooks New York Times "Happiness Gap" column published in The Republican (Springfield, MA) pg A16 Thursday November 1, 2007:

"In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt could launch the New Deal because voters wanted to change the country and their own lives. But today, people want the government to change so their own lives can stay the same. Voters don't want to be transformed; they want to be defended."

The basic upshot of Brooks' take on some Pew Research Center survey results is that as individuals, American voters are happy with their lives and also expect their lives to get better, although at the same time they believe their country and their government is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

I'm trying to figure out why this resonates with me for local politics as well as for the Presidential election that Brooks is focusing on.

Amherst has some number of folks who want the Town to stay the same as it was the day they arrived -- and given the transient (oops - mobile) nature of our population due especially to the five colleges, that arrival day may be last week, or ten years ago, or thirty years ago, or four generations ago -- and those folks don't seem to want to acknowledge that things in Amherst have changed and will change, like it or not, even since just ten years ago (disclosure: I've been here almost that long).

I'm trying to figure out why the clearly unhappy people, who fight so many of the changes we are challenged to consider as a community, are able to organize their unhappiness so effectively, while many of those who are strongly supportive of some change are too busy to sit through meetings and proclamations based on consensus. Sure, a lot of it in Amherst is the "aristocracy of time," as my friend Rich M refers to it. The people who can "afford" to spend time in all kinds of meetings -- plus the uber-meeting, Town Meeting -- are definitely people of some varied viewpoints, but all together they are admittedly unlikely to be representative of the entire breadth and depth of Amherst-resident views. So much of life is based on who shows up, so...

When it comes to community bylaws, zoning, and budgets, do retired white academics view the issues the same way as a single mother of color who has lived in poverty for two generations or more? Do we need to find ways to have all of us hear from the single mother on an ongoing basis, or is the retired white academic "channeling" his/her hopes for the "downtrodden" enough? What about retired academics of color -- should we worry that they're not serving in our numerous volunteer government positions in representative-of-our-population numbers? What about the number of visibly mentally ill people -- where do their views get meaningfully considered during any part of this process? And what about the college students? Do they get any say?

Do the folks we're not hearing from at meetings, in the newspapers, and/or on the listservs want Amherst to remain the same?

Do they notice the effect of state Proposition 2 1/2 on our town services? Have they suffered any ill effects due to the failure of our 2007 override vote?

Do they want to see some denser development in some areas of town, or do they think it's better to have more areas with a single large house on a two acre lot? Does "denser development" mean small, close together, single family houses? Accessory apartments in already built-out neighborhoods? Mixed-use buildings with retail on the ground floor, offices above that, and condos above that? Where?

Do they depend on the PVTA bus to get to work, school, food shopping, and/or medical appointments? Do they agree that significant local tax dollars should be spent on serving 5-15 riders at any given time, or are the routes paid for mainly by UMass (e.g., the Old Belchertown Rd bus that goes to Valley Medical) adequate for their needs?

That's just skimming the surface, of course.

Questions like these have indeed been considered in the Comprehensive Planning Committee's Planning Amherst Together process, including a survey, multiple questionnaires, small meetings, large meetings, etc.. Some progress in reaching those not often heard from has been made due to huge amounts of thought and effort on the CPCs part, but we all know that there is simply no way for the results of all those efforts to seem as though they've perfectly captured every single nuance of the issues. I'm something of a perfectionist by nature, but I know the efforts and results of the CPC work enable me to say "the perfect is the enemy of the good." The draft Master Plan is still being worked on, and should get to the Planning Board for their statutory approval a few months before Annual (Spring) Town Meeting. This will give everyone time to consider the many ideas in the Master Plan as they develop their Town Meeting warrant articles.

So why are we going forward with the zoning articles on the upcoming Special Town Meeting (the one we have every Fall, but it's always "special" if it's not the Spring Annual) beginning Monday Nov 5, 2007? Why not wait for the Planning Board to approve the Master Plan?

Because the results have already been made widely available through the town website and a variety of meetings, and ongoing meetings can always be attended by anyone. The zoning articles on this upcoming Special Town Meeting are significant and they can proceed now. For a great perspective, see this week's Amherst Bulletin piece by my friend Carol S.

Back to Brooks and how it applies locally: maybe the folks who are afraid are the ones who want the government to change to ensure their fear remains codified.

We don't need to be afraid of our decisions. We can decide to pass these zoning articles with the necessary 2/3 vote, and move on to making more decisions in the best interest of the viability of our community in both the short and long term. Arguing zoning pieces to death (or referring them, again) takes up time we need for figuring out how to deliver programs and services our residents need during these extremely difficult -- and likely to get far worse before they get better -- financial times. Keep moving forward!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Even as I try to shed some cynicism, Demotivators never let me down

...we need to get rid of cynicism in politics...

although then again, as quoted by Craig Sandler of the State House News Service at the MMA Massachusetts Selectmen's Association Fall Conference on Saturday October 13, 2007:

"No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up." - Lily Tomlin in "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe"

Tradition @Despair, Inc.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Interpreting the Ethics Laws: No Action Taken by State Ethics Commission

Update on the Ethics complaints filed by Larry Kelley:

Daily Hampshire Gazette:
This just in to the Gazette Newsroom

State ethics complaint against Amherst Select Board members closed without any action taken

AMHERST -- The state Ethics Commission complaint filed against two members of the Select Board has been closed without any action being taken.

Information obtained from board members Rob Kusner and Alisa Brewer Wednesday morning, who were the subjects of the complaint, as well as from complainant Larry Kelley of South Pleasant Street, reveals that the matter was closed because the appropriate disclosures had been filed by both board members with the town clerk.

Kelley said he was surprised and disappointed by the decision "I'm not overly pleased with it," Kelley said.

The original complaint was filed by Kelley because Kusner and Brewer, who both voted in favor of a waiver on effluent fees for the University of Massachusetts, have connections to the university. Kusner is a mathematics professor, while Brewer's husband is a UMass professor.

Kelley maintains that the Select Board should at least have to do over its vote because the formal disclosures were not filed with town clerk until a week after the vote.

See more about the decision in Thursday's print edition of the Gazette and on GazetteNET.

You are receiving this email because you have subscribed to this blog.

Alisa says: Verbal disclosure is sufficient. Verbal disclosure was made at the September 17th Select Board meeting. Case closed. If you're interested in actual ethics violations, check out these enforcement actions.

Ethics Commission

268A:23. Supplemental provisions; standards of conduct.

Section 23. (a) In addition to the other provisions of this chapter, and in supplement thereto, standards of conduct, as hereinafter set forth, are hereby established for all state, county and municipal employees.

(b) No current officer or employee of a state, county or municipal agency shall knowingly, or with reason to know:

(3) act in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. It shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such officer or employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority or, if no appointing authority exists, discloses in a manner which is public in nature, the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion.

Previous posting on this blog:

268A:19. Municipal employees, relatives or associates; financial interest in particular matter.

(b) It shall not be a violation of this section

(3) if the particular matter involves a determination of general policy and the interest of the municipal employee or members of his immediate family is shared with a substantial segment of the population of the municipality.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Annual Town Election Date Announced: Tuesday April 1, 2008

Last night the Select Board voted to hold the next Annual Town Election on a date separate from the Presidential Primary of Tuesday March 4, 2008, due to the many pieces of information provided by the Town Clerk and others about the level of complication vs the benefits of holding the elections at the same time. The cost savings at most might have been $3,600.00, and compared to the confusion of four Primary ballots plus a local just wasn't going to work out.

Please, mark your calendars: Annual Town Election Tuesday April 1, 2008, polls open 7:00 am - 8:00 pm

Monday, October 1, 2007

Town Meeting Vacancies: Four Seats Open


Posted 9/28/2007

Town of Amherst Representative Town Meeting Vacancies

The following Town Meeting vacancies exist:

Precinct 3: 1 vacancy

Precinct 7: 1 vacancy

Precinct 10: 2 vacancies

In accordance with Section 1.5422 of the Amherst Town Government Act, the above vacancies may be filled by filing a petition with the Town Clerk to request a special meeting. The petition shall be signed by no fewer than 10 elected town meeting members from said precinct.

For more information contact the Town Clerk’s Office by email or phone 413-259-3035.

Updated September 28, 2007.
Current Town Meeting members

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interpreting the Ethics Laws

Ethics Commission

The vote Mr Kelley didn't like will not be overturned because the Ethics Commission will find that UMass faculty (or faculty wife, in my case) does not have a financial interest in the outcome of the vote, and (b)(3) applies.

I noted the following on Stephanie's blog: Stephanie, if you'd rather we take any continuance of this thread to Larry's blog or mine, rather than continue here, please let us know:-)

268A:19. Municipal employees, relatives or associates; financial interest in particular matter.

Section 19. (a) Except as permitted by paragraph (b), a municipal employee who participates as such an employee in a particular matter in which to his knowledge he, his immediate family or partner, a business organization in which he is serving as officer, director, trustee, partner or employee, or any person or organization with whom he is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment, has a financial interest, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than two years, or both.

(b) It shall not be a violation of this section

(l) if the municipal employee first advises the official responsible for appointment to his position of the nature and circumstances of the particular matter and makes full disclosure of such financial interest, and receives in advance a written determination made by that official that the interest is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the municipality may expect from the employee, or

(2) if, in the case of an elected municipal official making demand bank deposits of municipal funds, said official first files with the clerk of the city or town, a statement making full disclosure of such financial interest, or

(3) if the particular matter involves a determination of general policy and the interest of the municipal employee or members of his immediate family is shared with a substantial segment of the population of the municipality.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Choices for Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 7 pm abound!

If you aren't going to the ARMS Open House at 7 pm Thursday September 27, please, please attend the Planning Amherst Together "Premiere" aka "Citizens Review" (yes, I know why people like to use "citizen" in this context, but I much prefer "residents" or "townspeople," myself:-)

Monday, September 24, 2007

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Monday, September 24, 2007 12:08:45 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: comments for priorities discussion

Hi all,

I thought I would send along a summary of my comments from last Thursday night's priorities discussion:

1. We need to stop looking at % of revenue from residences and businesses and look instead at the bottom line - dollars. If we have a $1.5M gap, how will we close it?

2. We have a couple of examples in town that can give us a glimpse of how we might generate more revenues. Veridian Village, the seniors-focused development going up at Hampshire College, is projected to bring in $700k in annual tax revenues. The JPI taxable student housing complex that was proposed for North Amherst was estimated to
bring in $500k in annual tax revenues. Maybe we could still do something like this, siting it in a different location if necessary. Anyway, that's $1.2M right there.

3. There was a column in the Gazette a couple of months ago [below] that noted that companies in Boston are having trouble getting workers because they can't afford to buy housing there. Our housing costs aren't great, but they're more affordable than Boston. We could recruit a company or two from the Boston area to set up a research-based shop here, consistent with our values and the higher ed strengths we have here - say alternative energy or software development.

The point is, there are real projects that can generate real dollars. I don't know all the details on this, and I would say most of us don't. But we have people on staff in our town who could do the research, crunch the numbers, and give us some options. Maybe we should ask them to do that.

Andy C

[Originally published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on: Friday, June 15, 2007]

The knowledge economy: How our region can help end the state's brain drain

'Attracting and retaining recent college graduates in an effort to create a knowledge-based economy is one of the hottest trends in economic development today," says Rob DeRocker, executive vice president of Development Counsellors International, a New York firm that helps companies relocate.

In the same June 11 article in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Stopping the Brain Drain," Lauren Tara LaCapra notes that "a large pool of well-educated young people can be just as important to creating a vibrant economy as big employers and real-estate development. But for that to happen, competitive jobs must be available, as well as vibrant nightlife and other forms of entertainment."

Reading this, I couldn't help making comparisons to our Five College community. We have vibrant culture coupled with a high quality of life in a pleasant rural setting. We have easy access to Springfield, Providence, Hartford and Boston. We have decent transportation infrastructure including Route 91 and the Mass Pike, a freight railroad, and Westover and Bradley International Airports. And we have a supply of affordable housing with acreage and superb school systems available for a fraction of the cost of a free-standing home in Boston, which today costs from $650,000 to $2 million.

Given all these local amenities, why don't more graduates of our colleges remain in our region? The answer is simple. It's jobs. According to LaCapra, research indicates that most college graduates choose to remain in the towns where they graduate, assuming they can get decent jobs that take advantage of an increasingly expensive education. But when it comes to the creation of decent-paying knowledge-based jobs that tend to raise living standards for all area workers, our community is largely missing the boat.

Consider the numbers. UMass-Amherst boasts "a distinguished faculty that has achieved a reputation for excellence earning national and international recognition in fields ranging from computer science, business, nanotechnology, polymer science and engineering." It educates some 25,000 students a year, including an impressive number of MBAs from the Isenberg School of Management. Add to that 20,000 more students annually from Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke, plus kids from local community colleges and trade schools, and you have a powerful degree factory capable of churning out America's future innovators at an impressive rate.

So, again, one asks, where are the cutting-edge jobs for graduates of our own knowledge industry? The short answer is: not here! Despite our brain trust, most positions in the local classifieds advertise unskilled or old-economy jobs that average from $15,000 to $25,000 in annual wages. No way are you going to entice a UMass grad student with a Ph.D. in nanotechnology to stay on in the area if the best job available is to be a big box cashier or a forklift operator. That graduate leaves, and the monetary benefits of his higher education go with him to places like New York and Boston.

Now, in fairness, there are some bright spots in our area, including the Renewable Resource Energy Lab (RERL) at UMass, which focuses on creating wind energy, a handful of start-ups like Vegetable Energy Group LLC, and a growing health services sector anchored by excellent hospitals like Bay State Medical Center. We have chambers of commerce, a Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council and various research and industrial liaison offices at the university.

Still, it's the larger picture that is troubling. Given the huge scope of our academic community, knowledge-job creation here remains anemic and underwhelming relative to other parts of the country. We continue to be a net exporter of talent to intellectual centers like Route 128 and Cambridge with thriving biotech and high-tech knowledge jobs. Most of our local graduates are forced to take their diplomas and leave.

Given that our community's major industry - education - is tax-exempt, our selectmen and mayors and our college faculty and administrators should redouble their efforts to expand the tax base and remove an increasingly onerous tax burden on residential property owners. Amherst and Northampton in particular should think out of the box and become far more business-friendly. Understand that knowledge jobs at major tech companies bring in an average of $1.5 million of annual revenue per worker. (With a more diversified tax base, communities that host such companies are not voting on tax overrides to pay for basic services like police officers and teachers.) Furthermore, our towns should acknowledge that new economy growth need not be to the exclusion of existing small businesses: our farms, schools, museums, tourist industry or the arts and entertainment sector. Indeed, these very assets make our region a more attractive knowledge-economy candidate than many other college areas.

We can make excuses for the brain drain in the Five College region but while our area languishes, other academic communities are thriving. Over the past 20 years in New Jersey, Rutgers and Princeton have attracted companies from Merrill Lynch and Forrester Research to Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Tyco - concerns that employ thousands of local grads, which, in turn, generate millions of tax dollars that flow back to that community.

The same is true in the Raleigh-Durham collegiate area of North Carolina - an area comparable in size to the Pioneer Valley. Since the 1980s these pro-business towns have used tax incentives and other means to lure anchor companies like IBM to their academic communities. In a short time, they have created a virtuous cycle of knowledge businesses that has resulted in many high-paying jobs staffed by graduates and faculty of Duke and UNC, as well as people from our own area and the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most successful college town of all is Palo Alto in California. Just 50 years ago it resembled Amherst: a bucolic university town surrounded by fruit orchards and just a little closer to San Francisco as we are to Boston. Like UMass, its resident university, Stanford, found itself with vast tracts of land adjacent to its campus. It reserved this land for growing start-up companies that became the headquarters for world-class companies like Hewlett-Packard and Xerox Research PARC, and more recently Apple and Google down the road. The university fostered a vibrant entrepreneurial culture that attracted venture capitalists and the result today is Silicon Valley.

Contrast this with UMass. Business growth in the past decade adjacent to our university campus consists of a large horse farm, a new church, University Avenue sports bars, a few banks and professional offices, and a shopping center with some gas stations, a CVS and a Big Y. Is this the best use of real estate right next to a major research center? Why is there not a single solid knowledge-company in our area that could serve as a magnet to attract more business?

It's time for Western Massachusetts to stop playing second-fiddle to Boston or any other university community when we could be creating a more vibrant and healthier economy. Our towns, academic leaders, and the Isenberg school of business should emulate successful places like Palo Alto, and find more supportive and efficient ways to proactively identify promising entrepreneurs and emerging technologies, connect them with capital, and speed them to market.

We can be defensive or take offense at these suggestions and fall even further behind or we can take this as a rallying call to keep more of our considerable intellectual talent home where it belongs, to the benefit of our academic institutions, our students and ourselves. The choice is ours.

William Pohl was a speechwriter and communications adviser to the CEOs of IBM and other Fortune 50 companies.

Vote when to Vote! part 2

More analysis on costs. Turns out it's not the case that we'd save a solid $12,000 that we normally think of as the cost of an election, as shown in the spreadsheet provided by our Town Clerk.

Here's our Town Clerk's cover email text:

From: Burgess, Sandra
Sent: Monday, September 24, 2007 11:32:38 AM
To: Shaffer, Larry
Cc: Select Board

Good Morning Larry,

At the finish of our meeting last week I promised to work up a spreadsheet which would more accurately reflect the cost savings of running two elections on one day.

I have attached a spreadsheet and added comments. Extra staffing would be required at the polling places but other costs could be reduced by half.

All other costs, i.e. ballots, programming would remain the same, and as I mentioned before, if the two elections were to be combined, I would to have the opportunity to speak with you about hiring temporary help for 4 - 5 weeks prior to voting.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the spreadsheet.


Worth a read

GavinThink on the role of elected officials

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What are we arguing about again?

One of the most difficult challenges I face in my role as a member of the Select Board is to not become impatient with conversations I feel are both repetitive and endless.

One of the most earnest conversations is the hand-wringing around "economic development isn't going to save us, look how much more growth we would need to get to x %"

Note that I said "hand-wringing," not "argument."

I read the local listservs and the local newspapers. I talk to you on the street, online, on the phone, in the shops, and listen at meetings. I know that many of you desperately want to come up with a set of numbers we can all agree are "the" numbers, yet the more we revisit this topic, the clearer it becomes that we may not in fact be that far apart on "the" numbers. Really, truly, I don't feel the need to become convinced that any particular set of numbers represents the one true reality of Amherst's possible economic development.

I know part of the problem is the original "80/20" designation that some people used as shorthand for strengthening and increasing the revenue the town receives from other-than-residential-property tax. I was part of those conversations, and I apologize if that figure seemed like a hard and fast demand. It wasn't.

I know part of the problem is people hearing something along the lines of "three projects the size of Veridian Village and/or that JPI student housing project located somewhere less offensive than they proposed, and we're all set." Please don't assume that anyone mentioning that scale of project imagines that just doing three projects like that will solve our structural deficit from now until eternity. Everyone I know who's mentioned that scale of project knows that while doing three or so of those would make a big dent in the problem in comparison to many more small projects; they do not imagine it will solve our structural deficit.

So please try to be patient with me if you see my hair stand on end when some variation on the following gets repeated:

"we need to stop thinking we can simply grow our way out of the Town's financial mess"

"nevertheless, the simplistic mantra for more development goes on"

I have not yet met a single soul -- from the wealthy developer to the business operator to the academic to the sixth generation farmer to the online entrepreneur who could live anywhere to the single parent family to the retiree on a fixed income to the two-income 7,000-square-foot-home family -- who says "more development" or "growth" is the answer to our structural deficit. Again, no one believes development is the answer.

Many people believe it must be part of the answer. Part of the answer. So we really, truly, can stop arguing about exactly how many dollars some theoretical level of growth will produce, OK?

Here's what we need to be arguing about (if arguing is indeed necessary in such a genteel academic small-town environment):

1. Since more people want to live in Amherst than currently live here, and more people want to work in Amherst than currently work here, what types of homes are we willing to let them live in, and what types of businesses are we willing to let them work in?

2. Since a lot of the people who already live here are a couple of paychecks, or an accident, or a medical problem away from not meeting their daily living expenses, they can't afford regular property tax overrides of the state 2 1/2 limit. So what do we do?

Sure, some communities don't seem to mind passing override after override, but Amherst isn't one of them, and I don't know anyone who wants it to be one of them.

No matter how hard each and every one of us works, the people of Amherst are not going to stop the war in Iraq, or create universal health care. The people of Amherst are going to contribute a lot to both of those things happening, and I hope you'll share my pride in that, but it isn't going to happen in time to eliminate our town structural deficit. Same situation on a smaller scale with increasing education aid, closing state corporate tax loopholes (or as one legislator said recently, your loophole is my incentive), and/or allowing a meals tax. That doesn't mean we stop working on any of those issues and invite Walmart to the Town Common and a gas station to your neighborhood. It means we keep plugging away on the issues we know are important, work with our legislators, our neighboring communities, and our lobbying groups, and in the meantime, we do what we can to maintain the kind of community we choose to live in.

The community we choose to live in is safe, with shared green spaces and good schools.

And if we change nothing in our FY09 budget from what we're doing for FY08, the "normal" property tax increase many of us struggle with each year will not cover increased energy costs plus health insurance benefits costs. It's really that straightforward. We can't cover our fixed costs increase with the revenue coming in. So what's going to give?

My definition of core services is possibly not your definition of core services. That's why the Select Board continues to seek your input on our community's priorities. We all -- all of us in this community, not just a few elected officials who imagine we know better than the rest of you -- have a good idea what the people of Amherst want, and the Planning Amherst Together process of developing our Master Plan will provide some strategies to help us get there.

So let's move past arguing about the development dollars, and talk about the specifics of what our community is willing to do to:

1. Control Spending
2. Seek New Revenues
3. Preserve Vital Services

Let's stop hanging back and being afraid of what might change. Too late, folks -- things have already changed! This isn't the same Town it was 15 years ago, 30 years ago, or 250 years ago. The same strategies are not going to allow us to retain the same core values.

So what are we willing to embrace?

FY09 Priorities

Select Board Meeting for Citizen Comment on FY09 Budget Priorities
September 20, 2007

Comments from Elaine B
Woodside Ave, Amherst. – 28 year resident

Inherent in this list of budget priorities is my belief that the town must strongly support increased economic development, must establish a multi-year fiscal plan including planned increases in revenue, and must make fiscally responsible choices which are based on identified priorities. Building and maintaining a strong Reserve Fund is a required responsibility of the town government in order to ensure the economic health and survival of Amherst.

No real set of priorities is going to be strictly linear, but a list is convenient way to order priorities for discussion. I hope that the Select Board will make FY09 budget decisions based on the following priority list:

1) A primary town government responsibility is to ensure the availability and safety of Water, the Sewer systems, and to protect against potential dangers to the town population’s health.

2) The second priority is providing the necessary safety for the town. The Fire Department and the Police have to have sufficient funding to serve the town well. The police budget particularly has been cut too far and must have a much higher priority than last year.

3) The third level of priority for me is the Education of the town’s children. Strong financial support of the Amherst Schools and Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools has to be one of the town’s very highest priorities not only because of its importance for the children and families in Amherst, but also for the economic health of the town.

Obviously, the Select Board does not make School budget decisions, but the Select Board needs to place education and the public schools at the top of their list of priorities because every financial choice that the Select Board makes can affect the schools and the school budgets both directly and indirectly. The Select Board’s decisions affect the town funds available for a school budget and affect the availability of other town services needed by the children and by the schools.

Every year for the past few years, all of the boards have agreed that real budget prioritizing must be done across all departments and across all budgets, not just within a single budget. Cutting every budget by the same amount each year doesn’t result necessarily in funding decisions based on the town’s actual priorities.

4) Fourth in my priority list is funding the Town services that assist the poor, the disabled, and the elderly who need assistance. This priority is different from the line item for Human Service Agency funding. This priority includes a wide range of items in a variety of budgets: some of the bus/van transportation, Bangs Center activities and services, sidewalk curb cuts and other ADA access changes, providing sufficient recreation opportunities for low socio-economic families, etc.
5)The jobs done by the Public Works Department are the set of basic services a town has to provide that individuals cannot do, or cannot do as effectively for the town. town government has the obligation of providing and maintaining roads, sidewalks, pipes, plowing, etc etc

6) Town buildings must be maintained, repaired, and renovated. Some buildings must be replaced as well for reasons of safety and efficiency.

7) Town employees must be sufficient in number to accomplish the needed work that is highest priority, and they must be paid well enough to retain valued employees. Any departments dealing with finances and town planning must have adequate staffing to do their jobs really well.

There are many more items and services to prioritize, of course, libraries, conservation dept, etc; however, the top priorities are the most critical to identify and fund, especially when money is so tight that many lower priorities will not be funded at all.

Thank you for your consideration of my list of priorities

Elaine B

Vote when to Vote!

Here's the reason I'm collecting purely anecdotal data from the new poll, above:

We normally hold the Annual Town Election (i.e., Moderator, Select Board, School Committee, Jones Library Trustee, Oliver Smith Will Elector, Redevelopment Authority (ARA), Housing Authority, Representative Town Meeting) the last Tuesday of March or first Tuesday of April. Since Easter is the second last weekend in March 2008, it appears Tuesday April 1st would be chosen for 2008 (the Annual Town Election fell on April 1st in 2003).

Here's the sticky part: the Presidential Primary in Massachusetts is Tuesday March 4, 2008. At first glance, it seems most sensible to hold both elections on that same date, rather than expecting people to show up at the polls twice within a month, and it would save roughly $12,000 in the General Fund to not have to hold separate elections. Holding separate elections only three to four weeks apart is challenging for the Town Clerk & Board of Registrars, as well. When Ms Awad brought up holding both elections on the same date at our September 10 Select Board meeting, I thought it was a terrific idea! As Mr Weiss pointed out, it would also be helpful to newly elected officials to formally participate in the budget process earlier in the budget/Town Meeting cycle (although I'll note here that there's some benefit to being able to say, I didn't vote on that budget:-). As it turns out -- of course -- it's all not as simple as we'd hoped.

A Presidential Primary already requires separate Democrat & Republican & Libertarian & Green-Rainbow ballots, and under state law we can't "add" our local questions to those ballots, so we'd need to have one separate ballot for our Annual Town Election. Each voter would cast two ballots -- if they were eligible to do so; apparently it's entirely possible someone would be entitled to a Presidential Primary ballot but not to an Annual Town Election ballot. Obviously this would all be a challenge for both the voter and the election workers!

Write-ins are likely on both the Annual Town Election ballot (especially for Representative Town Meeting) and the Presidential Primary ballot (for Hampshire & Franklin District State Committee Man and State Committee Woman, and Town Committee), and writing them on the wrong ballot would be very possible. Add in the processing of the various party absentee ballots and you'll see why this no longer seems like such a simple idea!

Most of the information I'm presenting here is from a sheet of "Talking Points for Election Timetable Analysis" that was provided in our September 24, 2007 Select Board Agenda packet (available from the Select Board office; sorry, no electronic copy at hand). It includes the fact that prior to 1996, turnout for Presidential Primaries was significantly higher than for the Annual Town Election. In 1996 the turnout was considerably higher for the Town Election than for the Presidential Primary (which was excruciatingly low). In 2000 the Presidential Primary turnout was 0.6% higher than the Annual Town Election; in 2004 the Annual Town Election turnout (28.30%) was 4.6% higher than the Presidential Primary turnout (23.70%). There is simply no guarantee that holding the Presidential Primary and the Annual Town Election at the same time will improve turnout...

...although I'm sure having an override on the 2004 Annual Town Election ballot had something to do with that year's turnout surpassing the Presidential Primary turnout.

As outlined in the "Talking Points," there are more details the Town Clerk and Board of Registrars will have to handle in terms of answering questions, publishing deadlines, how the machines will process the ballots, not tearing their hair out, etc., so feel free to refrain from sharing those details in any comments you make on this blog:-) Just make it simple: vote in the poll at the top of this blog before 6:00 pm Monday September 24. Thanks!

Note that these two images are each only the first page of the 2004 results:

Election dates in Presidential Primary years (from warrants and results:

2004: March 2, March 30 (override)
2000: March 7, March 28 (Boss/Awad race)

Last day to register to vote and/or change party enrollment for the March 4, 2008 Presidential Primary: Wednesday February 13, 2008
(likely) Last day to register to vote for a March 4, 2008 Annual Town Election: Wednesday February 13, 2008
(likely) Last day to register to vote for an April 1, 2008 Annual Town Election: Wednesday March 12, 2008

Saturday, September 22, 2007

FY09 Priorities


Amherst continues to face an ever increasing structural deficit. Last year, the voters said NO to additional taxation as the way to close the deficit.

In our campaign vs. the override, we put forth our funding priorities to the voters:
Support for teachers not administrators
Support for current police and fire staffing
We suggested that the monies to fund these priorities come from Leisure Services; Cherry Hill Golf Course and the nearly empty buses appropriations. We also identified 29 positions totaling over $2 million between the schools and the Town that should be combined in some manner.

Given the limited resources we have for next year, priority funding based on available new resources and funds gathered from zero budgeting for non-essential programs should first go to essential services: police; fire; libraries; school teachers and para-professionals that interact with children; Public Works and essential Town Hall personnel that are required by statute.

All other programs should be zero funded and placed on a menu override, requiring majority support from the taxpayers to continue.

Some will say that this approach is to drastic and divisive. One has to balance that opinion with the fact that many Amherst residents are being forced to leave because of the high tax burden. That is a drastic situation as well.

Over the past two years, I have observed a continuing inability of the elected officials to make budget priority decisions that protect essential services.
Maybe now is the right time to let the taxpayers do the priority setting.

Stanley G, Treasurer

Friday, September 21, 2007

Strategic Partnership Agreement with UMass 082307

Some attachments just aren't meant for Blogspot, so go on over to my old campaign website for the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the Mutual Aid Agreement .pdfs

I'll post the article from today's Gazette later.

I believe the Ethics Commission will not find any conflict of interest for Mr Kusner (UMass professor) or myself (husband is UMass lecturer). We both disclosed verbally, publicly at the Select Board meeting of September 17, 2007, which is sufficient under the law. While my written disclosure is not yet on file at the Town Clerk's office (and yes, of course I agree it would have been ideal to have it there already), it will be soon.

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Friday, September 21, 2007 9:17:21 AM
To: Select Board
Subject: Input on Amherst Budget


My husband’s company pays our $165/month premium for a family health insurance policy through my company.

This has been a great incentive for us to use my company’s plan instead of his, and it saves his company around $800 a month for our family alone.

If Amherst (town and schools) could offer to pay employees’ partners’ premiums—in part or in full—the town could save a lot of money. It’s really a win-win plan.

Thanks for asking for the community’s input.

Carolyn M

White Privilege

I participated in the Anti-Racism Basics for teachers required course at ARPS in January 2003. I grew up in a very white town in Central Pennsylvania, and though I'd thought I'd become the liberal my hometown warned me about, I learned a lot in the course co-facilitated by Kathleen Anderson and Susan Kennedy Marx. I've always hoped to see Tim Wise speak, but he always seems to be here when I have some other unavoidable commitment, in this case a Select Board meeting where we'll be working on the three of the Special Town Meeting Fall 2007 warrant articles.

Leading Critic of White Privilege to Speak at MHC

Tim Wise discusses The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, White Denial, and the Costs of Inequality October 1 at 7:30 pm in Chapin Auditorium.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

FY09 Priorities

from Irwin S, handed out at Select Board Priorities Public Hearing Thursday September 20, 2007, and available at

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 6:30:20 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: FY 09 budget guidelines

Dear Select Board:

I am finding it inordinately difficult to know how to respond to your invitation for public comment. I would expect -- in fact, I would hope -- that comments from Town Meeting members and others who have been closely involved with budget struggles for some time would differ significantly from the comments offered by members of the public who have not been paying much attention and will primarily voice personal wishes. And while that is natural, I am concerned about the comparative weight you may be inclined to give to each. Moreover, since the number of closely involved citizens is inevitably smaller than the general public, the potential danger exists that taking primarily personal requests and demands out of the overall context of our current situation may further jeopardize adequate funding for our core services. I do hope that you will not allow that to happen.

I'm not suggesting that nothing but the "core" matters. What I am suggesting is that adequate, even minimal, support for the "core" should not be reduced to fund other programs and services we treasure, when we may not be able to afford these to the extent we have in the past.

Here's my view of the "core":

1. Public Safety:

The Police Department must have the two officers and support staff restored. The officers: Please remember the Police Chief's plea that these cuts would be "devastating," and be aware that he has consistently understated, not dramatized, the needs for his department. I have never heard him use such language before. I think that the Town Manager fully understands, but in his budget strategy last year misjudged the political reaction to his proposal. Please encourage his support of staffing in both public safety departments in your guidelines; for FY 09, that primarily applies to Police, since the Fire Department lost no positions this year.

Support staff: Right now, the Police Chief has no secretary, and his payroll is being done in Town Hall, whose Finance Department just lost another full-time position, in addition to staff cuts in that department in prior years.

Point of information and perspective: As newer members may not be aware, hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment acquisition by a variety of departments have been saved over the years thanks to the Police Department's initiative to procure quality used vehicles for the Town from auctions and other sources .

2. General Government

This is the area utterly taken for granted, and often the first one targeted for cuts that are assumed to be inconsequential. Of course, it is easy to understand why the public would be unaware of what people do in the back offices on the first floor of Town Hall: Most are largely invisible and unknown. And yet, they are the ones who project, collect, invest, manage, and account for our resources, to the tune of between $60 and $70 million a year. Together, the staff of the first floor in a way keeps the Town running and on an even keel. The public cannot be expected to understand the inner workings of these departments; but the Select Board should articulate to the Town Manager their awareness of the importance of having these services rendered well; support the restoration of positions like the one currently lost in the Finance Department; and resist any further reductions in support, in the interest of ensuring that the small number of employees charged with providing these essential services are not overtaxed to the point where the quality of their work may be compromised, or good people become too discouraged and overstressed to continue to work for the Town.

3. DPW: It is ironic that this may well be the department uppermost in the public's sense of services they depend on: whether they complain of potholes or want traffic-calming devices installed, or lines painted, or sidewalks repaired or plowed, it's all the job of -- or one more job for -- the DPW. Highways, trees, cemeteries, sewers, drinking water -- people know about and depend on all of them. And yet the budget for this department is one of the leanest in town, and has been for years, thanks to the good management and ingenuity and willingness-to-make-do of the Superintendent. So when Guilford Mooring indicates that his resources are stretched to the limit, as he did to the Finance Committee last spring, I would urge the Select Board to take that into serious account in their guidelines to the Town Manager. He should be asked to review thorougly, as he makes his budget recommendations for that department, what it is possible for the department to do, and what is being neglected, because of inadequate resources.

I will not attempt to prioritize the rest of the services we provide.
I deeply appreciate them all and want to see them preserved and fostered to the extent possible. I do think the guiding criterion needs to be the extent to which they are considered to be municipal functions or responsibilities.

But the three above I think should be basic in your guidelines to the Town Manager. I know you won't all agree, but I hope some of you will.

As to the envisioned economic development director: I continue to think that is an excellent idea, depending on how the financial situation evolves.

In any case, I hope you will instruct the Town Manager that, in building his budget, he should assume a) no use of reserves and b) the use of no less than 8% of the levy for capital expenditures in FY 09, with a multi-year goal of increasing that to about 10% of the levy.

Thanks for reading.

Eva S

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 3:47:17 PM
To: Select Board

I like these. I found it helpful to strip out the philosophy and focus on the specific suggestions, so I edited them to do that. In case it helps you, too, here's the "abridged" version.

Andy C

Bryan H’s budget suggestions

1. Ask the Manager to present his recommendations in a way that provides clear programmatic implications (not just financial amounts) for different funding levels.

2. Ask the Manager to set his priorities in light of the town's obligations vs. its choices. The town and only the town can provide police and fire protection, discharge the municipal corporation's fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers and bondholders, satisfy statutory requirements relating to public health, and so forth. It would be very helpful if the Manager
annotated his budget recommendation in a way that relates these obligations to actual expenditures.

3. For discretionary expenditures, ask the Manager to give the highest priority to activities that fall the closest to the set of services that citizens customarily associate with local government. Some examples of common expectations might be many aspects of library services (albeit not in the Manager's purview), programs for seniors, and recreation programs for kids. Urge that there be clarity in the Manager's budget about what kinds of expectations we are trying (and not trying) to meet.

4. Ask the Manager to give special attention to the necessary but unglamorous components of the municipal budget. If the Selectboard is not "the constituency" for these activities, then I do not know who is.

5. Focus on the reasoning behind and criteria for the decisions the Manager will make, not what outcome you want to see.

6. Ask the Manager to organize his budget proposal in terms of the most significant challenge facing our community's ability to meet the needs of our citizens now and in the future: broadening the revenue base so as to minimize the reductions in services with which we are currently grappling, and will surely grapple for years to come. Much discussion has already been devoted to this topic, but the Manager's budget must reflect the urgency of that task.

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 12:08:40 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: Matching resources with needs and values

Dear members of the Amherst Select Board,

Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on a conversation that needs to happen with members of our community.

Hilda and I came to Amherst to be near our family at a time in our life to share our "golden years", with family and new friends in an environment that was conducive to continued learning and the opportunity to be a part of a challenging vital town.

We were not dissapointed.

It was amazing in the ten years we had together... to feel we are a part of Amherst.

Hilda was an important part of the Town's committee to address the needs of human services. And now thanks to you folks, I will continue her work for parity, fairness and justice.

I would like to call your attention to my interview with Larry Shaffer on ACTV Conversations, on September 12, 2007.

Larry addressed the Select Board's concerns to explore new ways to address...matching recources with needs and values. Copies of that program will be made available to the Board. I request that it be made a part of the record of tonight's proceedings.

Mr Shaffer's interview will continue to be aired on ACTV to enhance wide distribution to members of the

I look forward to enabling other voices in the community to join in discussion. Pleased to be a part of ACTV to make those voices heard.

Isaac B

cc Larry Shaffer

FY09 Priorities

from Paulette B & H Oldham B

Amherst & Amherst College

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Thursday September 20, 2007

College chief calls for growth Amherst president: Woo more business

AMHERST - For the second year in a row, Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx used his address at the college's community lunch to ask town leaders to support the public school system by bringing in more business.

Economic growth in Amherst brings revenue to the town - and thus better services for residents. To boost the business community, Marx suggested changes in zoning bylaws.

Marx has made this suggestion before.

"We've not gotten as far in a year as we should be," Marx said before an audience of about 60 Amherst Select Board members, school officials, college administrators and media representatives Wednesday afternoon.

Amherst's problem, Marx said, is a lack of revenue. For the past several years, Amherst has had to contend with tight budgets that forced officials to make cuts to community services.

Town Administrator Laurence Shaffer, who was present, agreed with Marx and added that Amherst officials continue to look for new revenue sources.

"It's very good and important to hear this opinion," said Shaffer. "There's no question we have a structural deficit and we need to continue to work hard to change that."

Shaffer said the town is seeking to expand its tax base. Also, the state needs to increase its contribution to Amherst, he said.

State lawmakers reduced financial support to the commonwealth's 351 municipalities in early 2000. Communities across the state are still struggling to rebound from the loss in revenues.

Marx expressed particular concern, as a parent of an Amherst public school student and as an employer, for how the town's lack of funds is affecting the school system.

"Every year I hear the public school administrators saying that the school is now cutting into bone, and that's scary as a parent to hear and it's scary as a business leader to hear because I have to attract people to live here," Marx said.

For years, Marx could trumpet the Amherst public school system to potential employees as a reason for them to take a job at the college and move to town. But with increased cuts to school programs, he said it is becoming harder to make this claim. Over the past several years, the town has had to cut school services, including many of its summer programs, and eliminate jobs to cover the drop in state aid.

"If the school system is in jeopardy, the community is in jeopardy," Marx said.

To bring in additional businesses, Amherst has to change its zoning bylaws, Marx said. Zoning districts should also be changed to allow a mix of residential and commercial establishments in the downtown area. This would usher in a "vibrant" community feeling, he said.

"I worry when I hear people saying, 'If you want to go out to get a good meal and take a walk and feel like you're in an exciting environment, then you drive to Northampton,'" Marx said. "I want Amherst to be more a destination than it is."

Amherst is working on its zoning bylaws. A proposed master plan that features recommendations for denser development, a mix of housing and an improved business climate is due to be presented to the public Sept. 27. The plan is accessible on the town's Web site,

"He's right. We haven't made any substantial progress in the last year," said Selectman Alisa Brewer, who attended the event. "Zoning is the big thing, but I think we'll see some changes there soon."

Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2007 All rights reserved

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 11:58:49 AM
To: Select Board

To the Selectboard:

As you consider guidelines for the Town Manager as he prepares his proposed municipal budget, I would urge you to incorporate the following principles:

1. The municipal budget is one component of the town's total spending plan, and ultimately Town Meeting must determine the right balance among municipal, school, and library expenditures. That is hard to do, because the budget is organized in large, abstract groupings like "public safety" and "elementary schools." Setting the town's priorities requires getting inside those groupings (i.e. the question is not whether we will have public safety or public schools, but rather how much of each). I therefore urge you to ask the Manager to present his recommendations in a way that provides clear programmatic implications for different funding levels. For example, the Manager will recommend a fire budget based on some specified level of staffing per shift. If that represents an increase over current staffing levels, then the Manager should articulate what the difference buys in terms such as response time, number of occasions upon which all firefighters are out on call, and so forth.

If the recommendation reflects a decline in staffing, then that should be expressed in similar terms.

While there is always some attempt to do this, the structure of the budget exercise tends to emphasize numbers over actual impacts. The Manager's budget includes all kinds of data on service levels, but that does not easily translate into a practical sense of what is lost or gained at various budget levels. Often, this kind of context does not get broad discussion until the actual vote at Town Meeting, with a police chief or an LSSE chair trying to articulate the consequences of various budget levels on the fly. If the Manager's budget proposal (particularly the transmittal memo) carefully places the budget numbers in programmatic terms from the beginning, and provides a context for what a higher or lower number means, the process of determining townwide budget priorities by Town Meeting will be greatly assisted.

This cannot be done for every budget area, of course, but usually the budget debate tends to focus on some major questions lending themselves to this kind of treatment. I will make the same suggestion to the library trustees and the school committees.

2. I hope you will ask the Manager to set his priorities in light of the town's obligations vs. its choices. By this I mean that the highest priority should be given to those activities for which the town is legally responsible, vs. those for which town funding is discretionary. My reason for this is simple: it is very important that what the town does, it does well. Taxpayer confidence quickly erodes when we try to spread the butter too thinly, and service levels fall below citizens' expectations. What are these obligations? There is obviously some room for debate, but probably not too much. The town and only the town can provide police and fire protection, discharge the municipal corporation's fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers and bondholders, satisfy statutory requirements relating to public health, and so forth. It would be very helpful if the Manager annotated his budget recommendation in a way that relates these obligations to actual expenditures.

3. Even in our current financial straits, we still pay for a lot of things that are not legally required. For discretionary expenditures, I hope you will ask the Manager to give the highest priority to activities that fall the closest to the set of services that citizens customarily associate with local government. While not strictly speaking obligations, there are certain kinds of things that people expect from local government, and when they are missing or severely compromised, taxpayer support for the whole municipal enterprise erodes. In many communities, for example, trash collection and recycling are tax-supported activities. That is not an option for us, at least at this point, but it illustrates the kind of expectations that folks may bring to the budget debate, and that may cause them to begin the process somewhat disappointed. Some examples of common expectations might be many aspects of library services (albeit not in the Manager's purview), programs for seniors, and recreation programs for kids. My purpose is not to suggest what the list should be, but to urge that there be clarity in the Manager's budget about what kinds of expectations we are trying (and not trying) to meet.

4. There is a stark asymmetry in public budgeting that I believe you can help address. Some programs and activities, by their nature, have constituencies to support them (because they appeal to some interest on the part of a group of citizens). Others do not, even though they may be very important to the overall success of local government. The myriad "green eyeshade" functions that ensure financial integrity and efficiency might be an example. I hope you will ask the Manager to give special attention to the necessary but unglamorous components of the municipal budget. If the Selectboard is not "the constituency" for these activities, then I do not know who is.

5. You will undoubtedly receive many requests to include one specific program or another in the budget. I hope you will not pass these along, or try to come up with your own list. I hope your guidelines will focus on the reasoning behind and criteria for the decisions the Manager will make, not what outcome you want to see. This seems important for two reasons. First, under our system of government making these recommendations is a central part of the Manager's job, and we should try to support him in that process. Second, the absence of an early and clear focus on criteria and the framework for decision-making is, in my opinion, a weakness of our current system. The Selectboard can make an important contribution by bringing these issues to the forefront before the inevitable haggling over preferences begins.

6. Finally, as part of that framework I hope you will ask the Manager to organize his budget proposal in terms of the most significant challenge facing our community's ability to meet the needs of our citizens now and in the future: broadening the revenue base so as to minimize the reductions in services with which we are currently grappling, and will surely grapple for years to come. Much discussion has already been devoted to this topic, but the Manager's budget must reflect the urgency of that task.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Bryan H

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Congratulations President Hexter!

From: Alisa Brewer
Date: September 18, 2007 6:17:53 PM EDT
Subject: Fwd: This just in to the Gazette Newsroom / Hampshire president marries 27-year partner

Dear President Hexter & Mr. Kollmeier-

Congratulations on your marriage! I appreciate your willingness to take this step in Massachusetts when you didn't really "need" to do so. I am very happy for you both.

Take care,

Alisa V. Brewer
who met President Hexter once in a small meeting in his office about Amherst's Master Plan process, Planning Amherst Together when she was chairing the Town's Comprehensive Planning Committee -- remember the "white, masculine" hand on the flyer?!? (below)

Begin forwarded message:

Date: September 18, 2007 5:32:10 PM EDT
Subject: This just in to the Gazette Newsroom / Hampshire president marries 27-year partner

This just in to the Gazette Newsroom
Hampshire president marries 27-year partner
By Gazette Staff

AMHERST -- The president of Hampshire College announced to faculty and staff today that he quietly married his 27-year partner, Manfred Kollmeier, over the Labor Day weekend.

The marriage, made legal by the state of Massachusetts in 2005, is a first for higher education, according to college spokeswoman Elaine Thomas.

Hexter and Kollmeier delayed their announcement until they could share it with the college community, Thomas said.

A celebration with students will be held Wednesday on campus.

"We wanted to announce our marriage to our community first," said Hexter. "This is our way of celebrating Hampshire College, which so warmly welcomed us as a couple when I was named president in 2005, and of celebrating the state of Massachusetts and all those who helped it become a pioneer in recognizing and upholding the right of gay couples to be legally married."

Kollmeier said, "Ralph and I made a lifelong commitment to one another many years ago, so marrying is not about marking a new stage in our relationship. We feel it is important to exercise the precious right we have here to marry. Massachusetts should be the first, not the only state where this is possible."

Kollmeier, a native of Munich, Germany, is retired.

Hexter joined Hampshire in August 2005 as its fifth president.

Monday, September 17, 2007

FY09 Priorities

Here's the first emailed feedback the Select Board has received re: FY09 Budget Priorities. Please come to Town Hall Thursday September 20 -- yes, this week! -- to share and to listen from 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm. I'll post anything I get electronically without the sender's e-mail address and just showing first name last initial, so you don't feel like you've missed anything:-)

Sent: Monday, September 17, 2007 8:06:46 PM
To: Select Board

First, I commend you for the approach you are initiating this year. I believe we could save a great deal of time and energy during Town Meeting if we could spend more time up front ensuring that the Town Manager's budget was, in fact, prioritized.

I appreciate the difficulty of the choices that have to be made. Here is my input for your review and consideration:

I strongly believe that we have to stop trying to do public safety on the margins. We need to have an adequately-staffed force to respond to all manner of incidents, specifically UMass's out-of-control students. The police are overworked during the school year and do not have adequate resources to address other aspects of public safety, e.g., traffic enforcement, community policing, etc.

The fire/EMS is also chronically understaffed, and many times the first responders are college students, not professionals.

UMass needs to be forced into paying what it actually incurs; I suggest we start billing them in 18 months' time for actual costs, not some PILOT shell game like we do now.

We need to adequately fund the schools. All children are being short-changed, and the effects of the past four years are going to take many years to undo. The physical plant at Wildwood is appalling - it seems the school hasn't had cleaning or upgrade since it was built almost 40 years ago. And, the design is for an educational fad that failed, leaving kids in cramped, noisy, really dreadful "classrooms."

We need a staff position that addresses two issues on a full-time basis: economic growth/development and UMass relations.

We need to upgrade all major intersections in downtown - Rte 9/116, Amity/University Dr., Triangle/N. Pleasant. They can't accommodate the traffic they should, resulting in huge impacts to residential neighborhoods.

We need to actually cut some services. You decide which ones, but we can't keep funding everything on the backs of staff who are cut.

Phil J

Bring your priorities this Thursday Sept 20 7:00 pm

Town of Amherst

Press Release
September 11, 2007

Select Board Schedules Public Hearing to Solicit Comment on Budget Priorities

Questions Regarding Press Release:

Gerry Weiss, Chair, Select Board - 413.259.3001
Laurence Shaffer, Town Manager - 413.259.3002

At its meeting of September 10, 2007, the Select Board of the Town of Amherst decided to schedule a public hearing to solicit input on community priorities for the upcoming FY 2009 Town of Amherst Budget. The public hearing shall be held as follows:

Select Board FY 2009 Budget Priorities Public Hearing
Town Room, Town Hall
4 Boltwood Avenue
Amherst, MA 01002
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Select Board intends to deliver priority guidelines to the Town Manager prior to the creation of the Town Manager's budget and simultaneous with the fiscal guidelines established by the Finance Committee. The priority guidelines will be established, in part, from input received from members of the community. The Select Board's priority guidelines may then be incorporated into the Town Manager's budget proposal scheduled to be delivered to the Select Board on or before January 16, 2008. For those who wish to comment but are not able to attend the public hearing, written comments may be submitted on or before October 15th as follows:

FY 2009 Budget Priorities Public Hearing
Amherst Select Board
4 Boltwood Avenue
Amherst, MA 01002
Or: E-mail

Gerry Weiss, Chair, Amherst Select Board said, "It is very important that the Select Board receive public comment regarding priorities on the upcoming budget before the fiscal discussion of the FY 2009 budget begins. That will allow the Select Board an important head start in the budgetary process. It will also assist the Select Board in completing its obligation to fix policy prior to the Town Manager's budget. I hope that you will be able to attend the public hearing on Thursday, September 20th."

Phone: (413) 259-3001
Fax: (413 259-2405

PRP Public Works Recommendation

From: "Select Board"
Date: September 17, 2007 11:25:34 AM EDT
To: "Awad, Anne""Weiss, Gerald""Kusner, Rob""Greeney, Hwei-Ling""Brewer, Alisa" "Shaffer, Larry"
Subject: FW: Larkspur Drive

From: Rob Crowner
Sent: Monday, September 17, 2007 11:26:01 AM
To: Select Board
Cc: Manager, Town; Mooring, Guilford
Subject: Larkspur Drive
Auto forwarded by a Rule

Dear members of the Select Board:

At its meeting of September 11, 2007, the Public Works Committee voted to recommend that the Select Board consider attaching to the PRP re-zoning article(s) that may soon come before Town Meeting a requirement that a roundabout be installed at the boundary of the PRP and residential districts on Larkspur Drive.

This requirement may be accomplished in various ways that are beyond the charge of the Public Works Committee to comment upon, but the committee believes that a roundabout is a feasible and desirable option to address some of the issues that have stalled past attempts to amend the PRP zone characteristics. Among the potential benefits that the committee considered are speed reduction and a clearer distinction between the residential and PRP districts on Larkspur Drive.

The committee's vote was 5-0 to make this recommendation. Please do not hesitate to request clarification if necessary, and thank you for your attention to this matter.

For the Public Works Committee,
Robert J. Crowner, chair

Special Town Meeting Fall 2007 Warrant Articles

When your sinuses are too messed up to breathe, post reference material instead of original thought...

Here's the draft list of warrant articles for Special Town Meeting Fall 2007. The deadlines for both citizen and committee and department articles passed Friday September 14 at noon, so nothing new should show up at Special Town Meeting Fall 2007 that isn't on this list. Obviously this list is still very much a draft in terms of descriptions, so don't bang anyone on the head with it!

November 5, 2007 Annual Town Meeting
List of Articles

FY 08 Budget Amendments
a. Health Insurance
b. Regional Lockup Assessment

Accept MGL Ch.59, Cl.5 Section 5B Property Tax Exemptions for Veterans Orgs

Capital – Marks Meadow Portable Classrooms – JCPC

Petition – Resolution - Fair Trade (Yuri Friman)

Transfer funds from Senior Trust to Friends of Senior Center 501c3

Spring Street Rezoning – Official Zoning Map & Zoning Bylaw [Planning Board Hearing opened September 5, continued to October 3]

College/South East Street Rezoning – Official Zoning Map [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday September 19]

Technical/Professional Offices – Zoning Bylaw [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday October 17]

Research & Industrial Uses – Zoning Bylaw [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday October 3]

R&D Overlay District – Zoning Bylaw & Official Zoning Map [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday October 3]

Accessory Light Manufacturing – Zoning Bylaw [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday October 3]

500-502 Sunderland Road – Official Zoning Map (Bergstrom) [Planning Board Hearing Wednesday October 17]

CPAC – Open Space Tietjen APR

CPAC – Open Space Cushman Brook Corridor Project (Self help Grant)

The TMCC sent the date for the warrant review meeting today: Thursday, October 25th at 7:00 p.m. at the Middle School auditorium.

Check out the Town website for updated information on Special Town Meeting Fall 2007.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Leverett House for Sale

One of my husband's UMass colleagues asked us to pass this along:
"I am selling my house in Leverett if you know of anyone looking to buy. It is a 3 bedroom/2 bath contemporary/huge beamed knotty pine ceilings/open floor plan - on a beautiful wooded lot with many perennial gardens and very peaceful. It is on Rte. 63 just 10 minutes to UMass and also on the bus line. Price: $349,900. This was my dream home and I will be sorry to give it up."

Listed with Jacqueline Zuzgo of The Jones Group

Friday, September 14, 2007

People do this every day?

Wow, now that the Amherst Bulletin says I have a blog, I guess people will expect me to post something regularly!

Thanks to Stephanie O for passing along this brilliant link at The Onion. I had to post the link as soon as I read the first sentence! Before you post any critical comments, folks, know that I was one of the main people working to save Amherst Town Meeting in 2003.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Select Board Meeting 2007-09-10

Note to self: do not criticize colleagues as preface to a motion, no matter how innocuous the motion, if you expect a second rather than dead silence.

Yes, I knew that already. Yes, this Select Board is not motion-driven; we talk about agenda items and often no vote at all is taken, unlike some bodies that can't even discuss an item until a motion has been made (e.g., Town Meeting). If anything, the tradition at Select Board seems to be "don't make a motion til you're sure how the vote is going to go, and then someone who is voting with you -- or who is just tired of the discussion -- may second it."

There's something to be said for less formal rules. It's one reason so many people love Amherst, for one. Still, sometimes rules simplify things and take the "charge" out of a situation. That's why we're working on a two or three page "guide for people walking in the door to the Select Board meeting" -- so people know what to expect. "Transparency" is turning into a loaded word around local politics; it used to be my favorite theme, until I realized it was being used in the sense of, "if I don't like the outcome, it must not have been a transparent process."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Governor Deval Patrick at Amherst College

Saw Governor Deval Patrick speak at Amherst College as the keynote for the grand opening of their Center for Community Engagement yesterday. You can check out their official footage here.

Governor Patrick gave a great speech and then opened the floor to questions. He was inspiring, as always (how many Western Massachusetts folks could say they'd seen previous Governors speak four times in Western Massachusetts before they were a year into their term?!?). He also emphasized something a friend mentioned recently when we were bemoaning the state of Amherst's political scene: we need to get rid of cynicism in politics. That's a huge order, and while I can totally agree in the overall sense, it's incredibly hard to put into practice day after day (email after email, meeting after meeting...).

Leaving the Johnson Chapel, ran into several folks who agreed that it was terrific to be able to applaud sincerely for both the Governor and for Amherst College President Tony Marx. They are both good men. Not something I get to say often enough in everyday life.

Lincoln Avenue Speed Cushions

Select Board Meeting of Monday September 10, 2007 will include the soon-to-be-infamous Lincoln Avenue Speed Cushions.

ACTV usually provides live coverage on Channel 17 if you don't make it to the Town Room in Town Hall.

Community Preservation Act: Amherst's 1.5% surcharge

Thanks to Clare B. and Gavin A. for bringing this info about the Community Preservation Act across the Commonwealth to my attention.

Sunday Republican article
, Sunday September 2, 2007

Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston
, July 2007: The Massachusetts Community Preservation Act: Who Benefits, Who Pays?

See the Town website for information on Amherst's adoption of the Community Preservation Act; we were one of the first communities to do it.

Massachusetts Community Property Taxes 2000-2007

Thanks to Jim C. for bringing this great interactive map on MA property taxes to my attention.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Where oh where should I keep a blog?

I started a blog on my Select Board campaign site, Alisa for Amherst

What with one thing and another* I haven't made time to get it significantly updated. Have been enjoying other Amherst blogs (see Links to check out, to the right). Still thinking...

In case anyone does stumble across this: removing or defacing local political lawn signs is very very bad, in addition to illegal. Don't do it!

*and another:
-family visiting from NC
-school vacation week
-2" of water in basement
-encouraging people to support The Amherst Plan
-encouraging people to participate in Planning Amherst Together
-shifting gears from Amherst & Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees to Select Board