Friday, April 28, 2006

Prelude of things to come

Just got back from the Precinct Forum for discussing the warrant articles. If this was an 18-person microcosm of Town Meeting, then that does not bode well.

On the one hand, I admire that this handful of people turned out for the meeting. On the other hand, the level of preparedness was alarming. Instead of having questions about the articles clarified, some people were clearly being introduced to the articles for the very first time. Worse though was the amount of time taken up by non-germane discussion. I don't mean the small talk and chit-chat -- I mean discussion about the topics of the articles, but not the terms of the articles. "Why don't they just ..." "I think we should ..." "Instead, why can't we ..." OK folks, all very interesting, but that's not what this is about.

It was a tiny but vivid lesson in why TM takes sooo much time.

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Opinions from other sources

Lots of good stuff in the Bulletin this week. The Amherst Center column by Andy Churchill, Clare Bertrand and Baer Tierkel is a welcome addition to the local commentary. They are taking a broad and thoughtful approach in considering where we are as a town, and where we're going. Last month's version of the column is here.

Also inclusive and forward-thinking is the master planning process, which Alan Root talks about here. A reception to kick off the master plan will be held on Tuesday, May 2nd at 7:00 at Town Hall.

Bob Rivard's letter (click and scroll down) on broadening the tax base called to mind this really interesting article I saw on Slate a while back, about how much zoning expenses affect housing prices.

You do have to register for online access to Bulletin stuff, but not Slate.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Orientation and warrant review

Just returned from New Member Orientation and the Warrant Review Meeting. Both were great – interesting and informative. (I’m going to need a new phrase – maybe “informative and interesting?”) Town Meeting Handbooks were available – more homework, to go along with the rest of my TM study and prep.

Harrison Gregg, Town Moderator, gave some historical background on TM – it is a tradition older than our country. He described the various responsibilities of the assembly: appropriating money, passing town bylaws (zoning being the most vital,) and various legal things such as agreeing to certain banking relationships. He also talked about the offering of opinions and solicitations to the state and federal legislatures. I’m not actually sure if he was calling these a responsibility of TM, or just an Amherst tradition. I’ll have to check the handbook. If it turns out that these “Let the record show that we oppose the suffering in Elbonia” articles are more than just the symbolic time-wasters I have always regarded them to be, then I shall humbly reconsider my opinion.

Then he got into the nitty-gritty of procedural issues – how the introduction, discussion and voting on articles proceeds. He also talked about the ordering of the articles and how they’ll be addressed – first are the “housekeeping” issues, then the petitions, then the zoning articles, and finally, all the budget stuff.

There were about 25 people there for the orientation part. The only thing not touched on that I wanted to know was the whole seating thing. I’ve heard the stories about some helpless newbie venturing into TM for the first time, innocently sitting down, only to be hollered at by a TM lifer who has sat in that exact seat for 30 years. Truth or fiction? I don’t know . . .

The orientation merged into the warrant review. Maybe 25 additional people showed up for that. I’m not sure if Alice Carlozzi’s Finance Committee/budget article discussion was technically part of the orientation or the review, but anyway, she did a very thorough job of describing the different components of the budget articles (you don’t want me to list them all) and gave an overview of what they mean and where they come from.

We then got an overview of most of the other articles: Aaron Hayden, Planning Board chair, addressed the articles that board has sponsored; Harrison explained the Community Preservation Act and gave the gist of that committee’s (CPAC’s) articles. Then came the Petition articles: Carol Gray addressed the article to rezone the area of South East Street to prevent the condos; Anne Awad dealt with the Select Board articles; Irvin Rhodes introduced his Special Municipal Employee Status article; Elaine Brighty discussed the Regional School District Agreement article; an unidentified person spoke about the Universal Health Care article, and I think that was it. Not all the articles were addressed, but most were.

Definitely helpful and informative. I have much to study before Monday.

If you find this recap riveting, you won’t want to miss the broadcast on ACTV.

I’ll be giving my initial opinions on the various articles in the next couple of days. But meanwhile, please weigh in on any you feel strongly about, by comment or e-mail. Not just Precinct 9-ers – anyone with a thoughtful, informed opinion.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Amherst by bus

Went on the bus tour this afternoon. Attendance was around 25-30, I would say – I should have counted. We checked out six sites related to warrant articles: Cherry Hill Golf Course (Article 39); Keet House (Article 32); Cushman Market (Article 11); the corner of College & South East Streets (Article 21); South East Street east of Mill Lane (Article 22); and the Larkspur Drive – Research Drive area (Article 23.) We also paused at two locations from recent past TM warrants – the North Amherst Community Farm on Pine Street, and the Kimball House on North East Street.

Overall, the tour was interesting and informative. Mary Wentworth did a good job of describing the article relevant to each site, without being partisan. When folks had questions, there were plenty of knowledgeable people on board to fill in details.

I was impressed by the neutrality of the information – until we got to the South East Street location for Article 22. This is where Scott Nielsen is looking to develop condos, and the neighbors are trying to change the land’s zoning to prevent that from happening. Here our bus was met by a group of those neighbors. There was some attempt to keep things neutral – people would chime in “No advocating!” – but it didn’t feel right.

Similarly, at the final location – the edge of the Amherst Woods area, an example of where Article 23 is seeking to fix the Professional Research Park zoning details to actually allow businesses to function there – the situation was introduced and described to us by one of the opposing neighbors (a TM member, who was on the bus, as was one of the neighbors from Article 22.) Again, it just didn’t feel right. The tour was an introduction to the locations. It wasn’t a public hearing on the issues. If it were a public hearing, all sides would be represented.

So I could have done without that part, but otherwise I thought it was a great idea and a worthwhile trip.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The warrant

The Town Meeting warrant is now available on the town's web site. Click here for the link in html, or here for pdf. (The pdf version is easier if you want to print it. You do need Adobe's reader for pdf files, which most people have on their computers already. If you don't have it, you can download it here. You probably already have it, so try the pdf link before downloading the program.)

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Preparation begins

Got a terrific and informative packet from the Town Clerk’s office the other day. It includes preliminary warrant information, various opinion sheets related to certain warrant articles, an array of meeting dates for warrant discussions, a flier for a comprehensive planning committee reception (May 2nd, 7-9 p.m. at Town Hall,) and best of all, info on a bus tour arranged for TM members to check out various locations relevant to the warrant articles. What a great idea! This was created by the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee and will take interested members to places like the Cherry Hill Golf Course, the Cushman Store, Strawberry Fields and proposed preservation sites. The bus tour will be Saturday, April 22nd, and I’m all signed up.

Also in the packet is a nomination form for spots on the TM Coordinating Committee. According to the document, the TMCC's purpose in part: “shall be to provide continuing leadership and organization to Town Meeting and to extend outreach to the community on behalf of Town Meeting.” I may need to nominate myself. This definitely sounds like my kind of committee.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Results now available online

The Town Clerk's office has put detailed unofficial election results online this morning. You can access them here.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Unofficial result --Yes!

Just got back from checking out the unofficial results posted outside the Town Clerk's office at Town Hall. Not sure what has to happen before the results are official, but at this point, I am listed as having the 5th highest vote total of the candidates, with the top 8 winning seats. Hooray!

Thanks to everyone who voted for me! I am very excited to serve Precinct 9 at Town Meeting. Please check back regularly for updates to my blog, particularly once TM starts up May 1st.

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So did I win?

I have no idea. As of Wednesday morning, there are no TM results on the town's web site. Last night's "live results show" on ACTV inexplicably never even mentioned the town meeting races. I guess we may just have to wait until today's Gazette. Alas.

Many thanks to everyone who stopped to chat with me, encourage me, or pass along kind thoughts yesterday outside of Wildwood.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

How I will vote in the election and why

Select Board: Blank. To vote is to say in effect “I support,” and I cannot support either candidate. For more on my opinions about the current Select Board, read my earlier posts.

School Committee: Elaine Brighty and Stephanie Gelfan. With these votes, I am supporting both the knowledge that comes with experience, and fresh perspective with new ideas. I would be most happy to have all three women on the School Committee, but as there are only two open slots, my votes will be thus. Also, I was impressed with Stephanie Gelfan’s enthusiastic campaigning, including her brochures and signs.

Amherst Housing Authority: Jean Haggerty. She is an organizer and a community- builder and I think she will be a dynamic force on the AHA.

Unopposed races: I will vote for all of these candidates.

Non-binding referendum questions: I will leave them all blank. I am alarmed that our Select Board believes that it can draw any kind of actionable conclusions from these results. The questions are so broad and simplistic as to be meaningless. And I fear that any majority “yes” vote will be treated by the Select Board as “The people have spoken,” while any majority “no” vote will get “Too bad. We told you it was non-binding.” These questions don’t belong on this ballot and I think that the best response is to pretend they are not there.

Town Meeting: I am voting for myself, and I hope you will vote for me as well.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Knock knock

I knocked on doors across about half of precinct 9 today, and I met so many great people. Thanks to those of you who were so kind and interested and are now stopping by this site! And to those who weren’t home, but received my flier, thank you also for checking this out. I do hope you like what you see, and that you will vote for me on Tuesday.

Tomorrow I hope to make my way around the rest of the precinct. Getting out and meeting so many people like this is really a terrific experience.

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