On December 2, 2018, Amherst changed its form of government from Town Meeting to Town Council and inaugurated its first 13 town councilors.
On December 12, 2019, Town Council President Lynn Greisemer and Town Manager Paul Bockelman presented the first State of the Town addresses (see here and here). They reported that the state of the town was strong and noted some of the Council’s most significant accomplishments: creating a quick fix for the Station Road bridge, permitting a low-income housing development on Northampton Road, passing ambitious town energy goals, and making plans to undertake four major capital projects (elementary schools, fire station, DPW building, and Jones Library).
In a subsequent interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Griesemer deemed the Council a work in progress, noting that it had struggled to get up to speed in its first year and had devoted considerable time to trying to figure out how to govern, with the councilors putting in many hours but not having as much to show for it as they had hoped.
Councilors and resident observers have frequently invoked the analogy that the council’s work was like “trying to build a plane while trying to fly it.” Several councilors have noted throughout the year that they were sometimes handcuffed by the new charter and had to contend with numerous inconsistencies and (presumably) unintended consequences and with challenges of governance that the charter commission had not anticipated. We’ll be covering those challenges explicitly in a future article.
The conclusion of the first year of government under the town council and new charter is an opportunity for all of us to consider what is working well and what can be improved — what changes are possible and what changes are necessary?
In November, we invited several residents to comment on the government’s first year and explore questions such as: what did the charter promise and how close are we to realizing that promise? how has the new government fared in addressing such issues as property taxes, budgets and expenditures, affordable housing, development and zoning, education, civic participation, accountability, transparency, diversity, respresentation, sustainability and democratic practices? What is going well and what needs to be addressed or changed in the future?
Our invitations went out to residents who had supported the charter and residents who had opposed it, people who had been civically active and people who had mostly observed from the sidelines, long-time residents and those who recently arrived. Our hope was to get past the old debates and divisions about the charter and to explore what work needs to be done moving forward.
We received the six contributions that follow under the heading “The Council at One Year.” All of them are by regular Indy contributors, unfortunately, and we invite additional responses to our query, which we will publish in the coming weeks. And we invite our readers to comment on these opinions and reflections and to begin a vibrant community discussion on our government and where we need to be going in the coming year.
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