Amherst Town Council Meeting, Town Room, Town Hall, Amherst. Photo: Maura Keene

by Maura Keene

When the March 4, 2019 Town Council Meeting convened, it was standing room only in the Town Room. Many constituents had come to support the three proclamations and commendations on the agenda.

Resident’s Advisory Committee

Town Manager, Paul Bockelman introduced the three members of the new Residents’ Advisory Committee who will give him advice on appointments to town committees. They are former Selectwoman Connie Kruger, former Town Meeting Moderator Jim Pistrang, and Financial Consultant Keisha Dennis, who could not attend.

Tibet Day Resolution: Passed

Several audience members spoke about the upcoming annual celebration of Tibet Day on March 10, 2019, which commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the occupation of Tibet by China, the Dalai Lama’s flight to India, and the deaths of 1.2 million Tibetans. The commemoration includes a flag raising in Amherst and a walk to Northampton. U.S. Representative Jim McGovern sponsored a bill in Congress in support of Tibetan freedom. The Council passed a proclamation recognizing Tibet Day  12-0 with at-large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke abstaining.

Resolution to Change the State Seal: Passed

Amherst resident Elaine Kenseth submitted a resolution in support of redesigning the state flag and seal, which depicts a Native American with an arm holding a sword above him. The Latin motto translates as, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”  The pending state legislation was introduced by Sen. Jo Comerford, and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, also D-Northampton. David Detmold of Montague said that third graders in Massachusetts study the state flag, and questioned whether the existing symbols send an appropriate message. Northampton approved the measure last week and Hadley will vote in May. The Council passed the resolution  10-0, with 3 abstentions (Hanneke, Alisa Brewer, and George Ryan). Mr. Ryan said his reason for abstaining was that he had not gotten input from his constituents.

Resolution to Support Sanctuary for Lucio Perez: Passed

Another resolution of support concerned providing sanctuary for Lucio Perez in the First Congregational Church. According to First Congregational Church Reverend Vicki Kemper, officials at the state Building Code Appeals Board told the church that they considered the church to be providing “permanent” shelter and thus must make improvements that include a private handicapped bathroom, which could cost $75,000.  Kemper stated that the church has no intention to become a permanent sanctuary, and hoped Perez would be able to return to his home and family, without being deported.

The church was seeking a nine-month extension of the temporary sanctuary status. Bockelman said the church had accommodated all requests from the town regarding the safety of Perez’s quarters. State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst,  said she has sponsored legislation supporting the designation of houses of worship as temporary shelters so as not to discourage them from providing sanctuary.  The resolution passed 13-0.

Public Comment

Robert Kusner spoke in support of town funding for human services, which he said has not been adequately budgeted for many years.

Board of License Commissioners Introduced

Bockelman introduced the newly appointed Board of License Commissioners: Gaston de los Reyes (chair), Douglas Slaughter, Marian Walker, Robert Paul Musgrave, and Hallie Hughes (not present). The board will meet on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 2 p.m. regarding liquor licenses, short-term rentals (such as AirBnB), Sunday alcohol service, and related items. If public hearings are necessary, they will be held at times more convenient for public participation.

PVTA Cuts to Amherst Bus Routes

Slaughter, who serves on the Transportation Advisory Committee, explained to the council that some PVTA bus service is being cut because of new cuts in state funding.  The state has level funded the PVTA for the last two years. After several councilors expressed concerns about workers not being able to get home after work, especially in the summer and school breaks, Slaughter said the PVTA works hard to minimize the number of riders and businesses affected by service cuts.  In a brief public comment, Kusner proposed  a plan to keep evening service to outlying areas of town in the summer at lower cost than estimated.  Town Meeting previously appropriated additional funding for general transportation, with the goal that it would be spent on keeping routes open, Kusner said.

Ad Hoc Community Resources Committee, “Sustainability” Nixed from Charges

The community resources committee presented a proposal for a permanent committee, composed of five councilors serving one-year terms.  The committee would advise the council on matters including economic vitality, land use, housing, zoning, public ways, and the master plan, and coordinate with committees. A proposal to add “sustainability” to the committee’s charge was defeated 6-6-1. Brewer, Darcy DuMont, Steve Schreiber, Evan Ross, Shalini Bahl-Milne, and Andy Steinberg voting for adding “sustainability”; and Pat DeAngelis abstained. The charge was referred to the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) for finalization.

Finance Committee Update

Steinberg, who chairs the Finance Committee, said that Amherst’s budget for schools must be finalized before the general budget because the other three towns in the regional school district  (Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury) will vote on their budgets at May town meetings.  An additional Town Council meeting was set for April 29 to consider the school budget. At a four-towns meeting on March 2, a formula for regional school assessment for the next two years was agreed upon. It fis based on a combination of  the five-year average minimum enrollments and contributions from of each town.

The Finance Committee will meet twice each week in May to develop the town’s budget with input from various departments. The entire council will approve the budget in June.

Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee (OCA) Update

Committee Chairperson Sara Swartz said she is working with the town attorney and state agencies to create a “decision tree” for citizen appointments to town committees. To facilitate outreach, the OCA formed a subcommittee to work with the town’s community participation officers.

Government, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) Update

GOL is working on a template for the charges of town committees and reviewing whether there are duplications in the work being done by town committees. Alisa Brewer and Cathy Schoen pointed out that it is not in the charge of the GOL to review town committees. This matter will be discussed at a later time.

Town Manager Update

Bockelman reported:

  • The celebration formerly known as the “Blarney Blowout” was relatively peaceful. However, there was a sudden loss of water pressure the same evening due to an overflow valve on a town well malfunctioning. The matter was fixed in short order.
  • The town is still waiting for feedback from the state on the temporary bridge for Station Road.
  • A delegation from Amherst’s sister city of Kangasaki, Japan was set to arrive on March 24, and a welcoming ceremony was planned.
  • There have been many questions about snow emergencies, Bockelman said, adding that fundamentally, if it is going to snow, cars should not be parked on streets. Notices are posted on the town website.
  • A “Cuppa Joe” event  was set for March 15 at  Atkins market in South Amherst..


Councilor Lynn Griesemer asked that an ad hoc sub-committee be formed to help formulate the council’s goals. Councilors Cathy Schoen, along with Swartz, Ryan, and De Angelis were appointed to the committee, with Griesemer.

Bahl-Milne said she is working on a statement of the council’s values, and that the Rules Committee will discuss it, to present as a preface to Council rules now being drafted.  Input was requested.

Councilor Dorothy Pam said she was the only council member  to attend the March 4 Fort River School Building Committee meeting, and urged all to become well-informed about the committee’s work.  A March 18 council meeting was slated to include a  presentation about an upcoming town application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for school renovation or construction funds.

The meeting adjourned at 10: 35 p.m..

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