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

The April 22 Amherst Town Council meeting began with a presentation by about 15 third-graders from Crocker Farm School and their teacher, Kate Perkins, presenting their Read Around Town project to raise money for Little Free Libraries  

to be placed at three bus stops in South Amherst. They are selling Great Changer note cards to raise money for the materials. The book boxes will have books for all ages and several languages and will be collected at the school.  The Five College Credit Union is also supporting the project. A motion to put the boxes at the bus stops passed unanimously (Steinberg and Schreiber absent). The presentation can be viewed here.  

A resident of Greenfield spoke during the public comment time about Jaskaran Singh, a 24-year-old computer science student who died after being struck by a car on North Pleasant Street on April 12.  Although the car stopped immediately and no charges have been filed, Mr. Rickoff felt the speed limit of 35 miles per hour on and around campus was dangerous.  He urged decreasing the speed limits to 25 mph on town streets and 20 mph on and around campus, as pedestrians are less likely to be seriously injured if struck at lower speeds.

Anthony Delaney, procurement officer for the town, presented an orientation on the Community Preservation Act (CPA).  As of 2015, 3 percent of all property taxes over $100,000 is devoted to CPA funding.  A local nine-member commission designates how this money should be spent among housing, recreation, historical preservation, and open space, and then refers its recommendations to the Finance Committee and Community Resource Committee to be evaluated and presented to the entire council, which may approve, reject, or reduce funding, but cannot increase funding.  Councilor Cathy Schoen will compile a spreadsheet of the financial implications of various CPA project proposals and acquisitions. The council voted unanimously to refer CPA proposals to the Finance and Community Resource committees.

David Ziomek, Amherst’s assistant town manager, presented an opportunity for the town to use a state grant awarded to the DPW to provide 50 percent of the funding to acquire 15 acres of land on the Pelham, Shutesbury border, which contains an important watershed area.  The initial paperwork is due April 24 and the purchase must be completed by June 30 to comply with the grant. The cost to the town would be $82,500. The vote in favor was unanimous (Steinberg absent) to allow the town manager and appropriate boards to enter into an agreement to acquire this land (see the small red rectangle on the map here.

At-large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke presented the proposal of the Government, Organization and Legislation Committee  regarding use of the Town Common, parking, roads, and sidewalks.

In general, short-term use will be approved by the town manager and long-term or permanent use by the council.  Policies for food trucks and construction vehicles were not spelled out and will be developed in the future. Councilor Dorothy Pam (District 3) asked for a list of the organizations that regularly post banners across South Pleasant Street. These are approved by the Town Manager.

The ad hoc Rules Committee presented a proposal for council liaisons to town committees, specifically noting which committees might especially benefit from having a liaison. It was unclear whether some committees should have councilors as members or observers. Fifteen committees were designated “high importance” and a priority for liaisons. Councilors will send their preferences for which committees for which they would like to be liaisons Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), and she will make the assignments.

Lynn Griesemer presented the Town Council Goals (not in the packet at this writing), which were developed at the council’s retreat during the winter. Each goal was assigned to a committee that was charged with fleshing it out and developing how it is to be achieved.

The contentious matter of how community members should be appointed to committees by the Outreach, Communications, Appointments Committee (OCA) came up again. At the previous council meeting, some councilors had stated they were uncomfortable with the secretiveness of the process. It was proposed at the previous meeting and restated at this one that only the chair of the OCA committee (Sarah Swartz, District 1) would interview candidates. She would  then present her summary of those interviews to the OCA committee, which would then present a slate of candidates for the full council to consider. Only at this last step would names of nominees be made public (apparently, only the names of the candidates on the slate, not those who applied but who were not selected).

Cathy Schoen (District 1) stated that she is uncomfortable with this process, noting that Northampton has a line on the application form stating clearly that the information on the form might be made public. Darcy Dumont (District 5), a member of the OCA, stated that she feels strongly that such an important policy  should be set by the entire council, not by the OCA alone. Dorothy Pam (District 3) agreed. Steve Schreiber (District 4) said that when the charter was created, it was meant to maximize transparency, which this policy does not seem to accomplish. Swartz explained that the reasoning behind this policy is to preserve applicants’ privacy. Evan Ross (District 4) stated that the OCA  has had many meetings to develop this policy and, therefore, the council should agree to it and give it a chance; he noted that it can always be modified later. No vote was taken and the matter was not discussed further. Interviews for positions on the planning board are set up for the last week in April. The controversy was subsequently covered in The Daily Hampshire Gazette and on MassLive .

Most of the rest of the meeting was pro forma with items being approved unanimously unless otherwise indicated below..

The regional school budget, regional school allocation formula, and funding for the middle school roof were all approved.

Arbor Month and Art Week  proclamations were approved.  A special thank you was given to Sarah Lacour, who will be stepping down as head of the Business Improvement District (BID) next month.  A Veterans of Foreign Wars citation was also approved.

The council voted to authorize the council president to enter an agreement with Melanson Heath of Greenfield to perform an audit of the town’s finances.

Requests for use of public ways and parking were approved for a conference at the Inn on Boltwood on May 7 and 8 and the Rotary Community Fair, May 23 to 27.

Minutes from the April 1, April 4, and April 13 meetings were approved, with Alisa Brewer (At-Large) and Sarah Swartz abstaining.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman reported on continued problems with noise and violations of licensing at Porta restaurant. The licensing board is meeting with the owners.

Members of the Energy and Climate Action Committee have been appointed and were announced.

Groff Park playground work is on schedule.

It is hoped that the Mill Street bridge will open soon.  

Work has begun on the FY 2020 budget.

The meeting ended with the council going into executive session at 10:15 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for May 6 at 6:30 in the Town Room of Town Hall.

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