The town council’s Outreach, Communications and Appointments (OCA) subcommittee and Town Manager Paul Bockelman announced their nominations to the Ranked Choice Voting Commission (RCV), Participatory Budgeting Commission (PBC), and Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission (LSSE). Nominations were forwarded to the town clerk in separate memos on May 20. The town council and town manager are joint appointing authorities for RCV and PBC. The town manager is the sole appointing authority to LSSE.
Nominated by OCA to the Ranked Choice Voting Commission (RCV) are Tanya Leise,
Jesse Crafts-Finch, and John Bryan. Nominated by the town manager are Ellen Lindsay, Carroll (Rob) Robertson, and Peggy Shannon.
These appointments, if approved by the full town council, will be effective through September 1, 2020 or for “such additional time as necessary to complete the charge outlined in the town charter”.
Nominationed by OCA to the Participatory Budgeting Commission (PBC) are Meg Gage and Elizabeth Larson. Nominated by the town manager are John Fenske and John Page.
These appointments, if approved by the full town council, will be effective through Dec 1, 2020 or for “such additional time as necessary to complete the charge outlined in the town charter.
Nominated by the town manager to the LSSE Commission are: Stephanie Jackson, Victor Nunez –Ortiz, and Sarah Marshall (three-year terms), as well as Rebekah Demling and Meg Rosa (two-year terms).
The town council will vote on these nominations at its meeting of June 3. The OCA nominees to RCV and PBC were forwarded by a unanimous (5-0 vote). OCA voted 5-0 to endorse the town manager’s nominees to LSSE.
The charge for the RCV can be found here.
The charge for the PBC can be found here.
Nine candidates (for six positions) were interviewed for the RCV. . Four candidates (for five positions) were interviewed for the PBC . OCA interview-designee for the PBC nominations George Ryan described all four of the applicants to PBC as strong. The size of the pool for LSSE has been deemed confidential by the town manager, who is the appointing authority for that body.
Candidates submitted CAFs to town hall. CAFs for RCV and PBC were then distributed to the entire town council. (Note: when the town manager is the sole appointing authority, CAFs can only be shared with people participating in the interviews.) All candidates were offered an interview. RCV candidates were interviewed by District 4 Councilor and OCA interview designee Evan Ross, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, and Town Clerk Margaret Nartowicz. PCB candidates were interviewed by District 3 Councilor George Ryan, Bockelman, Town Comptroller Sonia Aldrich, and an unspecified member of the Residents Advisory Committee. LSSE candidates were interviewed by Barbara Bilz (LSSE director), Meg Rosa (LSSE Commission chair), Jim Pistrang (representing the Residents Advisory Committee), and Bockelman.
Criteria for selection were spelled out in the appointing memos (see below).
There was no deliberation on the part of OCA concerning the candidates themselves, but there was substantial discussion about the process. Ross noted that OCA has the option to deem the pool of candidates insufficient, to do another call for applicants, and to postpone conducting interviews and making nominations until it decides that there are a sufficient number of candidates. He did not recommend doing so at this time because of time constraints and because he felt confidence in the “high quality” of applicants who had already applied, but he asked OCA to consider how to decide whether a pool is sufficient? He also offered the opinion that the timeline for receiving CAFs and scheduling interviews is too tight, and said that he saw the CAFs only forty-eight hours before the already-scheduled interviews. He questioned whether OCA has enough information to make recommendations, a potential problem that was strongly voiced in the context of making appointments to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. The town manager has been asked to forward CAFs more expeditiously. Discussions about access to candidate information are in process between the town manager and OCA chair Sarah Swartz.
Several councilors agreed that screening and nominating procedures should be revised after this season of nominations. A full description of the process for OCA can be found here and in the individual appointment memos.
The town manager’s appointment memos can be found here.
Profiles of the Nominees
Ranked Choice Voting Commission
John Bryan is a recently retired professional writer and UMass Vice Provost for Academic Personnel. His interest in the commission stems from his disappointment over increasing political polarization and the effects of “spoiler candidates”. John identified many of the communication challenges involved with implementing ranked-choice voting, for which his background as a professional writer would be useful, he believes. John has also worked as an election worker, and offered comments on necessary election worker training, ballot design, and ballot counting considerations necessary for ranked-choice voting to be successful.
Jesse Crafts-Finch is a software developer who is connected with Voter Choice MA and who has served as an election volunteer. He emphasized that his experience with software and as a businessperson gives him experience working with teams of people and provides him with an understanding of the need to clearly convey technical information to people, both of which would be useful on the commission. Jesse also showed consideration of the technical aspects of ranked-choice voting implementation, including consideration of the costs to purchase new voting machines.
Tanya Leise is a professor at Amherst College in the Mathematics and Statistics Department, where she teaches a course on the mathematics of voting in elections. She has served as an adviser to Amherst College in their use of ranked-choice voting to select a new mascot. Her priority is making sure that elections result in victors who are representative of the community, and she emphasized the importance of minority voices being heard. Tanya acknowledged the difficulty of implementing ranked-choice voting when multiple candidates are elected, and is willing to dig in and do the background research required. Tanya is on sabbatical next year, which she says will allow time for her to serve on the commission.
Ellen Lindsey became interested in Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) when Amherst College used the process to select the Mammoth as its new mascot. She is enthusiastic about having a town council and wants to contribute. She feels that RCV presents an excellent opportunity to unite Amherst residents. She has experience in communications and software marketing, and has worked as an election worker, where she says she has gained first-hand knowledge of the needs of voters.
Carroll (Rob) Robertson has lived in Amherst for nearly twenty years and has done nothing for the community but vote and pay taxes, he says! He is inspired and invigorated by the recent change in government, and wants to give back to the community. He is a volunteer with Better Angels, a non-profit that seeks to bring liberals and conservatives together to learn from each other and work together on an ongoing basis in their communities. The effort requires thoughtful listening, a practice he intends to bring to his service on the commission.
Peggy Shannon has taught math at Greenfield Community College for many years and uses RCV to engage students in the mathematical process. She has lived in Amherst many years, but feels she had not found “the right way in”. She has also lived in Cambridge, which now uses a version of RCV, and is familiar with the complexity and controversy such a voting system can bring, but believes that RCV is preferable to a single-choice system, and is interested in putting theory into practice.
Participatory Budgeting Commission
John Fenske has been a resident of Amherst for the past twenty years. He has a doctorate in political science and has had a long career in the financial services industry. He believes he can help the commission deliberate and devise a solid proposal for consideration by the town council.
Meg Gage was a member of Amherst’s charter commission, a member of Town Meeting from 1989 to 2018, and a member of the Town Meeting Advisory Committee. She possesses a breadth of experience, knowledge, and institutional memory concerning the town and town affairs. She has conducted extensive research into participatory budgeting, and is deeply committed to broadening citizen participation in town government. She expressed a particular desire to involve Amherst’s young people, including middle school and high school students, in town governance. Although she is passionate about participatory budgeting, she responded, when asked, that she is open to the possibility that it might not be appropriate in Amherst.
Elizabeth (Liz) Larson brings a number of skills and life experiences that seem particularly relevant to this body. Her work currently as the bookkeeper for Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) and her volunteer service as treasurer for a number of political campaigns as well as for the Amherst Parent Guardian Organization give her experience working with numbers and budgeting processes. During the interview, she emphasized that she wants to help make Amherst town government more “democratic” and “accessible to the broader public”, which fit the goals of participatory budgeting. She has begun to do research into communities that have adopted participatory budgeting, and has shown an awareness of the challenges the commission will face in balancing the overall good of the town and the interests of particular advocacy groups.
John Page is a native of Amherst and went to Amherst schools, serving as president of his Amherst-Pelham Regional High School class. While at UMass, he served in student government and on the Campus Physical Planning Committee, which is charged with developing the university’s master plan. He has spoken about the town’s major capital projects and is eager to learn more.
Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission
Stephanie Jackson is a self-described “stay-at-home mom” looking for more involvement in the community. She said that with the newly elected town council, this is an exciting time to get involved. She brings many ideas for how the town can better serve families with small children.
Victor Nunez-Ortiz and his family have been active members of LSSE’s various programs for years. He serves on the board of Amherst Youth Soccer. He has had extensive involvement in many aspects of the town, including being an advocate for affordable housing and in the veterans’ community.
Sarah Marshall has served on the LSSE Commission since 2017.
Rebekah Demling has served on the LSSE Commission since 2015.
Meg Rosa has served on the LSSE Commission since 2015 and is its current chairperson.