PRESENT: Lynn Griesemer, Council President (District 2), Paul Bockelman, Town Manager, Julie Federman, Board of Health. All other councilors present remotely.

This is the Council’s second special meeting in a row. Public comment is required by the charter at all regular Council meetings. At the January 6 Council meeting, the Council decided that public comment would not be required at Special Council Meetings, so that the public would be prevented from commenting during the public group interviews for boards and committees.. This guideline was then applied to the two Special Council meetings on the novel coronavirus pandemic. Council President Lynn Griesemer stated that she was working with the Town IT department to develop means to facilitate public comment at future meetings of the Council. In the meantime, she encouraged residents who have comments or questions to email the council at

The meeting was called to order by Griesemer at 6:30 p.m. It then took another 15 minutes to get the technology in order so that other Councilors were able to hear, see, and participate in the meeting. The Council will meet every Monday at 6:30 for the near future. 

Griesemer presented a ten-minute summary on the state of the Town during this state of emergency. She noted the competent and dedicated staff as a special strength. Although there will be financial challenges from the ongoing shutdown of local businesses, she stated that the Council inherited a town in excellent financial health and with a tradition of careful borrowing and an excellent bond rating. We are well positioned to deal with what the future brings, she said. She noted that the Town has had to change the way Town services are provided and that we will still need to update our Master Plan and revise the Zoning Bylaw, and to reexamine the Capital Plan to meet the new circumstances.

Town Government Response to COVID-19
Bockelman and Federer provided a Powerpoint presentation on the state of the pandemic in Amherst. Bockelman announced that Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker had issued a “stay at home” order earlier that day. This means that all residents, except those working in essential services, should stay home. Essential services are listed in a seven-page document. The Amherst Chamber of Commerce is posting a list of businesses that are open and their hours.

All higher education campuses are closed to the public. As of the meeting on Monday, there were 777 covid-19 cases in Massachusetts , six in Hampshire County. There had been nine deaths statewide. (Look here or a daily update on case totals). 

In Amherst, the number of EMS, Fire Department, and Police Department calls is down. Police are patrolling downtown, checking on closed businesses. Bockelman has been discouraging people from calling the police to report about people who seem to be standing too close together. Unless there is a large party, police will not respond. 

Also still working during the emergency are dispatch, wastewater and water treatment personnel, IT workers, maintenance staff, and the Department of Public Works. Some outdoor projects, such as a multi-use path on East Hadley Road, are continuing for now. Four firefighters from the student force are currently being oriented. 

Most committee meetings have been canceled until April 3. (OCA is scheduled to meet on Monday, March 30 and that meeting is scheduled to be virtual.. There is a new section of the Town website devoted to COVID-19. It is updated daily. The town is working on an online community forum.

Department of Health Recommendations
Federman stressed the need for isolation and quarantine, and limiting gatherings to less than 10 people. If someone is ill but not severely, they need to isolate themselves in a room, preferably with a private bathroom, for at least 7 days or until fever-free for 72 hours. Quarantine involves similar precautions, for a person who has been exposed to someone with Covid-19 but is not ill. Quarantine lasts 14 days. 

Massachusetts is in the acceleration phase of the illness, with those ages 40–49 being the most likely to contract the disease but with the disease impacting people of all ages. With the end of spring break and the return of 8,000 UMass students living off campus, 609 students living on campus, and 200-plus students returning to Amherst College, Amherst can expect an increase in the disease over the next few weeks. 

State of the Schools
Amherst Regional School Superintendent Mike Morris reported on the state of the schools. Schools were closed on March 13 and will not open before April 7. (Note: since this meeting, Governor Baker has announced that schools in Massachusetts will remain closed until at least May 4). The school system has its own web page to keep students and parents up-to-date on the School Department’s response to the emergency.

All students in grades 7–12 have chromebooks and 97 chromebooks were distributed to those in grades 3-6 who needed them. The district is still trying to figure out how to get internet service to those who do not have access. The school system is continuing to send out its weekly newsletter, and teachers and principals are connecting to students and families by video. The school system is cooperating with UMass to distribute meals at various locations in town.

Senior Center
With the Senior Center closed, Director Mary Beth Ogulewicz and her staff have been creative in finding ways to maintain services. Volunteers are needed to package and deliver food. Also, she is establishing a phone check-in so that volunteers can call seniors to see how they are doing and if they need anything. Nurse Karen Ranen is staffing a health advice line for six hours per week. Volunteers can call Ogulewicz at 259-3114 or fill out a form online. 

Craig’s Doors Shelter
Volunteers are also needed for the Craig’s Doors homeless shelter to help set up the cots and screen guests for possible illness. Contact 

There are arrangements for isolation and quarantine if any guests at Craig’s Doors contract coronavirus.

Amherst’s State of Emergency
The councilors voted unanimously to ratify the state of emergency invoked by the Town Manager. This would potentially qualify the Town for state and local aid and some insurance coverage. 

Ordinarily, the Town would be working on next year’s budget at this time. Because of the unprecedented situation and the uncertainty of Town revenues, such as hotel and restaurant tax, parking revenues, and sewer fees, the Council voted unanimously to delay all budget deadlines by one month. Proposed library and school budgets need to be presented to the Town Manager on May 1, instead of April 1. The Town Manager will then bring the budget to the Council on June 1.

Meetings for all Town committees and boards are delayed until April. Tentative meeting dates are:

Community Resource Committee, April 8

Finance Committee, April 7

Governance Organization and Legislation Committee, April 8

Outreach, Communication and Appointments Committee (OCA), March 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Town Services and Outreach Committee, April 6 at 9:30 a.m.

Check the town calendar for final dates, times, and locations.

Since committees have not met for the past two weeks, the only committee report at this meeting was from Evan Ross (District 4), chair of OCA. He stated that OCA would be developing interview questions for the vacant positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals in consultation with outgoing ZBA chair Mark Parent.

Potential interview questions for the open position on the School Committee were compiled into a document. Several Councilors felt that the 16 questions were too many, and Alisa Brewer (at large) felt the question about the dual language program at Fort River Elementary School was too specific. Griesemer will work with the School Committee chair to develop a final list of questions for the April 14 interviews.

The meeting adjourned at 9:03 p.m.

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  1. I don’t mean to nitpick, however, I would like to kindly advise everyone reading this article of the fact that Governor Baker has issued a stay at home advisory. This article claims that Governor Baker issued a stay at home order. I understand that this was probably just a simple mistake or misunderstanding. However, in a time of crisis, and with so many inaccurate, untrue statements being made by the president. I felt it is my, and everyone‘s duty to clarify for the public and all Indy readers what is accurate and what is not. So to be clear Governor Baker issued a stay at home advisory, not a stay at home order. This means that although everyone is advised by professionals, and elected officials, including the governor, to stay at home as much as possible. No one has to stay home, there is no order to do so. No one will be warned, fined or punished in any way if one leaves their home. Everyone is still allowed the freedom to go out of their house. Although all non essential businesses are closed, everyone if still welcome to go into the community as much as they please. However, if you go into the community, it is required that you practice social distancing guidelines. It is also required that no one gathers with more than ten people indoors. If the article could be corrected reader clarity that would be appreciated. On a closing note, please keep reading the Amherst Indy as they work hard every day to get you updated info on town affairs, climate change, Covid-19, and much, much more awesome stuff.

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