Editor’s note: This letter was sent to all Amherst Town Councilors.
I am writing to submit a public comment in regards to the Community Safety Committee,
I commend the Town for establishing this committee and seeking majority BIPOC membership. I strongly recommend that the Town provide a stipend to community members that ultimately step up to do this important work. From my work on The Energy and Climate Action Committee I know first-hand how much time is required to fully engage in committee work, and the charge for this committee is extremely ambitious. Members will be asked to study complex issues, investigate options, and ultimately present recommendations on a very aggressive timeline that will need to be thoughtfully and seriously considered by the Town Manager. Seeking community members who have not been involved with town government before will also have a learning curve on things like open meeting laws which I can also say from experience, is not easy! Finally, coming together as a committee and figuring out how to work together can be challenging in normal times and will be much more difficult in a virtual environment.
I understand that there may be concerns that offering stipends to these committee members would be unfair to other committees. This is an extremely important and time-sensitive committee that will not succeed without including voices from community members who may not be able to, or interested in, providing their time and experiences for free. Recognizing this is a small step towards the ultimate goal of racial equity – people of color should not be required to do free work, particularly not to solve issues that are preventing our community from being equitable.
Since I began engaging in local government a few years ago I admit to being pretty shocked that so much important work is done by community members at little or typically, no pay. I consider you all as perfect examples of this as I know how hard you work with only minimal compensation. I am sure there is some interesting history there, if I had to guess, stemming from the fact that white property owners saw the monetary benefit of this unpaid work to their businesses and family. What I know is true is that this outdated approach to local government sets us up to fail at any attempt of diverse and equitable representation – not just by race but also age, family responsibilities, job flexibility, and importantly, social-economic status. I hope someone is working on this at a higher level of government and that over time we can come up with a better system. However, let’s not let the status quo stop us from doing what we know is right, now. We need to be constantly questioning everything that has always been done a certain way – for racial justice, climate change, and other systemic problems in our society. I am just beginning this journey myself.
Laura Draucker is a resident of Amherst’s District 2, and is Chair of the Town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee