This letter appeared in the Amherst Bulletin on July 22, 2021
In his Amherst Bulletin column, “Let Amherst Town Council govern as it was elected to do,” July 9, Raymond La Raja rebuts an earlier article entitled, “Town Council and its committees,” penned by Meg Gage and Michael Greenbaum.
In his rebuttal, Professor La Raja contends that Amherst’s Town Council should not be impeded from implementing the policies and procedures it was elected to do. The only check and balance needed is the ballot box — if residents object to Council actions, they can vote members out.
It should be noted that this is not the premise upon which our representative democracy is based. The three separate and co-equal branches of government were established precisely to provide a check on the powers of the others. Elected officials are not unencumbered to do whatever they choose to do until the next election.
In his column, La Raja characterizes as “obstructionist” those Amherst residents who signed the voter veto petition to place the library appropriation on the ballot. La Raja states: “however well-intentioned, this [voter veto] is hardball obstruction of the democratic process.”
How is it obstructionist for voters to avail themselves of a Town Charter provision specifically incorporated in that document by the duly elected Town Council to which La Raja insists we defer until the next election?
For the record, I did not sign the voter veto petition. However, it must be pointed out that representative government is not undermined or obstructed when voters avail themselves of a legally sanctioned vehicle for having their voices heard — especially, in this instance, when the voter veto option itself was incorporated into the Town Charter by the very same council La Raja insists is doing what the majority of Amherst voters elected it to do.
With all due respect to La Raja, you can’t have it both ways — defer to the Council until the next election; but don’t be obstructionist by availing yourselves of the options which that duly elected Council created for voters to express disagreement with Council decisions.
Jennifer Taub is a former Town Meeting member, and Chair of the Local Historic District Commission