Council Reviews Community Safety Committee Recommendations

Demonstration on The Amherst Common In support of Black LIves, June 2020. Photo: Art Keene


Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council, November 8, 2021 – Part 1

By Maura Keene

This is the first part of a report on the almost six-hour Council meeting on November 8, 2021. The second part may be viewed at INDY LINK. The meeting was conducted over Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here. The last 10 minutes of the recording were lost.

Present
All Councilors in attendance.

Staff: Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Clerk of the Council Athena O’Keeffe.

Highlights

  • Financial indicators meeting set for 6 p.m. on November 15, prior to public forum on the budget.
  • African Heritage Reparations Assembly gives its first report to the council.
  • Implementation matrix for Community Safety Working Group initiatives presented.
  • Use of parking spaces and sidewalks in front of 26 Spring Street extended until December 2022.
  • Public mural project proposed for East Street Common.
  • Presentation of Surveillance Technology Bylaw.

Announcements

Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) announced that Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) and Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) have worked with UMass to create an online tool for understanding civic engagement in the digital age. The site launched this week at

www.Amherstpublicinfrasture.org.

The Council also acknowledged the 50th anniversary of Hampshire College and 200th anniversary of Amherst College. 

The November 15 Council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. with a discussion of financial indicators with the School Committee and Jones Library Trustees, followed by a public forum on the budget and then the regular council meeting. 

Public Comment
David Graham spoke passionately in support of public safety.  He said that the Amherst Fire Department (AFD) is greatly understaffed. He said the AFD provides emergency coverage to 78,000 people in the towns of Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury. He added that Northampton has almost twice as many staff for a similar number of calls and a smaller coverage area. He cited urgent needs for equipment, an updated fire station, and more personnel.

Ninety-four year old Elsie Federman and several members of her family spoke of the three water main breaks under the road in front of her Logtown Road house. Repairing these breaks has cost her $18,000. She said she has no control over the traffic on the road, which includes heavy trucks. Her son David Federman said it is reasonable for landowners to pay for repairs on their property, but not on public property. Northampton does cover these expenses.

Initial Report Of The African Heritage Reparations Assembly
The AHRA has been meeting weekly since September. Co-chairs Jamileh Jemison and Michele Miller reported on their progress to align with the town’s budget cycle and support funding of the proposed projects. The Assembly recommended funding of reparations for Amherst’s residents of African heritage through cannabis revenue, free cash, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and/or grants from Community Development Block Grants and Community Preservation Act funds. They stated that the committee needs a census of the town’s Black residents and a body to oversee disbursement of funds to those who have been harmed by centuries of injustices. The initial allocation of $200,000 would be transferred to the AHRA from free cash this month if approved by a vote of the council scheduled for November 22.

Dorothy Pam (District 3) was interested in how the committee will do the census, considering issues of confidentiality and the challenge of effectively reaching people of color in Amherst. Miller said the census is still in the planning stages and the committee would like to work with a professional organization, such as the Donahue Institute.

Initiatives Of The Community Safety Working Group
The CSWG presented their final report to the Council at the October 25 meeting. The report included several initiatives for the town to accomplish. Shortly before the November 8 meeting, Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) placed an implementation matrix that she had constructed with Town Manager Paul Bockelman in the meeting packet. The five-page plan begins with creation of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) to continue the work of the CSWG and a Resident Oversight Board (ROB) to oversee the actions of the Amherst Police Department in relation to the BIPOC community. Because the document was received so late, the council did not vote on it at this meeting. Bockelman has put out a call for volunteers to serve on the CSSJC and is waiting for a legal opinion on several aspects of ROB. 

Pam said she felt that, since the material was received too late for the council to adequately study it, this should not count as a discussion. Hanneke said she does not think Amherst Police Department (APD) policies should be part of the general bylaws as proposed on the matrix and wanted an attorney to review the possible use of unarmed responders for traffic stops. She also thought that creating an antiracist culture in the APD was in the purview of the Town Manager, not the council, but Bockelman said he wants input from the council.

Alisa Brewer (at large) said it was not fair that that the part-time council president needed to put together this matrix. She said that the CSWG report was received two weeks ago and the Town Manager knew he needed a legal opinion on the ROB. She was concerned about how the town was going to move forward on these initiatives.

Cathy Schoen (District 1) said that antiracist culture should be town-wide, in all departments, not just within the APD. Andy Steinberg (at large) said he was concerned about how the alternative policing program would work. Amherst has frequent noise complaints that could be handled by the unarmed responders, and he wondered if the police would follow up if the community responders were ignored.  He asked what size police department the town needs. (The CSWG recommended a 50% reduction in the APD over the next few years).

Bockelman said that the grid will be updated as associated costs and legal opinions are obtained. Right now, he is focusing on the nominations for the CSSJC, the creation of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and launching the alternative responders (CRESS) program. Brewer said the council should make sure these actions are incorporated into the Town Manager goals for the coming year.

Use Of Four Parking Spaces On Spring Street Extended
Kyle Wilson of Archipelago Investments said the company is now planning to resume construction of the mixed-use building at 26 Spring Street, which has been halted for the past 20 months due to the pandemic. The plan is to finish construction by the end of 2022, and Archipelago requests use of the sidewalk and four parking spaces on Spring Street. Schoen noted that the existing framing is very close to the street and looks rusty after the many months of inaction on the project. Also, the loss of this parking comes at a time when the town is planning to remove the parking spaces at the north end of the town common. 

Wilson said the wood framing is being demolished, but the steel framing will remain. The footprint of the project will not change. Hanneke said the original granting of the use of the public way expired January 31,2021. Wilson said that the fencing around the parking spaces was removed when construction stopped in March of 2020.

Pam noted her displeasure with the project as a whole and said that this is what happens when the Planning Board completely ignores the Design Review Board. The council voted 10-3 to authorize Archipelago to use the four parking spaces and sidewalk from November 9, 2021 through December 31, 2022. Pam, Schoen, and Sarah Swartz (District 1) voted no. Archipelago will pay the town $13,000 for the use of the spaces.

Public Art Project Proposed For The East Street Common
Eric Broudy (former chair of public art commission, cofounder of central Amherst Cultural district) and Gigi Barnhill (co-chair Amherst Cultural Council) presented a project modeled on an installation in Sarasota, Florida with large three-sided murals featuring local artwork to be installed on the East Street Common. Broudy and Barnhill are proposing 10 triangular structures on the southern side of common that would display murals created by Amherst K-12 students based on a theme, such as “embracing community.” They suggest including quotations from students underneath the pictures.

The installation would be printed on vinyl and remain up from May through October 2023. Each three-sided mural would be 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall and would be 5 feet off the ground. 

An installation similar to the one proposed for the East Street Common at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida. Photo: amherstma.gov

The project coordinators are beginning to develop grant proposals and have received the endorsement of the Public Art Commission, but they need to get a commitment for the use of the space from the council. The are hoping the installation will “bring life” to the East Street Common and will start a community conversation. They will obtain feedback from abutters when they receive permission to use the space.

Pat DeAngelis (District 2) said that, as a former elementary school teacher, she loves the project and hopes there will be a web page for the public to follow its progress. Evan Ross (District 4) said he wants to make sure the project does not take up so much of the common that it would preclude use by residents for frisbee and other games. Hanneke asserted that the council could not vote on the project because it did not have a correctly worded motion at this meeting.

The project will be brought back to the November 15 meeting with a map showing where the murals would be placed.

Council Waives 120 Day Delay On Purchase Of Olver Property In South Amherst
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has been working with the family of former US Representative John Olver to purchase 8.6 acres of the family’s land on the Amherst/Granby border. The property will become part of the Holyoke Range State Park and will pay “payment in lieu of taxes” to the town. The Olver family will keep the house, driveway, and pond. The state is required to notify the town before the purchase and to give 120 days’ notice. The DCR is asking for a waiver of the 120 day notice. The council voted to waive the

requirement of notice by a unanimous vote.

First Reading of Surveillance Technology Bylaw
The Surveillance Technology Bylaw was proposed by councilors Hanneke and DeAngelis to balance the right to privacy with the public need for safety (see also here and here). Hanneke said that currently the public doesn’t know what surveillance technology is being used, what it is used for, who is using it, what data are being collected, and how long that information is kept. The bylaw requires that the council approve the use of any such technology and inform the public of its use.

Schoen wanted to know if there would be a report on use of this technology every year. Hanneke said that the council would receive a report only if it asked, but it was not specified who would be responsible for producing the report. There was considerable discussion on who would collect and compile information, whether that would be staff or a council committee. The issue was left unresolved.

George Ryan (District 3) said this is a complex piece of legislation to deal with a problem that he is not sure exists. He said the goals of the bylaw could be achieved in a simpler way, though he said he will probably vote for it. The bylaw will be brought back for a second reading and vote at a subsequent meeting.

Town Manager Evaluation

Bockelman was prepared to give a presentation on his self-evaluation, but since it was approaching midnight, the council elected to accept the 29 page document placed in the meeting packet as his presentation.

Brewer lamented that there was no time to discuss the evaluation this year. There will be a reading period for the councilors to review submitted comments on November 22. Griesemer said she will try to move items off the agenda in the next couple of meetings to allow for discussion of the evaluation. 

After the evaluation is completed, the council will set goals for the manager for the upcoming year. Brewer said the council needs to determine which of the CSWG recommendations should be implemented in the next year. Griesemer said that the Government, Organization and Legislation Committee should come back to the council with the proposed goals on January 6.

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