I remember John Cleese’s line in the film Clockwise: “It’s not the despair…it’s the hope I can’t stand.” Or words to that effect. So here I am suddenly feeling hope for Amherst. It feels weird and wonderful. I want to be sure I am not setting myself up for being done in by it. So I want to memorialize it by listing a few things that give me hope.
The new Town Council. The second iteration of Town Council will take office in January. It will have a new look and will, I hope, take a new look at its own organization, its relationship with other town committees, Town Hall, and the public. The new council will be more representative of our residents, more informed about the relationship between planning and zoning, more skeptical of its own understanding and commitments, and more grateful for the depth of insight, knowledge, and sensitivities that reside in our town.
Curt Shumway’s extended thoughts on building and zoning. I am grateful to Curt for sharing his ideas with the Indy’s readership. I imagine that it took some courage to do that, and everyone profits from it. Several times recently, the Indy’s comments sections have seen real conversation among folks with differing views. If this trend continues we might see it as a first successful effort to dissolve the unnatural divisions in town. I would include Matt Blumenfeld as another important voice who has consistently commented, and not only around the library issue. The point is not to say that we all agree, but to say to those we disagree with, “I hear you and I am listening to you.” It seems like a small first step, but perhaps we have already taken it.
Darcy Dumont, Janet McGowan, and Dorothy Pam. These three heroes of the past three years have set a high standard for public service that truly understands the role of governance in a democracy. As her parting gift to us, Darcy has left an important series of reflections on her experiences as a Councilor. She has decided not to run for re-election but I’m sure she will remain at the forefront of environmental activism. Janet may continue to be a lonely voice on the Planning Board, but I cannot imagine she will remain lonely as vacancies appear and a Council that truly values planning fills them. Dorothy has been yelling “Halt” for a long time; finally, she will have colleagues who will listen to her.
Maura Keene and Scott Merzbach. These two intrepid reporters give us complementary insights into town governance. Maura’s reports on the Town Council meetings are unparalleled in their detail and clarity. They are straightforward, without bias or adornment. They save all of us the trouble of listening to meetings that last, improbably, for five or six hours. Scott has mastered the skill of being everywhere at the same time. He has also mastered the skill of capturing the essence of issues, controversies, and meetings in relatively few words. Both the Indy and the Gazette maintain strict boundaries between reporting and opinion, and we need both the long and the short of reports that Maura and Scott give us.
Amherst’s BIPOC communities. Finally, thanks to the persistence and insistence of BIPOC residents, Amherst is looking itself in the face honestly and uncomfortably. This is the beginning of a long process, and I hope it continues to be honest and, over time, less uncomfortable. The recent elections to the Town Council and School Committee give grounds for hope.
I have in the past written of my deep appreciation for the incredible efforts of Art and Maura Keene to establish and sustain the Indy as an all-volunteer effort free to all readers. It is true to its name: independent. All residents should welcome its reportage whether or not they agree with some of the opinions. I mention this because recently irresponsible and erroneous remarks about the Indy have been attributed to a person close to power in town. As always, the Indy welcomes disagreements in its opinion pieces. There have recently been some genuine discussions emerging from disagreement in its opinion pages, and that, too, gives me hope.
Michael Greenebaum was Principal of Mark’s Meadow School from 1970 to 1991, and from 1974 taught Organization Studies in the Higher Education Center at the UMass School of Education. He served in Town Meeting from 1992, was on the first Charter Commission in 1993, and served on several town committees including the Town Commercial Relations Committee and the Long Range Planning Committee.