The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on November 28, 2021
The unseemly rush to force through votes on a number of zoning amendments before year-end is having terrible effects already. Procedures are not being followed properly: for example, the reports in your packet for the meeting on November 29, ostensibly from the Planning Board, were written by and sent to Town Council by the Planning Director without having been approved— or in some cases even seen—by members of the Planning Board. Volunteer Boards are being circumvented and ignored. Town employees are frazzled and exhausted, working overtime and cutting corners—and several have resigned as a result. Town Council members are receiving enormous packets of materials to review at the last moment, without sufficient time to give them the attention they deserve. Residents are disengaged or angry because of competing obligations during this season of religious and family celebrations. Lame-duck Councilors, whom voters defeated in part because of their support for these amendments, are pressing forward although they no longer have the popular mandate to do so. Nobody is looking out for the unintended consequences that result from passing amendments or parts of amendments one at a time, when they should be considered in concert because they affect each other. Language in the proposed amendments is awkward and vague—loopholes in the making. Community Impact Assessments are not being conducted, although community impacts will be enormous. Environmental and social justice impacts have barely been mentioned, much less explored. Even the most diligent cannot keep all the versions and amendments to amendments straight. Inaccurate assertions are being made, and nobody—even the press— has time to challenge them. Records of meetings—minutes, posting recordings, putting letters up on the Town website—cannot keep pace, so “open government to the max” is not functioning as it should. Three- or four-hour marathon meetings—extra sessions added to the calendar on short notice—leave all participants drained and numb. What is the point? To do the best job possible for the good of the Town, or to do a sloppy job but shorten the “to do” list and beat the calendar before newly elected members take office? To pass the largest number of amendments, or to make sure that each amendment is carefully and properly guided through the process, that Council members thoroughly understand the issues before they vote? There is no urgency to most of these amendments, but once passed, they and their effects will be with us for a long time. Please take the time to do a careful, thorough job, for all our sakes, even if consideration of some amendments must be carried over to the new Council. Your individual reputations as inaugural Town Councilors and, more broadly, the public’s opinion of the new form of government and the way it’s being run hang in the balance. Haste makes waste, or worse.
Suzannah Muspratt is a resident of District 3