Community Resources Committee Mulls Changes To Appointment Process

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Photo: Blue Diamond Gallery. Creative Commons

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Community Resources Committee,  August 11, 2022

The meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.  The packet can be found here.
The meeting was called to order at 4:31 p.m.

Present
Mandi Jo Hanneke (Chair, at large),  Pat DiAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub (District 3),  Pam Rooney (District 4). Absent: Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5). Taub arrived at 4:58.

Staff: Tim Nelson (Fire Chief), Jeff Olmstead (Assistant Fire Chief), Rob Morra, (Building Commissioner). Dave  Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager) joined about 4:40

Appointment Policy Waiver Requests
The Community Resources Committee (CRC) considered a series of motions to waive established protocols for the interview process for upcoming consideration of appointments to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and to refer for the consideration of the Governance, Organization, and Legislation Committee (GOL), motions to permanently change those protocols for appointments to committees under the aegis of the Town Council.

The discussion followed a controversial decision by the CRC to deny John Varner an appointment as an Associate Member of the ZBA (see also here).  Committee members noted that many constituents had expressed concern about that decision and that the controversy suggested that a review was in order.  The current appointment policy can be found here.


Consideration of a series of motions was preceded by a brief discussion in which members shared where and why they feel that more options in the appointment process are needed.  Pam Rooney and Jennifer Taub said that the inability to ask follow up questions during the interview (see Sections 8 and 9 of the current policy) hamstrings the committee. Taub added that the committee needs more flexibility in scheduling though Hanneke responded that she makes considerable effort to be accommodating in scheduling interviews.

Pat DeAngelis moved that the town council waive, for upcoming intrerviews for the ZBA, sections 2, 8 and 9 of Town Council policies of appointments to multi-member bodies. Section 2 requires a separate application for Council and Town Manager appointed committees and requires a new application be filed every time a person applies for an appointment.. The vote was unanimous (4-0 with one absent). The matter will likely be taken up by the Town Council on Monday 8/15. Chair Mandi Jo Hanneke then moved that these sections be referred to GOL for advice and recommendations.  This motion passed unanimously (4-0 with one absent).

Hanneke then suggested that the appointment process would benefit from having some kind of scoring matrix for candidates  to more precisely rank order candidates following the interview. DeAngelis, voiced concerns about adopting such a matrix, noting that such an instrument doesn’t really deal with our prejudices which are often unconscious and not necessarily revealed in a seemingly objective assessment of qualifications. Rooney noted that she had heard from several constituents who had expressed concerns about the appointment process in recent weeks. She pointed the Town Manager’s appointment process is quite opaque, and the public doesn’t really know who has applied or how many have applied and we don’t really learn much about the qualifications of the candidates.  She said that she would like to see a town-wide listing of all of the people who have expressed interest in serving on town committees, and that while others have suggested that this violates the personal privacy of applicants, she doesn’t see it that way.  Rooney and Taub agreed that this kind of information ought to be public but under town protocols it is not.

Hanneke responded that Community Activity Forms (CAF) (the forms used to apply for an appointment to a municipal board, committee, or commission)  are not made public because they have been determined by the town attorney to be employee documents and hence not disclosable under public records law. DeAngelis countered that they are regarded as public records in other communities such as Northampton.

Hanneke moved to refer to GOL a recommendation to adopt a scoring matrix for candidates for appointment to committees under the aegis of the Town Council.. That resolution passed unanimously (4-0 with one absent),


Hanneke moved to request that GOL explore that public records status of CAF’s.  That motion passed unanimously (3-0 with one absent).

Rental Permitting Bylaw – Continued Discussion
The committee continued it’s discussion of language for the proposed new rental permitting bylaw (see draft here) that has now spanned several meetings (see e.g. here and here). Tonight’s discussion focused on enforcement of the bylaw and the questions: who should be enforcing what aspects of the bylaw, what should be considered a violation, and what penalties, if any should be applied for different violations?  Input was sought from Building Commissioner Rob Morra, and Fire Chief Tim Nelson and Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Olmstead.

Outreach For Residential Rental Bylaw
Hanneke noted that the committee has already received over 200 responses on the Engage Amherst site and councilors have started to receive email feedback on the bylaw.   Rooney noted that a significant portion of the response has been from renters and a prominent concern among them is fear of retaliation if they file complaints.  She also noted that many people are concerned about the conversion of single-family homes into rental properties.   Hanneke noted that outreach will continue and will include another public forum some time in the future.

The next meeting of the CRC will be on August 25 and will focus solely on the continued discussion of bylaw language with a focus on the violations section
The meeting adjourned at 6:35 p.m.

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