Letter: Amherst, Where Only The “H” Is Silent?
The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on March 6, 2023.
I can understand wanting to limit the length of meetings, to do business before your brain shuts off, and not have to listen to dozens of 3-minute speeches that can be rambling and repetitious, not to mention, opposed to one’s ideas.
But as people in Amherst already feel disregarded, as councilors aim to deregulate zoning, bring on major tax increases to pay for controversial and un-transparent projects, and pay too little attention to deteriorating infrastructure and resources, that seeing public input as a burden to be curtailed is unwise.
And as councilors have told me that they spend 15-20 hours per week on town business, resulting in $5.50 per hour pay, I’m sure councilors feel especially unrewarded after midnight. (The proposal to raise the annual pay for town councilors would then be $11 per hour.)
But Town Council’s promise, when it replaced Town Meeting, was more public input. Not less.
I can see fairly changing the 3-minute limit, without threatening democracy. Personally, I aim to make my public comments not longer than 90 seconds. I believe it makes my comments easier to understand, not spending time with throat clearing at the beginning, or summarizing twice at the end.
I can see a training video, made by professionals, hosted on the town’s site, about how to organize and present a concise but totally adequate 90 second public comment.
I can also see the town having more modern ways of collecting input and communicating it clearly on the public record. We could have online explanations of an issue, and a Survey Monkey (but better) to collect opinions. Different from the town’s engagement site – this would be more immediate, asking for feedback on an issue, then reporting the results during the public meeting.
And summarizing the relevant comments from the public comment page. Or other creative ways to publicly report public opinion.
And to state the obvious, it’s bad optics for a town councilor to try to limit public input, when most of the long public comment meetings were about proposals made by that councilor.
And then there is the thing about Amherst being the town where only the H is silent. This kind of thing is counter to our brand. Our government should capture our perspectives, not work around them.
Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the “Western Mass. Business Show” on WHMP for seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.
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