Public Comment: Double Standard In Council And Manager Actions


Former service station at 18 Montague Road, Amherst, slated for demolition. The proposal to fund the demolition with free cash was challenged by members of the public during public comment at a recent Finance Committee meeting. Photo: Google Maps

The following public comment was offered at the public forum of the Amherst Town Council and Amherst Finance Committee on Appropriations Outside The Annual Town Budget on April 24, 2023.

I would like to express my support for the request for $110,000 to be taken out of repurposed capital funds to demolish the gas station on Montague Road and improve the site. I was glad to see that Free Cash reserves will not be drawn down for this purpose, as had been proposed.

When, in the Finance Committee meeting last week, Councilor Griesemer asked if the financial order for the gas station demolition would need to be reissued to change the source of funds from free cash to repurposed capital or if it could be amended on the spot, Town Manager Paul Bockelman replied that the financial order is the appropriation — that is, the total amount being requested, and that the source of funds can be adjusted. He said to do so would be “within the framework,” which seems logical to me. 

For the benefit of the public and other councilors, I’d like to draw attention to how differently this was handled compared to the financial order for the school debt authorization. 

When Councilor Ellisha Walker wanted to propose an amendment to the school financial order to do effectively the same thing as was done here for the gas station — to adjust the source of funds, in that case so that more would be sourced from reserves — there was great consternation from some Councilors and the Town Manager, and many obstacles put in Councilor Walker’s way. Councilor Steinberg suggested that it might not be legal, that it might require a new order be drawn up by the Manager, triggering a delay and restarting the process of notifying the public and holding a forum. 

The Town Manager sought a legal opinion from the town’s attorney and suggested in the Council meeting that a new financial order would have to be drawn up in order to amend the source of funding on the financial order. Councilors opined about the delay that would likely result, deterring others from supporting Councilor Walker’s amendment.

But in the case of the gas station, the financial order was quickly amended on the spot, a Finance Committee vote was taken with little fanfare, and there was no suggestion that this public forum needed to be delayed. 

To be clear, I think that’s the correct path. 

It is the inconsistency between this case and the one for the school that I want to draw attention to; how easy it was to do something when it is desired by leadership, and how difficult it can be when those in charge do not support it. 

It shouldn’t be this hard, and rules need to be applied consistently and fairly. 

Reuse Water Project
For the Reuse Water project, I am glad you are rescinding that $5 million debt authorization but I would like to know more about what the $300,000 of that debt has been spent on, and how the town proposes to get that money reimbursed from UMass.

Toni Cunningham is a resident of District 1 in Amherst

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1 thought on “Public Comment: Double Standard In Council And Manager Actions

  1. Thanks, Toni, for continuing to speak out against councilor hypocrisy and the willingness of some to protect personal agendas by playing fast and loose with their promises and the rules.

    And please keep asking those hard questions, the answers to which our leaders might prefer to sweep under the rug.

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