How Well Are Town Committees Complying With Open Meeting Requirement For Minutes?


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Most Amherst town officials agree that public participation and access are a critical part of good government and a robust town. For them, believing in public participation is as basic as believing in science, one could expect.

But how is public participation achieved? How do residents even know what issues are ahead and what decisions are being made? How do they learn about these and become knowledgeable? How do they have a voice? One way is to send letters to town councilors. Another is to utilize the period for welcoming public comments on the agenda at nearly every public meeting. A third is to study the town website, which has rivers of information โ€” though not any information concerning applicants for committee and board positions. A fifth is to be one of those applicants. A sixth is to attend meetings in person, on Zoom, or via videotape recordings. A seventh is to read the minutes of those meetings.

Minutes of meetings are central to Massachusetts Open Meeting Law’s intent to “eliminate secrecy surrounding the deliberations and decisions on which public policy is based”. Although they do not have to be encyclopedic, minutes must be sufficiently detailed to give readers an accurate understanding of exactly how a meeting went, what the substance of discussions consisted of, how each member voted, what public comment consisted of, and so on. It cannot simply be an expansion of the agenda and it cannot simply be a video recording.

Here is a list of most of the town’s committees and boards, and the date of their most recently posted minutes. We did not explore the quality of the minutes and we did not include committees that no longer appear to function, for the most part, although a few, like the Public Works Committee, Redevelopment Authority, and the Participatory Budgeting Commission, were included because they are closely related to pressing issues facing Amherst today. The public’s outcry for more road maintenance might have been heeded sooner, for example, had there still been a functioning Public Works Committee, whose most recent minutes are for February 25, 2016, and the town might re-open the beloved Book and Take It Or Leave It sheds at the town transfer station. The most recent minutes of the Amherst Redevelopment Authority, which is fully vacant except for one member whose term expires this year, are from January 8, 2020 and its last agenda was for February 27, 2020. The purpose of redevelopment authorities, according to its web page, is to eliminate and redevelop substandard areas, and its ways to do so include taking structures by eminent domain and “participating in real estate development and commercial revitalization”. The most recent minutes of the Participatory Budgeting Commission, which was seen as a key component of the new town charter, are January 21, 2021.

The list that follows includes most other committees, with a few exceptions. The most recent minutes of the the Agriculture Commission, where six of its eight positions appear to be left open, are for January 12, 2021. The most recent minutes of the Ranked Ranked Choice Voting Commission are from November 30, 2020. According to Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, a bill for a special act of the legislature about this was referred for the second time to the legislature’s Committee on Election Laws on February 16, 2023. Griesemer told the Indy she is researching whether the Town Council can vote to change the section of the Charter about ranked choice voting so that it does not require a special act of the legislature. The most recent minutes of the Munson Memorial Building Trustees on the town website go back to September 25, 2019 and the terms of all of its members expired in 2020.

In some instances, there is a simple answer to the question of why a committee’s most recent minutes are so ancient: some committees meet infrequently, as needed, often based on funding cycles. The Water Supply Protection Committee, for example, seems to meet on an as-needed basis and the Community Preservation Act Committee seems to meet on a cyclical funding basis. There are also occasions when the website’s archives and committee pages are at odds, with minutes posted on one but not the other.

Here is the state of Amherst committee and board minutes, listed in the order of their most recent posting. It should be noted that committees and boards are not required by the Commonwealth to post minutes on a website, but they must provide access to high-quality minutes within 10 business days of a request for them.

23-05-04 Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee

23-04-24 Town Council

23-04-12 Energy and Climate Action Committee

23-03-31 Solar Bylaw Working Group

23-03-29 Board of Assessors

23-03-27 Design Review Board

23-03-16 Joint Capital Planning Committee

23-03-14 Amherst School Committee

23-03-14 Public Shade Tree Committee

23-03-02 Jones Library Building Committee

23-03-01 Planning Board

23-02-17 Elementary School Building Committee

23-02-15 Personnel Board

23-02-14 Jones Library Trustees

23-02-09 Board of Health

23-02-08 Conservation Committee

23-02-08 Amherst Cultural Council

23-02-02 Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee

23-01-17 Amherst Regional School Committee

23-01-10 Recreation Commission

23-01-09 Board of Registrars

22-12-22 Community Preservation Act Committee

22-12-15 Finance Committee

22-12-01 Public Art Commission

22-10-12 Historical Commission

22-10-06 Residents Advisory Committee

22-12-08 Council on Aging

22-12-07 Budget Coordinating Group

22-11-10 Water Supply Protection Committee

22-09-19 African Heritage Reparations Assembly

22-09-07 Community Safety and Social Justice Committee

22-08-11 Amherst Affordable Housing Trust

22-08-04 Valley Green Energy Working Group

22-04-07 Transportation Advisory Committee

22-02-23 Amherst Housing Authority Board of Commissioners

22-01-24 Human Rights Commission

21-12-06 Local Historic District Committee

21-11-09 Disability Access Advisory Committee

21-01-21 Participatory Budget Committee

16-02-25 Public Works Committee

For committees not listed above:

To access minutes of the Board of License Commissioners, send a request to Stephen McCarthy .

To access minutes of the Zoning Board of Appeals, check the ZBA web page and town archives. Newly hired town planner Robert Watchilla is currently drafting and posting ZBA minutes starting with the meeting of 4/13/23. In the past, decisions on Special Permits, Variances, Appeals, and Comprehensive Permits served as a records of meetings, Director Christine Brestrup explained to the Indy.

To access minutes of Amherst-Pelham School Committee and the Amherst Regional School Committee, go to and click on 2023 for a drop-down menu of meeting dates.

The archive of town of Amherst government meetings is located here.

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