Bahl-Milne Introduces Outreach Tool For New Legislation. Hauler Reform And Safety Zone Proposals Move Forward


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Report On The Meeting Of The Town Services And Outreach Committee (TSO), September 14, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Ana Devlin Gauthier and Shalini Bahl- Milne (District 5), Andy Steinberg (at large), and Dorothy Pam (District 3). Absent: Anika Lopes (Chair, District 4)

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Community Engagement Outreach Tool

Town Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) introduced a tool that the council could use to guide the collection of information and input about proposals brought before it. The community engagement plan includes a checklist to guide discussion in each council committee when drafting new bylaws or policies or making changes to existing ones. Completing the checklist would ensure that a thorough evaluation of the proposal was done and that input from relevant stakeholders and experts was obtained. The completed checklist would be submitted to the council along with a final bylaw or policy being recommended.

Bahl-Milne explained that this checklist provides a systematic means of defining what the problem is and discussing what are the existing issues or challenges that need to be addressed.

Dorothy Pam (District 3) thought there were too many questions in the tool, and perhaps the most important ones could be highlighted. She wanted to make sure that residents who may be impacted by a policy have an opportunity to provide input.

Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) said that working on bylaws and other complex proposals as a whole committee was time-consuming and inefficient. For instance, the Community Resources Committee (CRC) has been working on a rental registration bylaw for over a year and obtained a lot of feedback. She is struggling with how to engage the community effectively while still getting things done—”to find the medium place”. But Clerk Athena O’Keeffe said that having two councilors be assigned to gather information for the council or a committee would constitute a subcommittee and be subject to Open Meeting Law.

Bahl-Milne said issues do not need to be discussed at a public forum, because that has legal implications, but input from the public can be solicited by notification to district councilors, and posting on the town website and social media.

Andy Steinberg (at large) stated that the plan was a comprehensive piece of work and thought that employing it, even for the first set of questions would impede the work of the council and make the councilors’ job more complex. He also felt that the council needs to think

critically about whether a proposal is something that the council and its committees are prepared for and should spend time developing before referring it to a committee. He added that, despite work CRC did with rental registration, there are still aspects of that proposal that are troubling for the Finance Committee.  He also noted the conflicting information received from the public on the proposed streetlight policy, between those advocating for dark sky preservation and others worried about pedestrian safety. He would prefer that the checklist not be a requirement. Bahl-Milne agreed that while there may be different viewpoints, the council can show that it went through the process, ”that we did our due diligence and reached out, as systematically as possible.”.

Devlin Gauthier pointed out that sometimes experts don’t agree on a proposal. and then asked who gets to define who is an expert? She also asked how the council would adopt the plan. Would it be in rules of procedure? She was not comfortable with adopting it as a rule and worried that it is so cumbersome that it will dissuade people from bringing forward ideas.

Bahl-Milne said her intention is to help the council make better decisions and have a more consistent process. She thought if the checklist is not a requirement, people aren’t going to use it.  O’Keeffe said that a recommended list of questions does not have to be a rule. Bahl-Milne suggested that one or more of the Community Participation Officers could help the council gather the information and input needed to evaluate a proposal.

In the end, the committee decided to recommend that the Town Council adopt the first set of questions on the checklist before referring proposals to committees. These questions address the purpose of the proposal, specific concerns of community members or stakeholders, whether it is a priority for the council or in the town manager goals, whether there is staff or other resources to deal with the issue, and whether there are any legal or regulatory requirements that need to considered. Bahl-Milne will work on dividing the outreach plan into two parts, with the rest of the questions being a tool that committees can decide how to use. The proposal will be included in the packet for the council meeting on September 18.

TSO Committee Recommends Establishing Safety Zones To Protect Vulnerable Residents

In public comment, Jeremy Anderson said he has been working with the police department for a considerable time on a way to make the drop off at Cushman Scott Children’s Center safer for toddlers and their parents who must cross Henry Street to get from the parking lot to the center. He reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and learned that the town is allowed to establish safety zones with 20 miles per hour speed limits to protect vulnerable residents. These safety zones can be placed near daycare centers, playgrounds, and senior centers.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman outlined the procedure to for creating these safety zones in a memo. In order to establish these safety zones, the town council must accept the provisions of Massachusetts General Law chapter 90, section 188, obtain an engineering study that includes an analysis of the current speed distribution of free-flowing vehicles, and vote to establish a safety zone that conforms to the referenced minimum safety criteria. If the daycare center is on a state highway, approval from MassDOT is required. School safety zones, which exist around all of Amherst’s schools, are covered under a different statute. 

The motion to accept MGLc90 section 18B passed 4-0. Steinberg said he wants to make sure this matter is dealt with, if not by this council then the next, since council has been “very neglectful on this important issue,” which it has known about for some time.

Request For Information Sent To Area Trash Haulers
Bockelman told the committee that the RFI (request for information) for trash hauler reform was sent out to the four companies that operate in Western Massachusetts.  The town is hoping to contract with a company to provide trash pick-up and curbside composting through a competitive bidding process. The background information that the companies provide would provide the basis for crafting a contract and sending out a request for proposals to acquire the contract.  The companies have three weeks to submit the information requested in the RFI.

The meeting adjourned at 8:38.

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1 thought on “Bahl-Milne Introduces Outreach Tool For New Legislation. Hauler Reform And Safety Zone Proposals Move Forward

  1. I’m very happy that the request for information to trash haulers was sent out. Having the town contract for trash pick up could save property owners money and have positive environmental impacts.

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