Town Council Discusses Police Chief Search, November Election, Eversource Poles, And CRESS
Report Of The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council, September 11, 2023. Part 2
This meeting was conducted via hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
In Town Hall: Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large). Michele Miller (District 1), Pam Rooney and Anika Lopes (District 4), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), and Ellisha Walker (at large) participated remotely.
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)
Police Chief Search Seeks Feedback
Jon Fehlman and Rachel Glisper from GovHR, the consulting firm that is aiding Amherst in the search for a new police chief, introduced themselves and encouraged residents to submit input on what is important in a new police chief. The group held two listening sessions on September 12 and is accepting comments at www.amherstma.gov/apdchief. On September 18 and 19, GovHR will conduct one-on-one interviews with town councilors and relevant town staff. (Read more about the police chief search here.)
Early Voting Approved For November 7 Town Election
Polling places for the November 7 biennial town election will remain the same as in the May, 2023 debt exclusion override election for the new elementary school. This election will mark the first time the new districts approved after the 2020 United States census will be in effect for election of district town councilors. The warrant was presented by Town Clerk Sue Audette and approved unanimously by the Town Council. It must be posted seven days prior to the election. All town offices are up for election. Nomination papers must be submitted by 4 p.m. on September 19.
The council also unanimously approved in-person early voting at Town Hall on the Monday through Friday the week prior to the election, as suggested by the Board of Registrars. Hours for the early voting will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on October 30 through November 3. In the May vote, about 110 people voted daily at the early, in-person voting. Because very few voted during the one evening offered, evening hours will not be available for in-person early voting in November.
Audette enumerated the four ways that residents can vote in the fall election: absentee ballot for those who are unable to go to the polls on election day, mail-in ballot with no excuse needed, in-person voting at the polling place, and in-person early voting the week prior to the election. She said that her office already has about 1,200 requests for mail-in ballots, an option that started during the pandemic and has been continued.
Council Approves Three New Eversource Poles
Ryan Bush of Eversource and Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring presented plans for three new utility poles and conduits in town. All were approved unanimously.
The first hearing was for 191 West Pomeroy Lane for a midspan pole to support the installation of solar panels on a house across the street. Bush said the house is currently supplied by underground service, but Eversource can’t feed the new service through the existing line. He said that there should have been a pole at the location so Eversource will install the new pole at no cost to the resident, even though a new law requires homeowners to pay for upgrades in service. In response to a question, Mooring replied that there is still room to add a bike path and sidewalk along West Pomeroy; however, he said, the sidewalk cannot be connected to Pomeroy Center because it would have to cross wetlands.
Councilor Pam Rooney (District 4) asked Eversource to develop a plan about how it will deal with the service upgrades needed to encourage more rooftop solar in town.
The second hearing involved the placement of an electrical conduit and new manholes along South Pleasant Street to serve the downtown. The portion from Route 9 to Sellen Street has already been completed in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT) project at the intersection. Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) noted that this work was done without prior approval from the Town Council, and Mooring explained that there would have been a large fine if the town had had to disturb the pavement within five years of the MassDOT work, so the conduit was done during the Route 9 project. To complete the installation of the conduit, Eversource will cut an angled trench across South Pleasant Street and then place a temporary patch over it and repair the sidewalk as necessary.
The third hearing was for a pole at 354 Henry Street to supply a planned small organic family farm. No trees will need to be trimmed or cut for this pole. Alex Niefer, owner of the property, thanked the council for approving the electrical service for the farm.
Revised Charge For Charter Review Committee Approved Unanimously
The draft charge for the 2024 review of the Town Charter was reviewed and amended at the August 30 meeting of the Governance, Organization, and Legislation committee (GOL) of the council. The revised charge was approved unanimously by the council.
According to the charge, the charter review committee will be selected by April 1, 2024 by the council elected in November. The council’s Government, Organization, and Legislation (GOL) committee will be in charge of screening applicants and recommending appointments to be approved by the council. GOL will develop this process during 2023, but the subsequent council will do the screening of applicants. The council clerk will post the call for applicants on January 2, 2024.
Town Manager Report and Questions About CRESS And The Library
Town Manager Paul Bockelman said that, with the departure of Finance Director Sean Mangano, Comptroller Holly Drake and Treasurer Jennifer LaFountain will serve as interim Finance Directors in the budget process. Council Clerk Athena O’Keeffe will also take a leadership role in developing the budget. The town is developing a job description for the search for a new Finance Director. The town is also looking toward hiring a replacement for recently departed Communications Director Brianna Sunryd.
Bockelman also announced two neighborhood outreach sessions sponsored by UMass. The first will be held on Philips Street on September 14 at 5 p.m. A second will be held at Aspen Chase apartments on September 19. Also, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at East Gables, the affordable studio apartment complex at 132 Northampton Street, on September 22. Work on the remodeling of the North Common will start this week.
Rooney asked for an update on CRESS Director Earl Miller, who has been on administrative leave for the past month. Bockelman could not comment on the personnel issue, but said the town is evaluating leadership issues at CRESS with the DEI Department, the fire department, and the police department to ensure that CRESS succeeds. He hopes to be able to share more information shortly.
Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) asked when estimates of the cost of the Jones Library expansion are expected. Bockelman said the estimates were supposed to be done in the next month or two, but the departure of Mangano has put that timeline in question. The existing staff will be working to pull together a presentation, but he could not say when. He also said that there was no formal “Plan B” for updating the library if the full expansion project does not go through. Rather, the town and the library are assessing the needs of the current building.
The meeting adjourned at 9:02. The council will next meet on September 18. The meeting will be preceded by a primer on the Master Plan at 5:30 and a public forum on the Master Plan at 6 p.m. At 6:30, the council and remaining School Committee members will finalize the interview questions and election process to fill the vacant school committee seats until the end of the year. The regular council meeting will follow.