Town Councils Renew Sister City Friendship Agreement.  Town Manager Goals and Budget Guidelines Approved



Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Town Council, December 18, 2023.  Part 3

This meeting was held in hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here. 

In its last Town Council meeting of the term, the council:

  • Approved almost $10 million of additional borrowing for the Jones library expansion project (see Part 1 of meeting report here).
  • Bid farewell to four members of the council who were leaving at the end of the term (see Part 2 of report here).
  • Renewed the Sister City Friendship Agreement with Kanegasaki, Japan on the 30th anniversary of the original agreement
  • Added specific guidelines to Town Manager goals concerning the proposed waste hauler bylaw
  • Approved the Town Manager goals for 2024 and financial guidelines for FY2025
  • Approved interim traffic calming measures for Henry Street near the Cushman-Scott Children’s Center
  • Referred a proposed council-level legislative process change to committee

Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Cathy Schoen, Michele Miller (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub and Dorothy Pam (District 3), Anika Lopes and Pam Rooney (District 4), Ana Devlin Gauthier and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), and Mandi Jo Hanneke, Ellisha Walker, and Andy Steinberg (at large). Only Dorothy Pam participated remotely. 

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

Town Councils of Amherst and Kanegasaki, Japan Meet Virtually to Renew Sister City Agreement
Thirty years ago, Amherst and Kanegasaki, Japan became sister cities. Even though the two cities are 6,427 miles and 10 hours apart, the two cities have participated in several exchanges of students, governmental, and personal exchanges. With Daniel DeGrasse translating, members of the two governments reminisced about their experiences and unanimously voted to renew the friendship agreement.

Kanegasaki Mayor Takahashi Kanju said he has been working with town residents and businesses to foster a vibrant and engaging community where people want to live now and into the future, and where people are proud to live. He added, “I would like to convey my deepest gratitude to the Town Council and the many residents of Amherst, whose hard work and commitment have grown and fostered this relationship over these many years.”

Kanegasaki Town Council President Ito Masaaki noted the junior high school exchange, as well as government and personal exchanges between the two cities. He visited Amherst in 2001, just before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, so the Amherst representatives’ visit to Japan was postponed for a year, but has continued to thrive since then. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has not been an exchange for several years, but he is “very much looking forward to starting the exchange again.”

Amherst Councilor at large Andy Steinberg said the student exchange program between the two municipalities started in 1987, six years prior to the sister city agreement, although Amherst students could not regularly participate in the exchange because of school policy. The Japanese students stayed in the homes of Amherst residents, and Steinberg’s family hosted two in 1990. He also traveled to Kanegasaki in 2015 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the expansion of Kenegasaki by the absorption of a neighboring town. During his visit, he noted how much the towns have in common, “strong agricultural communities, beautiful surroundings, and both are great places to live, work, and visit.”

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Interim School Superintendent Doug Slaughter also spoke of the positive relationship between the two towns. Mayor Takahashi said that junior high school students from Kanegasaki plan to visit Amherst next year, and the agreement between the two towns was signed.

Universal Composting Sparks Controversy in Town Manager Goals
Jennifer Taub presented the Town Manager goals recommended by the Governance, Operations, and Legislation (GOL) Committee of the council. Although she said the committee tried to be specific, but also streamlined, she wanted to add that the Waste Hauler bylaw to be negotiated by the Town Manager include universal curbside composting and a pay-as-you-throw fee structure. GOL Chair Pat DeAngelis disagreed, saying that is up to the Town Manager to specify what is in the bylaw.

Taub, a sponsor of the bylaw, said the composting and fee structure were integral to the proposal as a means to reduce waste. Dorothy Pam agreed, saying, “We’ve discussed this a lot in TSO (Town Services and Outreach committee). I never thought it was about waste haulers. I always thought it was, from the very beginning, about universal composting, so I do not understand this desire to take those words out. It’s changing what we’ve been doing for the last year.”

Ana Devlin Gauthier did not want the goal to conflict with the information requested and received from area trash haulers. Anika Lopes suggested that the wording be changed to “Which COULD include universal composting and pay-as-you-throw fee structure.” Pam objected to adding the word “could,” but voted for the change nevertheless. The vote was 11-2, with DeAngeles and Mandi Jo Hanneke voting no. The full Town Manager Goals document passed unanimously.

TSO Recommends Interim Traffic Measures On Henry Street
In response to complaints from parents and nearby residents about unsafe traffic conditions near the Cushman Scott Children’s Center, TSO recommended the following interim measures be instituted: 

  • Adding dynamic speed feedback signs in each direction of traffic on Henry Street

• Increased traffic detail from the Amherst Police Department

  • A report back from the town Manager by February 1st, 2024 regarding recommendations for traffic calming measures.

Devlin Gauthier said that, because of the urgent need at this location, TSO didn’t want to wait to go through the whole process to establish a permanent safety zone. She said the required engineering study was supposed to be done this month, but the committee worried that it would not be accurate with the college students out of town, so it recommended these interim measures until the study was done in February.

Hanneke asked if the increased traffic detail would result in more overtime pay for the police. Bockelman replied that the police would monitor the site as they were available, concentrating on drop-off and pick-up times. Pam Rooney wanted assurance that the proposed measures were interim, and that permanent measures were being planned. The temporary measures passed unanimously.

FY 2025 Financial Guidelines Approved Unanimously
The financial guidelines approved by the Finance Committee were accepted by the council unanimously. 

Ellisha Walker noted that two areas important to her, specific uses for ARPA funds and town staffing, required more discussion by the council. She noted that page 7 of the document recommends that remaining ARPA funds be used for capital expenses, such as town roads, a renovated senior center, or solar canopies at the high school. But she said that does not include all possible uses of ARPA funds, and members of the community who suffered during the pandemic were left out of the initial allocation of the funds and should be considered for the remaining funds. Bockelman said the ARPA funds had to be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. Because it is the Town Manager who ultimately decides how the ARPA funds will be spent, the sentence about using the money for capital expenses was removed from the draft.

Walker also pointed out the need for a staffing study, especially to manage grants and work on initiatives. She said the town is missing out on grants, because there is not enough staff to work on them. A staff study is referred to on page 6 in the draft. In addition, Walker wanted to emphasize that CRESS, the community responder program, is separate from the Amherst Police Department and is an alternative to the police. The draft guidelines state, “We need community responders and police who work together. Amherst residents will benefit from a community focused, team effort.”

Proposed New Legislative Process
Because the council was bogged down in several proposed bylaws which ultimately proved unpopular, Shalini Bahl Milne proposed a checklist which she hoped would determine if a project was worth advancing through committees and town staff. She said the proposal would be a “living document” that would get feedback from staff, town committees, and community members before being advanced.

Rooney said she thought the proposal was a good idea, but should be refined by GOL or maybe discussed at a retreat. Bahl-Milne said she based the checklist on what was expressed at the council retreat and also on feedback from community members. Michele Miller said she felt the proposal encapsulated a lot of the challenges that the council has faced. Walker said she thought this guide would have been helpful to her as a first-time councilor, informing how to formulate her ideas into motions, although she didn’t think it should be mandatory to follow this process. Devlin Gauthier said she thought the guide would lead to more robust bylaws coming before the council and should be an educational tool, not a mandate.

DeAngelis, sponsor with Hanneke of the failed duplex/triplex zoning proposal, strenuously objected to the proposal. She stated, “I have a right to bring my idea of a bylaw to the council and find out if they think it’s important enough for me to continue. I’m really uncomfortable [that] it’s already subject to a vote before it’s been created and designed in my head. I stand on my right to go forward with whatever I think is important for town.”

Schoen and Steinberg worried about creating more work for GOL and other committees, but the measure was referred to GOL by a vote of 10-3. DeAngelis, Schoen, and Steinberg voted no.

CRESS Begins Taking Calls From Dispatch
Bockelman reported that the day of the meeting, December 18, was the first day of CRESS responders taking calls from town dispatchers. Responders did respond to a call from the Survival Center on the first day, but Bockelman said he has not yet received a report on that incident. CRESS hours are limited, because there are only five responders currently working, but it is hoped that the full complement of eight, as well as a new director, will be hired in the next couple of months.

New Council Term Begins Tuesday, January 2.
The next council term begins January 2. New councilors, school committee members, and library trustees will be sworn at 6:30 in the Town Room at Town Hall. At that meeting, the council will elect a President and Vice President for the coming year. Town Council committees and liaison opportunities will be described, so that councilors can apply to the president for appointment to their preferred choices. 

The first business meeting of the council will be Monday, January 8.

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