Letter: Open Meeting Law Complaint Before Council Seeks to Weaken Our Democracy


Photo: Kitty Axleson-Berry

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on March 12, 2024

I urge the Amherst Town Council to dispose of the two Open Meeting complaints before you-,either by rejecting the complaints or by reaffirming your vote in favor of the ceasefire resolution.

On March 4, 2024, the Town Council met for deliberation on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza- a resolution endorsed by over 760 residents and over 60 local businesses and civic and faith organizations. The first two hours were taken up by lively public comment on the resolution. as encouraged by the Open Meeting Law.  

At one point Council President Lynn Griesmer loudly declared the meeting adjourned. This was evidently an expression of anger and frustration towards people speaking out from the audience, but it was clearly not a valid decision to adjourn. There was no motion to adjourn, no second, and no vote to adjourn before or after Griesmer’s statement. The meeting continued with all councilors participating. No councilor mentioned the alleged “adjournment”. None got up to leave or made a motion to adjourn.

The audience was vocal and emotional, but did not seriously disrupt the meeting in any way. The three police officers  present beside the council never saw a need to try to restore order. As at many contentious public meetings, passions were high, but the Town Council was able to proceed to do its business.  

Residents legally pursuing passage of a resolution before the Town Council are not “an angry mob” but a healthy exercise of democracy.  In this case, the resolution was co-sponsored by over 760 residents of Amherst. To my knowledge, the council has never before received a resolution with anywhere near this level of resident sponsorship and participation. To me, this engagement is a thing to be celebrated, not disregarded.

 Open Meeting Law exists to protect democracy and to allow everyone to see it at work. The present complaints seek to do the opposite, to frustrate the deepest wishes of Amherst residents to be heard and to stand up for peace. The complaints seeks to disrupt and interfere with Amherst residents’ legitimate right to petition government on a matter of deep, heartfelt concern. The complaints have no merit and, in fact, would be deeply harmful to democracy and citizen participation in government. While the council was quick to endorse support for Ukraine and Israeli victims of the October 7 attack; before our ceasefire resolution, it had been silent as death and destruction rained down on Palestinians for five months.  

I urge the council to show it has compassion equally for all. Overturning the resolution would send a terrible message that Amherst cares less about Palestinian lives. Affirming the ceasefire resolution is a wonderful opportunity for our town to show that it hears and values all its residents.

Brooks Ballenger
Brooks Ballenger is a resident of Amherst

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