League Task Force Prepares to Make Charter Amendment Recommendations

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Photo: Blue Diamond Gallery

by Art and Maura Keene

The League of Women Voters of Amherst (LWVA) Charter Review Task Force held its third of three discussions on the upcoming charter review process on May 5 on Zoom. The first discussion looked at a few sections of the Amherst Home Rule Charter pertaining to the Town Council (Article 1) and to financial policies and procedures (Article 5). The second discussion was on the Town Manager (Article 3), Incorporation, Powers (Article 1), and Elections (Article 7). The third discussion was on Public Participation Mechanisms (Article 8) and Charter Transition Procedures (Article 10). Slides and recording of the meetings are posted on the LWVA website.

At least the following questions, reviewed at the discussion sessions, will be considered by the task force as the basis for charter amendment recommendations:

Town Council (Article 2)

  1. Should the eight-week “lame duck” period, between election day and the beginning of the term be reduced?  
  2. Should councilors be subject to term limits? 
  3. Should the council president have a limited number of one-year terms?
  4. Should all councilors have an equal voice and vote on council committees?
  5. Should councilors have the unilateral power to postpone discussion? 
  6. Should the consent agenda be limited to certain types of non-controversial measures?

Financial Policies and Procedures (Article 5)

  1. Should the three non-voting resident members of the Finance Committee have a vote?

Town Manager (Article 3)

  1. Should the length of the Town Manager’s contract be the same as the length of a council term? 
  2. Should the powers and duties of the Town Manager be limited or delineated more clearly?
  3. Should resident committee applications submitted to the Town Manager be considered public records/open to public view? 
  4. Should the Town Manager’s evaluation be conducted by an independent third party? 

Incorporation, Powers (Article 1)

  1. Should the charter include an elected executive? 

Elections (Article 7)

  1. Should the town elections be held in even numbered years to coincide with national elections?

Public Participation (Article 8)

  1. Should public comment be provided, at a minimum, at the beginning of all regular Town Council and committee meetings? 
  2. Should the town require that virtual meetings continue, for as long as they are allowed by state law? 
  3. Should virtual signing of resident petitions be allowed? 
  4. Should a voter-veto resident petition be subject to the same voting threshold in the affirmative as the original council vote being challenged, in order to pass? 

Transition Procedures
Should the charter recommit to the five programs the town committed to pursue in the original charter? Should it commit to other initiatives?

  1. Ranked Choice Voting 
  2. Participatory Budgeting 
  3. Creating a position of Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator
  4. Permitting non-citizens to vote in Town elections and to seek and hold Town elective office
  5. Lowering the voting age for town elections

The Task Force conducted a survey of residents in 2023 on town government performance, followed by its current work of looking at what specific amendments to the charter might be needed after five years of experience with a Town Council/Town Manager form of government. The League’s efforts are focused on whether the new charter is delivering a government that complies with the League’s good government principles of accountability, checks and balances, widespread inclusiveness and participation, diversity, transparency, honesty and non-corruptibility and efficiency.

There will be a consensus meeting for League members on June 2, prior to the Annual Meeting, when members will be asked to come to consensus on recommendations for amendments to the Charter.

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