Your guide to Amherst’s charter vote


Jill Webb

AMHERST – The fate of Amherst’s government is in the hands of the people.

You may have seen the signs posted around town or the battling Youtube ads between the opposing sides, but what does the charter vote really mean?

Let’s go back in time a little bit.

Amherst has held Town Meeting for over 250 years. In 1938, they switched from open town meetings to representative town meetings. The “Town Manager Act” was introduced in 1953, which shrunk the number of elected officials.

The League of Women Voters Amherst contributed to a revised “Amherst Town Government Act” in 2001. Following that was the beginning of eliminating town meeting by electing a mayor and a town council, but it got voted down twice in 2003 and 2005.

In 2016, when a charter commission was put in place, commissioners proposed a 13-member council without a mayor. And that is what has been building up over the years for Amherst’s residents to decide during the March 27 election.

So, what does the meeting look like now?

Town Meeting is made up of a legislative body of 240 members.

There are 24 members from each of the 10 precincts. Additionally, there are 14 ex officio members: five select board members, five school committee members, the president of the library trustees, the chair of the finance committee, the moderator, and the town manager.

And what happens if Amherst votes to change?

The 254 representatives would shrink into the 13-member council. There would be two representatives elected for each of Amherst’s five districts and three members would be chosen from a town-wide election.

The town councilors would elect both a president and a vice president who both serve a year-long term. The councilors would hold their seat in office for two-year terms.

The school committee and Jones Library trustees would stay the same, but become two-year terms instead of three-year positions.

Picking a side

The pro-charter change supporters are called Amherst For All. The opposing group is Not This Charter.

Amherst For All quotes Ellen Story, who served the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017, in support of the charter.

“While there are plenty of reasons to vote yes, for me it’s all about accountability. As someone who was accountable to the voters of Amherst on countless issues through the years, I believe a healthy local democracy depends on clear accountability,” Story writes.

Not This Charter’s website also quotes various of its supporters on why they are voting no. Amherst resident Jennifer Shiao Page’s reasoning has to do gender diversity within the council.

“As a woman who has run for office in Amherst, I can tell you that it’s extremely demanding. And if you also have family and work obligations (as many women do), it can drain all your energy. Town Meeting has a much lower barrier to participation, and is more accessible to more people,” Page writes.

No matter what side of the Amherst pendulum you swing toward, make sure you get out and cast your ballot March 27.