Guest Column: Amherst Town Meeting Schedule of Three Nights Per Week Will Burden Some Families

By TONI CUNNINGHAM.

New members who were motivated to run for Town Meeting this election cycle may think “What have I done?!” when they learn they have committed to attending three evenings each week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. – until all the items on the warrant are voted upon.

Town Meeting is set to begin on April 26, and with 42 articles on the warrant, and could extend until May 25.  A link to Town Meeting dates and information is here: https://www.amherstma.gov/790/Town-Meeting

I’ve learned that since 2008, Town Meeting has followed the traditional Monday-Wednesday schedule, starting in late April or early May, and running for four to five weeks. Prior to 2008, Thursdays were used occasionally. In Fall 2012, the start time was made a half hour earlier, from 7.30 pm to 7 pm.

It’s my understanding that for the Fall 2016 Town Meeting, the Select Board voted to add a Thursday and it was accepted without complaint. Then, last December, the Select Board voted to add Thursdays to the 2017 Annual Town Meeting schedule too. To the best of my knowledge, the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee was not directly involved in this decision, and members were not polled for their opinions on this change.

The addition of Thursdays was to provide more flexibility, but the Thursday sessions are not mandated. At the end of each night’s session, under Town Meeting procedure, the Select Board chairperson  moves to adjourn to “a day certain.”  If that motion is defeated, the chairperson moves to adjourn to a different day.  For example, if on Wednesday May 3rd a motion to adjourn to Thursday May 4th is defeated, Town Meeting could effectively skip the Thursday session, and the chairperson could move to hold the next session on Monday May 8th instead. This option to reject the next date will be available to Town Meeting members at the end of every night.

The reserved dates don’t go past May 25th, putting pressure on Town Meeting to either work faster, or agree to the Thursday night meetings.

Some members appreciate the option for a more condensed schedule, ending in May and allowing time for travel or other evening activities in June.

However, some parents of young children have expressed concern that three nights per week will create a hardship on their families, and are dismayed by the uncertainty of not knowing ahead of time which days Town Meeting will meet. Some have to reserve babysitters in advance, and won’t know until 10 p.m. the night before if they will need a babysitter the next evening.

Others have expressed concern that consecutive nights will be exhausting, especially after working all day. It will be interesting to see what happens, and if absenteeism at Town Meeting spikes on Thursdays.

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