Guest Column: An Amherst Town Meeting Member’s Letter to the Charter Commission

By JOANNA MORSE.

Dear Charter Commission,

Thank you for your work on democracy in Amherst.   I write to you in my support of keeping Town Meeting as our legislative branch of our local government.  I have participated in many town meetings through my life, and have now served on Amherst Town Meeting for one year.
As a teacher of history to middle and high school students, democracy and empathy are both at the core of what drives me to teach, and Town Meeting encompasses both.
While I was a supporter before I was elected to this Town Meeting, I am even more in support of it since observing its process.  While most of us don’t love the hours it entails or the sometimes lengthy deliberations, it is the best representative system that I have encountered.
In 2016, there were numerous nights that I was struck by the thoughtful dialogue in the room of 200+ people. These kinds of deliberations are what lead to educated voting on matters of finance and policy. While we can and should work to continue to diversify the many voices at town meeting, that is a task needed in our participating electorate at large as well.  A smaller group of decision-makers will not provide more voices and better representation.
Town Meeting is one of the few opportunities we have to listen to people from across town on issues of importance, and I had this experience numerous times in my first year.  Listening is the bedrock of building empathy, understanding and community.  On many issues, it was through listening that I developed my most informed opinion on how to vote.
I strongly urge you to support our best chance of local democratic governance: Town Meeting. Let us discuss ways to continually improve our governance, but not do away with a system that promotes informed voting, democratic decisions, and participation in community.
Sincerely,
Joanna Morse, Precinct 8
Editor’s Note: The Charter Commission, consisting of nine elected residents, is examining Amherst’s town government structure and developing recommendations for changes. A recent proposal which passed by a 5-4 vote included establishment of a mayoral form of government, with a legislative council of 60 people, while a previously-voted plan called for a 13-member council. The role of a town manager is under discussion. The commission is subject to state regulations, and it must submit a preliminary report by July 31 and a final report by Sept. 29. There will be a town-wide vote next winter on whether to adopt a new form of government, although a date has not been set. Further information is available here: https://www.amherstma.gov/2253/Frequently-Asked-Questions
Here also is a link to the commission’s meeting schedule:
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