A man later identified as local developer Jerry Guidera made an obscene hand gesture at Town Meeting members on Wednesday night, before getting into a dispute with the meeting moderator, James Pistrang, over a seating issue. Guidera also loudly proclaimed that a woman present called him a “bastard.”
Some of the drama (although not the hand gesture itself) was captured by Amherst Media’s cameras, and can be seen in the videotape below, beginning at about minute 2:59. At that point, Amy Mittelman of Precinct 5 raised a point of order to report that “someone up there just gave a very foul symbol to Town Meeting.” By “up there” Mittelman was referring to overflow seating in the back of the auditorium, where Guidera was seated. Pistrang responded that the gesture was very unfortunate, and that the person in question was “immature, and we all need to ignore that person.”
Guidera, of Precinct 9, has lobbied aggressively for Town Meeting’s coming demise and its replacement by a Town Council. On Wednesday night, he wound up turning in his electronic voting device early and walking out, rather than sit in the main auditorium as Pistrang had directed.
The conflict arose at close to 10 p.m., amid discussion of a proposed change to the town’s zoning bylaws. The proposal, which failed, would have allowed homeowners to build larger detached supplemental dwelling units on their properties, raising the size of such units from 800 to 1,100 square feet. It would have required a 2/3 majority to pass, but got only about 53 percent of the vote.
There was debate last night about whether it was appropriate for Town Meeting to decide the issue, given that its powers are limited during the “transition” period before elections take place this fall for the incoming Town Council. Andrew Churchill of Precinct 3, who chaired the former Charter Commission, read a statement as to why he believes Town Meeting should not vote on zoning articles.
The town’s legal counsel found that the zoning issue was within Town Meeting’s purview, although the Select Board sought to refer the article back to the planning board, likely delaying the issue until it could be decided by the incoming Town Council.
Tensions seemed to rise when Guidera sought to prevent Town Meeting from voting on the zoning measure with the parliamentary tactic of “calling a quorum” – a move that requires a count of voters in the room, and dissolution of the meeting if too few are present. It was then that Guidera and others seated in the far back were called down, after Town Meeting members expressed concern that some would fail to declare their presence with electronic voting devices. In the end, electronic voting showed that the number present well exceeded the minimum.
Editor’s note: The author is a Town Meeting member for Precinct 7.