At least 14 University of Massachusetts students will run for Amherst Town Meeting posts in next Tuesday’s town election – according to figures compiled by members of a student campaign that seek to increase student representation in town government – a number that far outstrips previous year’s number of student candidates.
UMass student candidates are running in seven of the 10 precincts represented in the Town Meeting, with the candidates’ precincts determined by their address in town. The students hope to join the roughly 250-seat Town Meeting body, where 24 elected members from each precinct and 14 ex officio members convene to vote on warrants that helps to govern the way that Amherst runs.
The students had to file nomination papers with the town’s Board of Registrar’s in order to get their names on the ballot. Other residents could also win seats as write-in candidates, because several precincts do not have a sufficient number of nominated candidates and need write-ins to fill the empty seats.
“Having students in Town Meeting, even if there aren’t enough to be a majority, can lend perspective to the issues and show that there really are two sides to every debate,” said Rocco Giordano, a political science major and UMass freshman running for a seat in Precinct 3.. “I want to be able to use common sense along with the other student representatives in order to show that students care about the issues facing Amherst and we are willing to take action to find solutions.
“I felt that the extreme lack of representation for students was troubling and that we deserve a say in town affairs due to us making up a large portion of the Amherst population,” he added. According to Giordano, efforts by the UMass Student Government Association to get students more involved in town governance played a major role in the bump in student interest.
The SGA has been encouraging UMass students to increase student involvement in Amherst town government since the fall.
SGA President Akshay Kapoor, a public health, sociology and biology major, is running himself for a Town Meeting seat representing Precinct 4. Kapoor said that the biggest reason why students have not thus far been very involved with town government is due to lack of information. For this reason, he and Renee Barouxis, the SGA’s outreach coordinator who is running for a Town Meeting seat in Precinct 6, have initiated several programs to get students more involved with town affairs.
“We’re trying to show the town and the students that we are all part of this community,” said Kapoor, who will be entering his fifth year in Amherst this fall. He said that the actions of a small fraction of the student body have given students a poor reputation, and he hopes to correct this misconception.
“Hopefully, with a small but vocal group of students present at Town Meetings, we can begin to change the dialogue in favor of students for the future,” said Kapoor.
Terry Franklin, an Amherst resident who has served as a Town Meeting member for the past eight years, has long been a vocal proponent of student representation in Amherst government. Franklin spoke at the final SGA meeting of last semester, and described Town Meeting as “quite hostile to UMass students,” and recounted students having been described by some community members as “vermin” and a “cancer spreading through the community.”
“Students are affected every day by the decisions made at town meetings,” Franklin said. “Some votes conducted end up coming very close, especially those regarding zoning and nuisance house laws, and these can have very real ramifications for students, both on-campus and off.”
The warrant for this year’s Town Meeting will not be signed by the Amherst Select Board, which makes recommendations to the Town Meeting, until Friday.
Other positions on the ballot on Tuesday include two Select Board members, two school committee members and two Jones Library trustees. None of these positions include a UMass student as a candidate.
The UMass campus is divided by several precincts, lying within precincts 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10. A list of all nominated candidates, a map of precinct layouts, and a list of voting locations can all be found at www.amherstma.gov.
Conor Snell can be reached at [email protected]