Open forum regarding new town manager allows residents to describe which attributes they want

By Stuart Foster

(Daily Collegian Archives)
(Daily Collegian Archives)

The town of Amherst held an open forum at Amherst Town Hall Tuesday night for residents to say what qualities they want to see in the next town manager.

The meeting is the second of three forums scheduled to help Bernie Lynch, a consultant from Community Paradigm Associates, build a profile of what residents want in the next town manager. Nine residents of Amherst attended the meeting.

“I’m looking forward to a discussion of what the primary issues are facing the town of Amherst,” Lynch said.

At the forum, Amherst’s relationship to the University of Massachusetts was often brought up.

Residents are satisfied with the financial stability that comes with the growth of business and economic development but are worried that continued expansion by local business and UMass will impede on residential areas.

“I think it would be very important for the manager to understand what it’s like to have such a large university for a neighbor,” said Maurianne Adams, a resident of Amherst who is an emeritus professor of education at UMass.

“We understand the importance of fiscal stability, but we are not willing to sacrifice residential neighborhoods for that,” Adams added.

Other residents said the issue of decreasing amounts of affordable housing is very important to Amherst. They believe housing rent continues to increase because students at nearby colleges can easily afford it.

“Students are able to pay very large amounts of rent and that really hurts moderate and low income residents,” said Joan Burgess, an Amherst resident.

Adams saw the hiring of the new town manager as an opportunity to improve the politics of Amherst, saying that previous town managers were not as open-handed as they would have ideally been.

She added that boards appointed by past town managers did not have a diverse representation of views, which made conflicts over the town more divisive at town meetings.

“I think that’s dysfunctional for the administration of the town,” Adams said.

Amherst residents also said that information presented at town meetings should be presented in a more straightforward and accessible manner.

Bob Pam, an Amherst resident, said the planning for the Amherst Department of Public Works should practice presenting the information beforehand, so it doesn’t need to be debated during the actual vote itself.

“Very often things come to town meetings in a form that is often hard to follow,” Pam said.

“I think some of us really need those to be written in English,” Adams said.

The demographics status of Amherst was also discussed at the forum. While Amherst is considered to be a town by many residents, its disputed population has made its classification as a city or a town unclear.

While the presence of UMass in the town Amherst is often considered the reason for Amherst’s large population, Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson said it wasn’t that simple.

“You can’t blame the University for all of the world’s ills,” Nelson said. “We really are a small city.”

Other participants in the forum agreed with Nelson, saying that from the perspective of public safety, Amherst was more similar to a city than a town.

Connie Kruger, a member of the Amherst Select Board, said serious urban crime issues, such as break-ins and drug overdoses, were present in Amherst and that these problems could not solely be attributed to the University.

Lynch’s earlier meeting was held from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and the final forum will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday at Jones Library.

Lynch said he hoped that a new town manager would be chosen by May.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.