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To the Editor,
On Feb. 14, our organization, the University of Massachusetts Democrats, held a debate between the groups “Amherst for All” and “Vote No on Charter.” Members of each group were able to engage with both sides, and we believe it led to a fruitful discussion evaluating the pros and cons of the Amherst Charter. Following the debate, our membership voted and by a large majority, the change in Amherst was favored. Therefore, the UMass Democrats formally endorse the change to the Amherst Charter.
This charter modernized and modified what was necessary while allowing what was successful to remain, such as a reliable, non-politicized town manager at the helm of the day-to-day administration of Amherst. The proposed changes were created after months of painstaking work by the Charter Commission. They worked to ensure that all Amherst voices were heard, exemplifying a true representative democracy, which is what we know the new council-manager government will be for the people of Amherst.
Throughout the past 22 years, Amherst has called for a change in their style of government three times. This represents a clear will and desire to restructure the 242 person town meeting.
We concur with “Amherst for All” that the representative town meeting structure of the Amherst government is not appropriate for a town of this size. The proposed charter will create a 13-person council, where all members are held accountable by their constituents. Accountability will be promoted through competitive, town-wide elections every two years. This accountability and competition was noticeably absent in the present form of government, with over 80 percent of the seats uncontested yearly.
The new charter will aim to increase voter participation by moving the local elections to the first Tuesday in November. This move will also reduce costs in election administration, helping to offset the increased costs for town council stipends which will total $5,000 per councilor. These stipends will provide compensation for those who cannot afford to give countless hours to the community due to fear of lost income.
“Amherst for All” has been campaigning on the concept of a “year-round government.” The present town meeting meets twice a year, with a warrant process that can take upward of 40 days. This created a government that is not reactive enough for quick changes that may be needed in the town of Amherst. Not only is it not reactive enough for a town such as Amherst, but when the warrant for a town meeting is finally pushed through, average attendance records show that only 68 percent of the representatives attend the meeting.
Most importantly, we believe this change would increase the empowerment of students in their university’s local government. Either style of government requires students to get more involved. Not nearly enough of our student body engages with the local issues that affect them the most. If students represented one or two seats on a smaller governing body, we believe all UMass students would see the tangible benefits of increased student decision-making power.
In the interest of your own voice, the student body and the future of the UMass community, vote ‘yes’ for the Amherst Charter on Tuesday, March 27.
Do keep in mind you must be registered to vote in Amherst by March 7 in order to vote on March 27.
The UMass Democrats meet on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in the Campus Center. For more information, please visit our Facebook page, UMass Democrats.