In-depth Q&A with candidates from the third district for Amherst’s Town Council

Four candidates are competing for two seats

Courtesy of Amherst Town Council

Courtesy of Amherst Town Council

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

Following the Amherst Sept. 4 preliminary election, four candidates are in the running for the two third district council seats in what will be the inaugural Town Council. The candidates are presented in order of placement in the preliminary election. Some responses have been condensed for publication.

Dorothy Pam, community activist, Town Meeting member

Motivation in running for office: “Developers are being allowed to redesign our downtown with minimal walking space, green space, parking, no affordable units and almost no public input.

I support new construction that reflects our history and culture and is welcoming to families and students. I am running as an independent voice who will stand up for our values.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Amherst is known for its wonderful schools, its artistic excellence and its interest in social justice. Small, inclusive, welcoming schools that meet the needs of all of the students while maintaining high standards are the first priority.”
  • “Public safety and public works, including a new fire station in South Amherst and repairing sidewalks and streets all over town.”
  • “My commitment to land and agricultural policy to combine jobs, nutrition, social justice, green energy and energy conservation here in Pioneer Valley.”

Pam, an eight-year resident of the third district, received 215 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“I will work to find common ground with other councilors to meet the needs of all residents, then set rules for recruiting a diverse cross section of residents, including students, to serve on major town committees.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“Making and implementing a capital plan to build/renovate and finance the needed schools, fire, public works and library buildings that the public can support and that the town can afford.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“The town is financially and culturally enriched by the presence of these fine institutions, and these institutions are enriched by being in a small New England town–we must build on present successful cooperative programs. I support UMass’s new plan for public-private financing of  new dorms on campus.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“I live next door in harmony with a large student rental and enjoy seeing students jog and walk past my house. Students keep the town young. We must create wider opportunities for positive interaction, perhaps creating a permanent gallery for student artists downtown. Amherst residents need more moderate and low income housing to make the town affordable for students and families.”

George Ryan, Town Meeting member, former board president of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity

Motivation in running for office: “I believe deeply in the ethic of service – we are most fully ourselves when we give of ourselves for the betterment of our community. I have tried to live my life that way, as do many others in our town. I guess, in a word, while it was not something I sought or even planned for, it is something in the current climate that I feel obligated to do.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “I would want to see the town adopt Form-Based Zoning to both encourage development but also provide a tool for planners to address issues of how new buildings fit into the larger urban landscape.”
  • “I want to see the Council make the East Street School available for a low and moderate income housing.”
  • “I would like to see the Council adopt the master plan which lays out in broad outline a forward looking vision for Amherst, one which balances our commitment to open space and the preservation of the Town’s unique character with the need for promoting housing and economic development in the downtown and village centers.”

Ryan, a 31-year resident of Amherst and 28-year resident of the third district, received 193 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

“I have every hope that the voters will elect a solid majority of councilors who are sensible, who can work together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, and who share a commitment to creating a 21st century Amherst. The Council will become the chief executive and legislative body of the town… I will do my best to encourage them not to fear the changes that are occurring around us but rather to embrace them in a spirit of making our town the envy of the Pioneer Valley.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“The town needs to strengthen its tax base by encouraging growth in the downtown and village centers so that we can continue to provide the level and quality of services that we have come to expect and to help make it possible for the town to address the four major capital projects that need immediate attention: elementary Schools, the [department of public works] building, South Amherst Fire Station and renovation at the Jones Library.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“Many of us live and work in Amherst because of the presence of these institutions. The University of Massachusetts is the economic engine which drives our local economy. When the University flourishes, the town flourishes. The town must continue to maintain the positive dialog that has existed now for a number of years with these institutions and we must resist the tendency of some in our town to demonize the University or the student population in general.  While there will always be areas of tension, we should work together in a spirit of collegiality and mutual respect.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“First of all, a large number of the people who live in my district are students! Seventy percent of all registered voters in my district are 24 years of age or younger…As for town-gown relations:  First, I hope the voters in my district will elect a student to the Council and give students a real voice in town affairs.  In a town where 60 percent of the residents are college-aged, it seems a no-brainer. And second, if I am elected, I promise each Labor Day weekend to walk the areas of my district which have a large concentration of student residents to both welcome them to (or back to) the neighborhood and to let them know that I, as one of their representatives, am glad that they are here and to remind them that they are also part of a larger community.”

Steve Braun, Finance Committee, Public Works Committee, Joint Capital Planning Committee, Town Meeting

Motivation in running for office: “I want to put my experience and skills to work to make our new form of government a model of effectiveness, transparency, inclusiveness and fiscal responsibility.”

Three agenda priorities:

  • “Work collaboratively with the School Committee, department heads and the Library Trustees to create a roadmap for achieving our large capital project goals.”
  • “Push for upgrading our current zoning code to a form-based code that gives both town planners and developers clear guidelines for new construction that are contextual, human-scaled and sustainable.”
  • “Implement policies and procedures that actively reach out to community members and groups that are under-represented on the Council itself.”

Braun, an 18-year Amherst resident, received 157 votes in the preliminary election.

This will be Amherst’s first town council. How do you envision the town council operating in the town, and what will you do to create this vision?

 “I hope the new council honestly listens to the range of opinions and values in town, evaluates issues on the basis of evidence and reason, deliberates in a spirit of respect for one another’s opinions and that individual Council members vote based on their own, independent thought rather than allegiance to any particular group in town. My experience and temperament are well-suited to this task.”

What is the biggest issue facing the Town of Amherst right now?

“I think we need to solve the riddle of how to pay for renovating or replacing two elementary schools, building a new fire house and DPW facility and upgrading the Jones Library. I believe this can be done with coordinated effort, cost controls and smart budgeting and borrowing.”

What role do you feel local colleges and universities should play in town decisions?

“All three institutions are now engaged with the town on various fronts and our town manager has good working relationships with the presidents of each institution. The new Council should continue this approach of “active engagement” and continue to seek greater support from our educational institutions with proposals based on reasonable and rational assessments of what services the town provides compared with what the institutions pay for, either directly or indirectly.”

As a town council member, how would you balance the concerns of students with the concerns of permanent town residents?

“First, I would actively reach out to students and student groups to clearly understand the issues they care about. Then we can begin conversations that involve all stakeholders, whether those are neighbors, business owners or the educational institutions themselves. True balance can only come from continuing open communication and decisions based on input from all sides.”

John Page, who received 106 votes in the preliminary election, did not respond to comment on this article. A previous Q&A with Page was published in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KathrineEsten.