Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

First Town Council sworn into office

‘A new beginning and what’s next’
Collegian File Photo

With over 200 community members in attendance, the inaugural Amherst Town Council was sworn in by Judge James Collins at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School on Sunday afternoon.

The 13 councilors, composed of three-at large members and two members from each of the town’s five districts, took the oath of office at the culmination of the hour-long ceremony. The councilors include Mandi Jo Hanneke, Alisa Brewer, Andrew Steinberg, Sarah Swartz, Cathy Schoen, J. Lynn Griesemer, Patricia DeAngelis, Dorothy Pam, George Ryan, Evan Ross, Stephen Schreiber, Shalini Bahl-Milne and Darcy Dumont.

Nancy Eddy, the event’s emcee, started the event by discussing her long history in the town. As a resident for over 60 years, Eddy has served three terms on the Select Board, president of the Amherst League of Women Voters and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association among other organizations.

“Let us look to today as a new beginning and what’s next,” Eddy said.

An overall theme of the event was unity, particularly regarding the division over the creation of the Town Council. In March, Amherst residents voted in support of a new town charter which replaced the town meeting format of government with the 13-person town council.

Keynote speaker Matthew Charity spoke about the faults of town meetings, including the difficulties in finding candidates or gaining support and challenges of arranging meetings around members’ work schedules and child care. Charity, the chair of Amherst’s Human Rights Commission and a professor of law at Western New England University, previously served as a town meeting member.

“Voices could not and would not be heard in a room of 250 people,” Charity said, adding that open deliberation and community engagement would be a major focus of the new council.

Reverend Vicki Kemper of the First Congregational Church spoke on behalf of the diverse religious population of Amherst, discussing the history of faith in the town. In early colonial days, Kemper explained, the founding of a community church paved the way for a town to exist.

While acknowledging the separation of religion and state, Kemper spoke about how the First Congregational Church and the town stood “shoulder to shoulder” in defending Lucio Perez.

Perez, an undocumented immigrant, moved with his family into the church on Oct. 18, 2017 to escape a deportation order. Since then, his case has received support from many town organizations and residents.

“It is not always easy, but it makes all of us stronger,” Kemper said.

Amherst-Pelham Regional High School senior Karrington Dowe spoke at the event about his experience moving to Amherst in 2011. While he was initially nervous about being in a new place, Dowe reflected on how welcoming Amherst was in making him feel at home.

“Facing challenges and finding solutions is why we are here today,” Dowe said. “[It’s] not about individuals, it’s about Amherst and its people.”

The event also paid tribute to the rich cultural history in Amherst, including historic figures Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

“You can’t spell Amherst without ‘a, r, t,’” Eddy quipped.

The school choir from Crocker Farm Elementary School, directed by Eleanor Lincoln, performed two selections, including “Champion.”

“They are our future,” Lincoln said, emphasizing that the community needs to champion the students.

Karen Skolfield, a local poet, read an original piece inspired by the Amherst community coming together during a 19th century blizzard, connecting it to the need for Amherst to come together once again for the new Town Council.

Doug Slaughter, the now-former Select Board Chair, reminded citizens that “just as we cannot be perfect, our government cannot be either.”

To honor the new legislative model of the town, Slaughter announced that a new gavel is being built out of wood from the maple tree that was cut down on Mount Pollux earlier this year, earning a round of applause from the audience.

In introducing the final performance of the evening, an acapella of “Stand by Me” by Torin Moore, Eddy added that while citizens will criticize, call out and email the new councilors, they can “be assured we will praise you from time to time.”

The town council will meet for the first time on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. at Amherst Town Hall.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected].

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    amyDec 3, 2018 at 5:44 am

    Why is this being reported on? Do you think any student cares about the town council?

    They don’t for two reasons. 1. They are going to move away within a few months to a few years.
    2. It’s completely insignificant.