Nine people recommended to Amherst council for town charter review

Looking across the Amherst Town Common to Town Hall.

Looking across the Amherst Town Common to Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2024 4:34 PM

AMHERST — A committee to review Amherst’s home-rule charter and propose possible adjustments to the 37-page document, based on feedback it receives from the public over the next year, could be formed by the Town Council next week.

The charter, published in September 2017 and approved by voters in 2018, put in place a 13-member elected Town Council to replace the 240-member Town Meeting and five-member Select Board, and requires such a review in every year ending in 4.

The council’s Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee recently recommended nine residents to serve on the review committee after interviewing 12 applicants.

The group will be charged with meeting with residents before filing a report that could recommend “any changes to the charter which it deems necessary or desirable.” Those changes could be up to and including the government structure, though more extensive proposals might need special legislation and establishment of a new Charter Commission.

Those selected to serve on the review panel, after members of the town committee ranked their preferences, are Marcus Smith, Raphael Rogers, Dan Muscat, Erika Mijlin, Ken LeBlond, Bernie Kubiak, Julian Hynes, Meg Gage and Andy Churchill. That slate will be brought to the Town Council for consideration on Monday.

Gage and Churchill both served on the Charter Commission that recommended the current form of government, with Churchill chairing that commission.

The potential members bring a range of experience, with Churchill, a nearly 30-year resident, previously serving on the Amherst School Committee and managing the Center for Education Policy at the University of Massachusetts for 11 years. For her part, Gage is an Amherst Regional graduate whose children went through town schools, and she served as a Town Meeting member from 1987 until 2017.

Hynes, a recent Amherst Regional graduate, serves on the Governor’s Youth Climate Council and is a member of Sunrise Amherst and the Young Feminist Alliance; Kubiak is a former town administrator in three towns, a Select Board member in Belchertown, and worked for the state Department of Developmental Services; and LeBlond is a UMass communications manager who annually matches groups of 40 international undergraduate students for volunteer projects with local organizations such as the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center.

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Mijlin is a media-maker and a a former educator on faculty at colleges; Muscat is a self-employed commercial and residential contractor who has lived in town since 1996 and whose two youngest children went through the Amherst schools; Rogers has consulted for the state Department of Education over the past 10 years; and Smith works for a federally funded research and development corporation.

John Varner, Patrick Meagher and Darcy DuMont were the other applicants.

“I’m impressed by this group,” District 3 Councilor George Ryan said, noting that each brings a different life experience and he is excited to see what they do.

Council President Lynn Griesemer noted that the list includes at least two members who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and that the group brings a range of experience, from some heavily involved in town affairs to others who have never been involved.

“The group exhibits a broad range of age and it does cover every district, which I think is important,” Griesemer said.

District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, who chairs the council committee, said she is pleased with the recommendations and that the members have “a variety of experiences across committee work, professional work, and I think that they’re all bringing a sense of curiosity to this process, a sense of wanting to explore and learn and not necessarily coming in with a list of things that they’re just going to plow forward with, and ignore what other people have to say.”

Devlin Gauthier said she would like to see the review committee reach out to current and former councilors to get perspective.

Meanwhile, the Amherst League of Women voters has a task force that could make recommendations for possible charter amendments based on good government principles. The League did a survey to get feedback on some modest changes, such as when public comment is offered, the continuation of hybrid meetings, and allowing electronic signatures for petitions; to bigger changes, such as whether the charter should include a mayor as the executive to improve checks and balances in town government.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.