Town Council Regular Meeting, 9/9/19 Recap

In lieu of my regular opinion column this week, I’m filling in for Maura Keene and doing a full re-cap of the regular council meeting. Maura usually does these recaps for the Amherst Indy, where TC4N is also published. If you enjoy my posts, please consider subscribing. You’ll get fact and opinion based articles on politics and culture in Amherst from a range of local writers. AmherstIndy.org.

Meeting Highlights

  • Discussion of the Centennial Water Treatment Plant upgrade
  • Request for a handicapped pick-up/drop-off area in front of the proposed new development at 26 Spring Street
  • Proposed emergency purchase of a new school bus

Announcements/Upcoming Events

  • 9/17: Amherst School Committee Meeting on the Fort River School Building Committee study
  • 9/19: Business Improvement District block party
  • 9/21: Town Council retreat; open to the public

Presentation

Doug Slaughter and woodworker Steve Locke presented a gavel and sounding block to the Town Council, which Locke made out of a maple tree taken down from Mt. Pollux.

Eversource Public Hearing

A second hearing from Eversource on a six-foot-tall electrical transformer box was unnecessary . At the last regular council meeting, the company had asked for permission to put a six-foot-tall box on the Town Common but it withdrew its petition before this meeting, so the hearing was called to a close.

Public Comment

During general public comment, Felicia Mednick spoke for Mothers Out Front, a climate action organization, asking that the town not purchase a new diesel school bus. Vincent O’Connor returned with his proposal to create a refugee asylum committee. Jeff Lee opposed Eversource’s proposal to place a large junction box on the town common by recounting a history of the Amherst Common and calling for utility infrastructure downtown to be buried. Speaking on behalf of the Amherst Leisure Services community theater, David Mullins asked that it be provided with space to continue making sets if the Department of Public Works (DPW) building, which they currently use, is closed or moved.

Puerto Rico Day

The Town Council proclaimed its support for Puerto Rican Day, which will be celebrated on the steps of Town Hall on September 23, in honor of an 1868 anti-colonial rebellion.

Centennial Water Plant

DPW head Guilford Mooring presented on the proposed update to the Centennial Water Treatment Plant. Because of a lightning strike, the plant is now offline and not being used. The cost of a new plant is approximately $1l million and would be paid for from the town’s water and sewer enterprise funds. If the plant isn’t brought back online, the town risks losing certification to draw water from its source. Mooring will provide the Finance Committee a best guess as to how much residents can expect their water bills to increase if a new plant is constructed. : The DEP allows the town a maximum average usage of 4.55 million gallons of water a day; although use is generally far below this level.

Handicapped Pick Up at 26 Spring Street

As part of the permitting process, Archipelago Investments was asked by the Planning Board to include a handicapped accessible pick-up/drop off area in front of its proposed building at 26 Spring Street. The planning board only asked that the request be presented to the Town Council, not approved. It was referred to the Community Resources Committee, which will examine parking and loading along the entire north side of Spring Street between Boltwood Avenue and Churchill Street. This was one of the last orders of business before the developer can be issued a building permit, and the first time that the project has come before the council.

School Bus Replacement

Amherst Schools reported that a school bus is in need of emergency replacement. Rather than spend the estimated $30,000 for repair, Comptroller Sonia Aldrich asked the council to approve $70,000 to purchase a new gas-powered bus, although the Town Manager Paul Bockelman could have approved the spending directly. Councilor Darcy Dumont (District 5) presented a white paper raising fifteen questions about the purchase in relation to the town’s green energy policies and goals.. She called on the council to answer her questions in committee before agreeing to the purchase. When her motion to refer the matter to the finance committee failed to garner enough votes, she moved to postpone discussion, which stopped debate and put the issue on hold until the next regular council meeting.

Town Manager Contract

Bockelman’s contract was unanimously approved with no public input at this meeting. Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) described his contract as being substantially the same as the previous version, with the exception that it will be extended until August 31, 2023 and includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise plus a 3 percent performance raise. Councilor Cathy Schoen (District 1) questioned whether the contract’s long-term termination clause, which would pay the manager up to a full-year salary, could be considered a golden parachute.

Policy on Candidate Statements

Mandi Jo Hanneke presented a draft policy developed by the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee for publishing statements by candidates for local office on the town’s website. Statements would be limited to 900 characters including white space, or about 150 words. Discussion took place about whether the statements could include links supplied by candidates, and how the town could prevent links from connecting to pornography or other content not desirably associated with Town Hall. Council Alyssa Brewer proposed having a “non-hot” link that the user would have to copy and paste into a new browser.

Percent for Art

The final make-up of the Percent for Art Ad Hoc committee was presented with no vote required for its approval. The members are William Kaizen and James Barnhill from the Public Art Commission, and Andy Steinberg, Cathy Schoen, and Steve Schreiber from the council.

The rest of the meeting was largely pro-forma: updated references to “clerk” in the charter were finalized; inter-municipal agreements were approved; a proposed policy on zoning bylaw hearings was referred to committee; all were unanimously decided.

Highlight from the Town Manager’s report:

The town’s strategic partnership agreement with UMass has lapsed, although it continues to be honored. Geoff Kravits and Dave Ziomek are taking the lead on negotiating a new agreement. UMass has just been ranked the #24 public university in the country by U.S. News and World Report.