Clipping Service: Tuesday March 27 Town-wide Election

The Sunday Republican, Sunday, March 18, 2007

Challenger, incumbents eye slots

AMHERST - Alisa V. Brewer has a year left on her School Committee term
but opted to run for the Select Board now because "I feel the current
board is not functioning well and not heading in the right direction."

But incumbents Robie Hubley and Gerald S. Weiss think the board is
working well, and both are seeking to keep their seats in the March 27

Hubley in a letter to constituents announcing his re-election bid wrote
that he finds "great satisfaction in working on behalf of the people of
Amherst. Amherst is a work in progress, and I want to continue to

Weiss said he feels it's his obligation to serve on this democratic
form of government he believes in. And, he said, "three years is not
enough for my turn on the Select Board." Being on the board, he said,
really requires two terms.

Brewer felt having been on the Comprehensive Planning Committee as well
as the School Committee gave her "a good sense of what the Select Board
does and what could be done."

She waited for other people to make a bid for a seat, and when others
didn't come forward - only David T. Keenan took out papers but did not
file them - she felt, "I'm willing to do this."

Brewer feels the board spends too much time focusing on the small
things - belaboring them "at the expense of something else." She feels
the board instead needs to look more at policy and let Town Manager
Laurence R. Shaffer do what he was hired to do.

She believes that the board should have dealt with budget problems
earlier. She said the board knew there was a structural deficit and
could have been looking at ways to help fix it in the fall and not
leave discussions about an override until now, which she feels is too
late in the budget process.

The town for the last several years has used reserves to balance the
budget, but with reserves dwindling, town officials are opposing the
use of any more reserves. Instead, voters will be asked to support a
Proposition 2½ override combined with limiting budgets.

She is also frustrated about the delay in setting the amount of the

The Select Board on Monday agreed to place a ballot question with a
$2.5 million figure but is also pondering whether to ask voters to
consider a lesser amount as well. The board is expected to make that
decision at its meeting tomorrow.

Brewer said she supports the Finance Committee recommendations. The
committee is recommending a $2.5 million override and a three-year plan
that sets budget guidelines for the next three fiscal years. While she
said some people are frustrated knowing the town will face a deficit at
the end of the plan, officials will have three years to figure out what
to do.

She also wants the board to take on more of a leadership role when it
comes to advising Town Meeting. "Town Meeting likes to be able to look
to the Select Board to tell us what to do. The Select Board is hesitant
to take on the role," she said. The board will present opinions on
articles the night an article is considered, and she would rather know
board positions earlier on so the meeting can weigh the various

The Finance Committee typically issues recommendations in a report to
Town Meeting before the meeting begins.

Hubley sees his role on the Select Board as one who can listen to
people and bring disparate groups together. Hubley was first elected in
October of 2003 replacing Eddy Goldberg, who resigned. He won a full
term the following spring.

He believes that the board has taken on a leadership role with budgets
and is proactive. He said last year the board suggested holding budgets
to just 2 percent but that didn't hold. He believes there will have to
be cuts this year in addition to finding new sources of income and
charging for services it hasn't had to charge for in the past.

He also believes that there are services that have been provided but
that "we can't afford to do now." He was referring to some leisure
service activities.

Hubley supports offering voters the chance to consider a $1.5 million
override for the fiscal 2008. He said those that support any kind of
override support a $1 million to $2 million override. He believes the
town could come back next year again if needed. "I don't think it's a
big deal to come back next year. ... We have to make a new budget."
He's afraid that voters will reject a higher amount. He said at a
recent Select Board meeting that voters would be more likely to support
a $1.5 million override "because they can afford it."

Of his accomplishments, he said he helped negotiate the new mutual aid
agreement with the University of Massachusetts, which opened the door
to more police cooperation between the town and the university.

"I've been wrangling my way into commercial development, trying to find
out what makes people characterize Amherst as negative on business,"
Hubley said.

He and Weiss have been meeting with the Amherst Area Chamber of
Commerce government affairs committee to help bridge the gulf between
business and Town Hall. "Part of the trouble is each one has
stereotyped the other. There certainly are common interests."

"One of my primary goals has been to build bridges," Weiss said. He
said he has been able to bring together groups of "people who haven't
traditionally worked together" and pointed out the Chamber of Commerce
and Town Hall.

He said from attending Promote Downtown Amherst meetings, he "learned
just how frustrated the businesses were with the inspection process,"
even before Shaffer began working to make the process more efficient.
Hubley, too, has been involved in seeing that the process is resolved.

Weiss believes that increasing commercial development is part of the
answer to helping the town deal with budget issues.

He believes that promoting the kind of housing that Hampshire College
has initiated is also important in that regard. The college has signed
a development agreement with Beacon Communities Development of Boston
to build a 120-unit residential community on college land aimed at
people 50 and older. The clustered housing would include a mix of
townhouses and flats located on about 20 acres.

He said Amherst will never be the kind of community attracting the
so-called Big Box stores.

Weiss said the board had discussed cutting budgets last year but said
"we probably should have done (more). We weren't very forceful," he

He doesn't see it as his job to promote an override. "My position is to
represent the whole (town)." He said he will be clear, however, about
the cuts that would be necessary without an override.

He also believes the Select Board needs to "push Larry" when it comes
to diversifying who works for the town.

Shaffer recently announced that Human Rights Director Eunice Torres
will be moved to the Human Resources Department to serve more of the
internal needs of the town rather than responding to complaints.

Shaffer said the purpose is to recruit and select employees who would
enhance the town's diversity.

Weiss said that was a good start. But, he said, "we have a lot of work
to do."

TOMORROW: The School Committee candidates.