In March 2016, for the third time since it adopted the representative Town Meeting/Select Board/Town Manager form of government in 1953, Amherst voters approved the creation of a Charter Commission to consider a Home Rule Charter for Amherst. The resulting Home Rule Charter was adopted by Amherst voters in March 2018.
The League of Women Voters of Amherst has closely followed the evolution of the Amherst Town Government since the late 1940s. At that time, Amherst voters were considering whether their traditional open Town Meeting with an executive Select Board should be replaced by a representative Town Meeting, with the executive branch augmented by a professional Town Manager professional overseeing the administrative staff and accountable to the Select Board. This proposal was embodied in a Special Act of the Massachusetts General Court in 1951 and submitted to the voters of Amherst for approval in the same year.
The League studied the issue from 1947 to 1950. At its 1950 annual meeting, it approved a new one-sentence position supporting the "selectmen-manager form of town government" for Amherst.
The Special Act failed to gain voter approval in 1951. The League collected signatures to place it on the ballot again in 1953, and this time it passed by a slim margin. The League continued to support the resulting Amherst Town Government Act through two subsequent referendums (1957 and 1960).
In 1966, a Home Rule Amendment to the state constitution was passed. The Home Rule Amendment allowed cities and towns to frame, adopt and amend a charter for their local governments and to exercise all powers of local self-government, subject to the constitutions and general laws of the state, instead of going through the General Court as Amherst had done in 1951. Prior to 2016, Amherst formed two Charter Commissions to prepare Home Rule Charters for Amherst. Proposed Home Rule Charters were placed before the voters in 1996 and 2003. Both were rejected.
Meanwhile, in response to the 1966 Home Rule Amendment and subsequent legislation, LWVA initiated a study of the selectmen-manager form of government, resulting in a detailed position on "The Structure of Local Government" starting in the early 1970s and amended several times in the following decades. In the run-up to the 2003 election, the League also adopted a second position on "Local Government: Concepts, Principles and Practices".
The League’s reactions to the first two Charter Commissions were controversial, both inside and outside of the League in 1996, and especially within the League in 2003. The League held a number of meetings in 2017 to consider how best to assist Amherst voters, including its own members, to evaluate the Charter Commission and its proposed Charter.
- The first meeting was held on May 9, 2017. The history of the League's work in this area was reviewed, and member opinions solicited.
The LWVA Annual Meeting on June 1, 2017 agreed that a consensus meeting should be held in the fall to address the League position on the Structure of Town Government, and in particular the statement that "The League supports selectmen-manager form of government (1950, 1995)". Two specific motions were passed:
- that this meeting include a discussion of separating the question of supporting professional management from the question of support for the town meeting form of government, and
- that the meeting include an option of removing the current position regarding the selectmen-manager form of government.
- Two meetings were held in September, 2017, to fulfill these directions.
In the end, no revisions were made to either of the League's two positions on local government. Members decided that the best course of action would be to present the concepts, principles and practices that the League believes make for effective local government, and to use these principles to compare the charter proposal with the existing structure defined by the 2001 Amherst Town Government Act. A similar approach was taken in 2003. League activities in the run-up to the March 2018 vote on the proposed Charter are found here.