The original Amherst Forward Questionnaire – My Responses

As I’ve been out talking to residents in Amherst, I’ve been getting asked about Amherst Forward. Many of those questions have been about the original questionnaire sent out back in June to all of the declared candidates for the preliminary election. So, at the urging of one resident, I am putting my thoughts out there. Unfortunately, back in June, I didn’t think to keep track of my answers to the questionnaire, so I can’t publish them exactly. But what I can do is explain to the best of my ability my memory of those answers and also my thoughts about the questions themselves.

So, the questionnaire had 6 questions. Five of them were “yes/no” questions, where I could only choose either “yes” or “no”. The sixth was a catch-all that allowed us to submit comments or details on the other five questions.

The first question was “Will you support zoning bylaw changes to densify downtown and village centers (in order to broaden the tax base so Amherst can pay for high-quality services and infrastructure while preserving open space)?”  Given the choice between “yes” or “no”, I answered “yes” because, in general, I do support zoning bylaw changes that would densify downtown.

But, I also know that I used the opportunity in the last question to explain this answer. I explained that I generally support the Master Plan adopted around a decade ago and that the Master Plan advocates for in-fill development in the town centers. However, zoning bylaw changes are highly specific, and I stated that there are many bylaw changes that would “densify downtown and village centers” that I would not support, specifically stating that a proposal to allow 10 story buildings in downtown would likely not garner my support. The question was very “either / or” which does not allow for nuances. It’s the nuances in the proposals that are extremely important. I would look at each proposed bylaw change on its own merits, with an eye towards a comprehensive, cohesive, and reasonable approach to implementing the Master Plan.

The second question was “Will you push for the creation and execution of a long-range major capital projects plan that will fund, over time and in the most financially responsible sequence (including state funding), Amherst’s four needed construction projects – the replacement of two elementary schools, the proposal for the renovation/expansion of the Jones Library, the construction of a South Amherst fire station, and the replacement of the Department of Public Works facility?” Again, I answered yes, because I do believe we need to create and execute a plan for our major capital projects in the most financially responsible way.

The third and fourth questions were related. They were: “Will you vote in favor of the bond funding of any proposal to replace Fort River and Wildwood schools as long as it is approved by the School Committee and the voters and pronounced financially viable by the Town Manager” and “If the MSBA allows the Town to re-consider on an accelerated basis the previous, voter-approved proposal to build co-located 2-6 grade elementary schools at the Wildwood site, replacing the Wildwood & Fort River buildings and converting Crocker Farm to an early education center, expanding our public pre-school, will you vote to authorize the borrowing required to fund it?” Again, I had a choice for each of these questions of “yes” or “no”. Given those options, I answered yes to both of them. And, I believe I also used the opportunity in the last question to explain my responses.

In both of these questions, my answer depended on the fact that the voters would have approved the project (the first question said it outright; the second question was based on the ballot question that already passed the voters). As a Councilor, I believe it is my duty to support the voters if they, by a majority, affirmatively choose to raise their taxes for a capital project. So, if the old project were brought back to the Council for a bond vote, I would believe it my duty to vote for it.  But, that answer says nothing about whether I believe it is wise to take that course of action–I do not. I believe Amherst has a unique opportunity right now to engage a large portion of its residents on the issue of new school buildings. It would be a dereliction of the duty of elected officials if they skipped that part of the process and brought back the old plan. Now, if that plan is still deemed the best for Amherst and its schoolchildren after another large public participation effort, that’s fine. But, don’t skip the public outreach, public opinion gathering, and public input phases. They are the most important part of having large capital projects like this succeed.

So, yes, if voters approve raising their taxes for a new school project, I will vote to authorize the bond. If, through good financial management, the bond for such a project doesn’t need a voter override, I would push for an advisory question on a ballot in order to gauge voter opinion. If that wasn’t possible, I would do my best to determine whether a majority of residents in town support the project. If I believed a majority did, I would vote to authorize the bond.

The fifth question was: “Do you have the capacity to actively campaign this summer and fall for a Councilor position (e.g., do you have time to knock on doors most weekends, friends to help, willingness to articulate a vision, generate a website, brochure, etc.)?” I answered yes.

In answer to the sixth question, I believe I also stated that answering the prior questions with either a “yes” or “no” was difficult because so many of the questions ignored the nuance behind specific proposals. There were times I really wanted to say “generally yes” or “likely yes” instead of “yes.” But I didn’t have the option.

Since this questionnaire was sent, I’ve been knocking on doors, putting my positions on my website, handing out literature, and attending parties and candidate forums. I have also answered every single questionnaire and survey I have received related to my candidacy. These have been from interest groups, newspapers, and non-partisan entities. I believe it is my duty as a council candidate to answer questions of residents and groups who want to know my positions on items of interest to them. How those groups choose to ask their questions is something I cannot control. All I can do is answer them to the best of my ability. And, what the groups do with the answers I provide is out of my control. What is in my control is publishing my answers to the questions here, in order to give residents more information about me. I have now done that for every questionnaire I’ve received (even if this one is not as exact as the others I’ve posted).

I hope this post has helped explain why I answered the questionnaire, why my answers were what they were, and where I would have liked to be able to better explain the nuance behind my answers. As always, if residents have questions about my positions, they can email or call me. My contact information is at the top of the page.