Local Experience

Select Board Recapper

My tower of Select Board recap notebooks, my digital recorder and my special pen.

Since December of 2006, I have been attending Select Board meetings, and writing detailed recaps of those meetings on inAmherst.com.  I started doing this because the meetings are long, and too few among us can spare the multiple hours necessary to watch the ACTV broadcasts, and the newspapers don’t have the space to include lots of details on every discussion.  Because I believe that our community is best served by more people knowing and caring about what Town government is doing on our behalf, and how it is doing it, I committed myself to making those meetings more accessible to a wider audience. 

In doing so, I have learned an extraordinary amount about the work of the Select Board, and I have learned it more comprehensively than had I just been observing the meetings.  In order to write accurately about the discussions, I need to have a clear understanding of what the participants are talking about, and those participants include not only the Select Board members, but also the Town Manager, the Finance Director, the Assessor, boards and committees, members of the public, and many others.  This has been an incredibly valuable learning experience, one that would enable me to serve as a new Select Board member with a veteran’s knowledge of the issues and processes. 

Town Meeting Member and Blogger

When I considered running for Town Meeting in spring of 2006, I was troubled by the inscrutability of that body, and how most people have little choice but to elect members about whom they know nothing.  I decided to start a blog that would chronicle my Town Meeting experience, and would explain how I was voting on issues and why.  I went door-to-door in my precinct, introducing myself and explaining that concept.  The response was very positive, and people appreciated my efforts to be accountable rather than anonymous.  In a crowded race, I won my seat.

The blogging prepared me well for writing the Select Board meeting recaps, though the style and content of the two are very different.  In addition to making me accountable to voters, it provided a forum for other Town Meeting members, Town officials and members of the public to comment on issues and learn from each other.  

A further level of accountability and access was provided when my husband created a database of all Town Meeting tally votes, allowing anyone to see, sort and compare the voting records of members past and present. 

The Select Board recaps and the Town Meeting blog demonstrate my intricate knowledge of the issues and functioning of these two important bodies of our Town government.  Together with the Tally Vote Database, all show my commitment to the belief that good government requires accountability, transparency and access, and they highlight my initiative in the advancement of that belief. 

Town Meeting Coordinating Committee

During the spring 2006 session, I was elected by Town Meeting to serve on the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee.  On this committee, I have prioritized making more Town Meeting information available not only to Town Meeting members, but also to the general public, to help all be better informed about the issues being voted on at Town Meeting.  Reports and recommendations to Town Meeting are now posted in advance of their votes on the Town web site.  In addition to encouraging better information and engagement, this creates a more complete and accessible historical record of Town Meeting’s work, and I am proud to have helped make that happen.

During my tenure, this committee has been comprised of Town Meeting members with strong divergent opinions, and I believe that my primary contribution has been to help the group find common ground to work effectively together.

Council on Aging

I was appointed to the Council on Aging in the summer of 2007.  I have been delivering Meals on Wheels almost every weekday since October of 2003, and that has made me keenly aware of and concerned about the factors facing seniors as they seek to maintain independent living with dignity.  Issues of health and health care, transportation, finances, nutrition, family, loneliness, managing life’s complicated logistics and so much more, become particularly challenging as we age, and finding ways to help navigate and mitigate those challenges is very important to me. 

Though I have only been on the Council a short time, I have helped the group to consider new ways to think about its mission and frame its messages.  I organized and facilitated this year’s annual “retreat” — a three-hour meeting where I conducted structured brainstorming on the Senior Center’s strengths, weaknesses, needs and priorities.  Afterward, I was proud and gratified to receive tremendously positive feedback from every participant, and I expect the results of that meeting will help to guide the Council going forward.

Meals on Wheels

On my meals delivery route, in the courtyard between Clark House and Ann Whalen Apartments.

As mentioned above, I have been delivering meals for more than four years.  Mine is the “walking route,” and with my trusty shopping cart, I deliver meals four days a week to residents of Clark House and Ann Whalen Apartments.  While I know that my doing so addresses many needs of those on my route, it would seem impossible that the benefit to them could be greater than the pure joy and extraordinary lessons that the experience gives to me. 

I include this service here because it is evidence of my commitment and dependability.

Shelter Sunday - Board of Directors

I have been a member of the Board of Directors for the Amherst Friends for the Homeless – the group that puts on the annual Shelter Sunday fundraising event – since early 2004.  Shelter Sunday raises more than $25,000 a year for local human service agencies serving the homeless and others in need in our community.  The event is a giant logistical puzzle, featuring more than 300 volunteers going door-to-door for donations.  I am fortunate to work with Board members who make every aspect of the event run smoothly.  My primary role is publicity and promotion, but helping to identify and encourage new ways of doing things may be my greater contribution. 

Amherst Survival Center - Board Chair

The inaugural issue of the Survival Center newsletter, Spring 1998.

I went to the Survival Center in the fall of 1997 seeking a way to become involved with and assist a vital local resource.  I offered to write articles for their newsletter, but they didn’t have one.  So I created “The Open Door” and researched, wrote and designed two issues per year from 1998 through 2002, which was my tenure serving on the Survival Center’s Board of Directors.  The newsletter proved to be a valuable fundraising tool both directly – with contributions returned in envelopes from the newsletter; and indirectly – by dramatically increasing awareness of the Survival Center’s programs and services, which boosted returns on the annual fundraising appeal letter, and helped to promote other fundraising events and activities.

I served my final two years on the Board as Chair, and brought new efficiency and productivity to meetings, with detailed agendas and effective meeting management.  I was part of a larger effort to create increased standards and expectations for service delivery, record keeping and professionalism while staying true to the Survival Center’s mission and culture.  Among such efforts was an overall assessment and report of Center and Board operations, and I had significant involvement in that project.  I was active in many aspects of fundraising, and I served on several committees, and continued to serve on the Personnel Committee to assist with the creation of new job descriptions for about a year after leaving the Board of Directors.

My service to the Survival Center taught me an enormous amount about poverty in our community and the heroic efforts of agencies and their staffs and volunteers seeking to address countless needs.  It also helped me hone my skills for collaborating effectively and providing leadership in a group with a shared passionate commitment but often without a shared sense of how to move forward.  I consider my efforts and challenges on that Board, and the lessons I learned there, to be among my most valuable experiences.  

For details of my life and work click here.