Amherst Town Council organizes in first order of business

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2018 12:25:30 AM

AMHERST — Amherst’s first ever Town Council meeting Monday came to order promptly at 8 p.m., with councilors having an opportunity to address the public and residents able to offer comments to the council.

Within an hour, Lynn Griesemer, elected as one of two representatives for District 2, was nominated and unanimously named council president by her colleagues.

After being sworn into the role by Town Clerk Margaret Nartowicz, Griesemer said she is confident all 13 councilors are independent and committed to moving Amherst forward.

“I use these terms intentionally,” Griesemer said, observing that some candidates had been endorsed by the political action committee called Amherst Forward, while others had described themselves as independent candidates.

Griesemer said it is important to get out of these boxes as soon as possible and have Amherst serve as a model for what democracy means. “Each of us needs to carry our weight, and I know we can and I know we will,” Griesemer said.

An hour after Griesemer made her comments, though, and following four rounds in which the councilors were deadlocked in their choice for council vice president, At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke narrowly prevailed, 7-6, over Sarah Swartz, one of two District 1 councilors, for the position. Hanneke became vice president when Griesemer cast the deciding vote.

On a night when many members talked about the importance of unity as the new council begins its work, some of the same divisions were evident, with Hanneke, who had been endorsed by Amherst Forward, earning her initial six votes from councilors who received support from the PAC, and Swartz earning all her votes from the so-called independents, except for one vote cast by At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer.

After the repeated deadlock, town attorney Joel Bard of KP Law informed councilors that the town charter prevented them from having a different vice president for each month of the year.

The long discussion, and several votes, came even though Griesemer said the vice president is not a special position, and would have no greater role in setting the agenda for council meetings than any other councilor.

Still, Patricia DeAngelis, who also represents District 2, said Swartz would be an important symbol for the community in the role as vice president.

At the beginning of the night, Dorothy Pam, president pro tem, called the meeting to order to applause from a packed Town Room, filled with residents, town officials and some former Town Meeting members.

Residents who addressed the council mostly focused on how its leadership should reflect the community.

Andra Rose of District 3 said the choices the council made for president and vice president would demonstrate if it will work as a team. “It’s very important to me that everyone in town be represented well,” Rose said.

Kitty Axelson-Berry of District 2 said there is need for unity and overcoming divisiveness in town. “I do hope it is not only filled by people endorsed by Amherst Forward, but by independents,” Axelson-Berry said.

But Jeffrey Blaustein of District 2 said townspeople need to get past the belief that anyone is beholden to a PAC. Nancy Bair of District 1, who has been on a planning group for the District 1 Neighborhood Association, also expressed hope that divisions can fade away.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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