Thursday, May 31, 2007

Is "public charity" an oxymoron?

The subject for Town Meeting tonight will be giving taxpayer money to local charities.

I'll vote NO, for lots of reasons:

1. We're taking money away from low-income people (their rents are higher because their landlords pay higher property taxes) just to give their money to local charities to help them. Dumb.

2. We're assuming that Town Meeting knows which local charities deserve Town support. Maybe I think that my money would be better spent feeding starving children in Venezuela rather than helping out Big Brothers/Big Sisters here in Amherst.

3. There's way too much possibility for corruption, kick-backs, and other nasty stuff whenever there's an indirect transfer of money from taxpayer's pockets, through government, and into somebody else's pockets. Get rid of the middle-man, it's simpler and more efficient.

And after I vote NO tonight, I'll give generously to local and international charities that I believe make the world a better place.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I almost fell asleep...

I found myself yawning through Town Meeting last night, and, unlike previous Town Meeting nights, had no trouble falling asleep when I got home.

Kind of ironic; you'd think I'd be up all night worrying about my safety after all the talk about how cutting our First Responders would put the public at risk.

I voted (ineffectively-- the motion was defeated) to give Amherst Police the $100,000 we cut out of the budget the other night. I was swayed by the argument that restoring money to the police was the #1 item on the Town Manager's "to be restored" list in case the override succeeded.

Guilford Mooring, head of Amherst Public Works, is now my favorite town employee. I hope somebody grabs the Town Meeting video footage and posts his straightforward, no-nonsense, absolutely-no-regard-for-political-consequences answer to the question last night about line and crosswalk painting in town and posts it to YouTube.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yes, Yes, No, Yes, Yes

YesYesNoYesYes -- that's how I've voted on tally votes in Town Meeting.

Playing with the Tally Vote Database at is great geeky fun. I plugged in my votes as my "preferred" votes, told it to sort by "rating", and BAM!

12 people voted the same way as I did.

2 people voted exactly the opposite way (Joan Logan and Merrylees Turner, neither of whom I know-- would we disintegrate into elementary particles if we shook hands??)

The most common voting pattern (39 people): Yes,No,Yes,No,No (almost opposite-- we agree that resident aliens should be able to vote in local elections).

I voted for the Finance Committee budget even though it was $100,000 higher (and I'm generally a cheapskate, especially when it's not my money I'm spending) than the Select Board budget. I was swayed by arguments before the meeting that sticking with the finance committee budget would avoid endless wrestling over how to "slice the budget pie."

Well, there's now $100,000 on the table, and I have a feeling there will be a LOT of argument over how to spend it. Except for War Memorial Pool; it seems everybody wants it to stay open.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Zoning stuff was considered tonight at Town Meeting. And whether or not to screw over Pelham by dumping the rational, simple, per-pupil formula we've been using to figure out what each town pays for the middle and high schools and instead use the irrational, complicated State formula.

Why do governments at all levels seem to purposely make everything more and more complicated?

We have Farm Stand Zoning Bylaws in Amherst. But we don't actually have any Farm Stands big enough to be regulated under those Bylaws. But, just in case we ever do, we have Zoning Bylaws to regulate them! Ooh, except wait, wait, there are State Laws that regulate Farm Stands, so we'd better spend time making sure that our emergency-back-up Regulations conform to what the State says.

Here's an idea: get rid of the local Farm Stand bylaws. Then we won't have to spend time in Town Meeting updating them whenever the State Laws change.

Here's an equally good idea: get rid of the State Farm Stand laws. I gotta think that Boston might have different ideas about appropriate regulations for Farm Stands than Amherst.

We're told our schools need lots of administrators to figure out all the federal and state mandates by which they must abide.

We find out tonight at Town Meeting that the laws about regional school budgets were changed in February, so Amherst won't be forced to go along with the 3% regional school budget increase. Surprise! Does anybody actually understand all the laws and regulations?

Here's an idea: get rid of all the state regulations. Let the Towns do whatever they like with their local schools, and let people vote with their feet if they don't like what their Town is doing.

Diversity is good. Monopolies are bad.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Things really ARE getting better

Amazing presentation by Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden on the state of the world.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Town Peer Pressure

So, according to this morning's Gazette, Pelham approved the higher regional school budget at it's town meeting this weekend, joining Leverett and Shutesbury.

So Amherst Town Meeting will be told that they must, by law, approve the higher regional school budget as well. Looks like my first Town Meeting will be a doozy.

Then again, maybe we'll just bite into reserves some more and put off all the hard decisions until next year...