Amherst approves new charter, switch to town council

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Amherst will replace its representative Town Meeting and five-member Select Board with a 13-member town council after voters approved a new charter on March 27.
 
The new charter retains the town manager position, who becomes the chief executive officer.
 
Amherst currently has a 240-member Town Meeting, with 24 members in each of its 10 precincts plus 14 ex officio members.
 
The Town Council will have three councillors elected townwide and two elected from each of five districts, all serving two-year terms. An election will be held on Nov. 6 to choose the first members of the town council, with a preliminary election at least five weeks earlier.
 
The current Finance Committee will become a committee of the town council and may include non-councillors.
 
Other town governance changes include reducing the Planning Board from nine members to seven and increasing the Zoning Board of Appeals from three members to five, with both boards appointed by the town council.
 
The Amherst Redevelopment Authority, currently an elected board of five members, will become a four-member board appointed by the town manager. The new charter also creates a new Board of License Commissioners, also appointed by the town manager.
 
Members of the town’s School Committee, Library Board of Trustees and Housing Authority will all have their terms reduced to two years to match the town’s new biennial election schedule.
 
The new charter passed with 58 percent of the vote.
 
The town’s Charter Commission was chosen in the annual town election in March 2016. After 16 months and many meetings, the commission voted 5-3 with one abstention last July to recommend the charter that voters ultimately approved.
 
Amherst, with nearly 40,000 residents, is the 39th-largest community in Massachusetts, and the fourth-largest town.