TRUST- the “glue” that BINDS the people AND government

Where PUBLIC TRUST starts!

One sad aspect of the closed-to-the-public government in the Town of Amherst during this time of a pandemic is going to be the possible lingering impression somehow town government likes it that way. This is not good for anyone, either the public or town government because it can erode the public trust of town government.

Historically public participation in town government has been lackluster at best, with only a few residents bothering to come to Town Board meetings, and even fewer to Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals meetings. Of course there have been times when public attendance at a specific Town Board or other meeting has been “through the roof”, but these are rare. The recent upset with the proposed changes to the Audubon Golf Course comes to mind here.

It is understandable that knowing that public participation at Town Board meeting is normally quite small that the Supervisor would conclude that there was no need to allow the public to “attend” a video only Town Board meeting. But the recent large and complex Planning Board and ZBA agendas tell another story to those willing to listen.  The Planning Board chairman can be heard on the April 23rd meeting video stating loudly and often that no public comments would be allowed based on the Supervisor’s Executive Orders to that effect.

One blatant example that comes to mind immediately is the seemingly fast and furious effort of the Planning Board and ZBA to move a specific project located on Park Club Lane as quickly as possible past all the hurdles it faced with little/no public participation or potential public opposition.  What makes this process even more suspicious is that the attorney for the petitioner and his support people were allowed to present their arguments for the project inactively over video while all public attendees were continuously muted and could only listen! At one point there were 52 people on this video meeting, but ONLY the Planning Board members, appropriate town staff, or agents for the petitioner could speak (i.e., were NOT muted)

The Town Board was also busy this year providing “Relief of Zoning Condition” for a project on Park Club Lane. Check out Resolution 2020-215  passed at the March 6th Town Board meeting just before the Supervisor’s first Executive Order of March 15th.

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Special Meeting of the Town Board – Monday April 27th at 6pm

Amherst Seal on Garbage Tote

There will be a Special Meeting of the Town Board this Monday April 27th at 6 pm. This will be a video only meeting where the PUBLIC must be able to attend since it is a public hearing that most likely will result in a “small” tax increase for all residents. So if you have the time and the interest use your computer or smartphone to log into a Zoom meeting.

Meeting ID: 865 274 878
Password:    024750

This could be a good time for many of us to test how committed the Town of Amherst is to actually listening to the public. Even if you do not intend to speak, you can listen in on the meeting. One bit of advice, you do not need to activate your video camera if you do not want to be seen. Also you can use any name you like in the Zoom profile information.

Special meeting FULL Agenda:
http://amherstny.iqm2.com/citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2659&Inline=True

The Town Board members will be voting remotely over a video link. I wonder what the existing law or laws cover this?


ALSO …

Apparently the current Town Comptroller retired, and a new Comptroller will be appointed.  It’s an interesting time to break in a new comptroller during a pandemic, and the associated Executive Orders by the Supervisor “supposedly” limiting the operation of the Town Government and the Planning Board.

 

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Village of Williamsville April 13th budget meeting on video

Village of Williamsville Zoom Meeting:

Our readers are encouraged to view both the video of the Village of Williamsville’s budget meeting held on April 13th using Zoom, and then compare it to any of the past three video meetings of the Town Board also held using Zoom.

Video of the Village of Williamsville April 13th Budget meeting is available on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/GeRIJIl9q6I

Town of Amherst Zoom Meeting:

Here are the some simple observations.

  • The Village Zoom meeting allows public participation while the Town does not!
  • The Village Zoom meeting has active public expression for its residents while The Town does not!
  • The Village Zoom meeting shows ALL board members on screen while the Town does not!
  • The Town Zoom meeting shows a useless, grainy, out of focus agenda page on screen at all times with just a small thumbnail image of the speaker !
  • The Town Zoom meeting focuses mainly on the Supervisor while the Village includes all participants, board members, attorney, and staff!

The residents of Amherst deserve to have Zoom meetings as good as that of the residents of Williamsville. This includes at Zoning Board of Appeals meetings, Planning Board meetings, and especially at Town Board meetings. It isn’t difficult, the Village of Williamsville has already done it.

The message the Town Board appears to be sending its residents is that we’ve got everything under control, relax and trust us your participation isn’t needed!

The residents of the Town of Amherst  deserve a better effort to include their voice in town government.


  • The next Village of Williamsville board meeting is April 27th where all public comment must be provided via email by April 24th. There will be NO PUBLIC COMMENT at the April 27th meeting. Maybe they have watching the Town Board meetings.

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MISSING: Public participation at Town Public Meetings this week!

This is a full week for Amherst Town government activity.

1. The Town Board “meets” on Monday, April 20 at 4 pm.
2. The Zoning Board of Appeals “meets” on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:30 pm.
3. The Planning Board “meets” on Thursday,  April 23 at 6:30 pm.  (“Pre-meeting” at 6 pm)

Link to Agendas :   http://amherstny.iqm2.com/citizens/

The agenda content for each of these “meeting” is full, in fact very full as if for the Town of Amherst, the corona virus pandemic is not happening.   It’s business as usual, and get as much done as possible regardless of the collateral damage to meetings caused by the pandemic.

But there is one thing that is different, actually overwhelming different.  It appears ways of fully including the public in the process of a “public meeting” do not yet exist.  While it is clear that the corona virus pandemic makes public gathering almost impossible at this time, it is also clear that the the town hasn’t yet found OR proven it has an minimally adequate replacement.

The Town of Amherst must first PROVE, not ASSUME, that the Zoom Meetings videoconferencing process it is attempting to use for the first time for ZBA and Planning Board meetings is “good enough” to support robust and meaningful public participation.  Starting with meetings that contain heavily loaded agendas,  where some of these items appear both complex and controversial is asking for trouble.

So start simple, reduce the number of agenda items and put off the controversial ones for a month or two. Work out the problems with Zoom Meetings videoconferencing, and if it is not good enough, find a better way and test that method. But don’t fail to adequately provide for public participation by insisting to schedule large agendas where public participation is not properly supported.


ALSO ...

  • Town Board: The Town Board “meeting” this Monday does not even support any meaningful or effective form of public participation. No live streaming. just a video posted later. The justification appears to be that since this “meeting” has no public hearing, no live streaming and no public expression is OK.
  • Planning Board: Also it appears the Planning Board agenda is a “double stuff” one, at least two months of REGULAR agenda items crammed into one. Actually it might even be more than that, so this agenda is even more suspicious than usual as to why it is NOW so full.

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New Way for Important Government Meetings in Amherst

The Town Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Planning Board meetings for the month of April will held remotely using videoconferencing software. While this is the right way to protect the board members, town employees and public from potential viral infection, it also makes it more difficult to have a public meeting that is truly public.

The ZBA announced it would use Zoom videoconferencing for its April 21, 2020 meeting with the meeting id and password on the Town of Amherst (TOA) website. The Planning Board later followed with its own Zoom videoconferencing meeting id and password for its April 23, 2020 meeting.

TOA website link: http://www.amherst.ny.us/content/track-us.php

The Town Board held its March 25th and April 6th meetings using remote videoconferencing software, but decided not to publish the meeting id’s or passwords. Will they do this for the next Town Board meeting?

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Town Board Meeting Today

Since the town hall is closed, the Town Board meeting scheduled for 4 pm this afternoon will apparently be held electronically among the board members working from home. Many of us have recently learned to use modern online video technology to connect with family and friends, so we can easily understand why and how this is being done.

So where does public participation at town board meetings happen these days?  If you read the agenda packet for this meeting, it appears to be “business as usual” especially when it comes allocating and planning to spend tax dollars.  Most of this spending appears to be for town projects to maintain and/or enhance important infrastructure and services. But how will it be spent and its results monitored during 2020 given we are currently experiencing a COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

So how will the IX. PUBLIC EXPRESSION portion of the agenda be handled or will it just be ignored? During public expression the public is permitted to comment on any agenda item before the board votes on it. Without it, public participation is effectively meaningless.

 

Comments (10)

Remote video technology used for Town Board Meeting

It appears that live streaming of the Mar 25, 2020 Town Board meeting was never a possibility since each councilmember was working remotely. In ordinary times, the town hall has the technology to live stream it’s meetings from the council chambers. The Town Board started to use Zoom Meetings & Chat to record the video of the meeting last night. It is now available via a link on the town website home page http://www.amherst.ny.us/.

From what I have heard so far from the Town of Amherst, live streaming will not be possible for a while. It is understandable that the difficulties of doing this new way of Town Board meetings became the primary focus.

Our advise to anyone who would like to comment on future town board agenda items, be more proactive by using either the phone, email or the US mail.

Comments (1)

First Live Streaming ONLY Town Board Meeting

The Town Board Meeting on Wednesday evening at 7 pm will be the first all digital live streaming event with no public attendance. Please note the 4 pm public work session was CANCELLED.

Live streaming the Town Board meeting was necessary due to the coranavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is the responsible action to take to help reduce it’s negative health impact. All of us should be doing similar things in our own lives.

A few minutes before the 7 pm meeting begins, find the LINK to this live streaming Town Board meeting.

Method 1:

1. Open the link to the Mar 25, 2020 Town Board meeting on the Amherst Meeting Portal web site by clicking on the link below.
http://amherstny.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=3613

2.  Find the link at the top of the page called “VIDEO” and click on it.

Method 2:

1. Open the main Amherst Meeting Portal web page by clicking on the link below.
http://amherstny.iqm2.com/citizens/

2. Search for the entry to the Mar 25, 2020 Town Board meeting  on the right, and then find the link called “VIDEO” on the left of it, and click on it.

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A Lifestyle Medicine Approach to COVID-19

Some common sense advise from the Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute on individual behaviors that can help us all.

We at Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute share your concern about the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. While social distancing, frequent handwashing, and not touching your face are important for slowing the spread of the disease, we can further reduce risk by employing the pillars of Lifestyle Medicine.

Recommendationshttps://www.rochesterlifestylemedicine.com/blog/

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Amherst Town Hall Closed to the public

NOTICE:

All Town of Amherst Board and Committee meetings (with the exception of the Town Board) will be cancelled for 30 days through April 14, 2020 or until further notice. In addition, Amherst Town Hall at 5583 Main Street is closed to the public and will be by appointment only.

Read more http://www.amherst.ny.us/

The Town Board Meeting will be held on March 25, but it will closed to the public.  Current practice is to stream the Town Board meeting live, or make it available later on video.

We at AmherstTimes are looking into new ways we can help our community in these unprecedented times.

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