Charter School Vote Set For Tuesday

AMHERST — Over the objections of one group opposed to the proposed charter that would change the town’s form of government, a debate will take place at the Amherst Media studios on College Street Tuesday evening.

Only three of the four organizations formed in favor and against the charter accepted invitations to be part of the panel, according to Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault.

Michael Burkart, a member of Town Meeting Works, and Maria Kopicki, a representative of Not This Charter, will speak for those opposed to the charter, while the pro-charter group Amherst For All will be represented by Charter Commission members Andy Churchill and Mandi Jo Hanneke.

Facilitators for the event will be John Bonifaz of Free Speech for People and Bill Newman, an attorney WHMP host and local attorney.

Amherst Media will broadcast and stream the event live from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

While the debate was initially postponed from Feb. 8 when it conflicted with a Charter Commission meeting, it also raised objections from Amherst for All. At the time of Lescault’s initial invitation, each ballot committee would be able to provide two representatives, meaning opponents might exceed supporters by a 3-1 to margin.

Johanna Neumann, chairwoman of Amherst for All, originally issued an objection about this uneven representation and called into question the impartiality of the moderators. But these concerns were resolved to the pro-charter group’s satisfaction.

But the delay in having the debate meant the Amherst Regional Middle School auditorium could not be used for the forum.

The complaints from the Vote No on the Charter group center on the use of the studios as the debate site and a prohibition on an audience, with a limited number of spectators being confined to a conference room where the debate can be viewed on television monitors.

Carol Gray, a member of Vote No on the Charter, wrote in an email to Lescault that he should have explored other suitable sites, including the Unitarian Meetinghouse and the Munson Library, that would make the debate more transparent and participatory.

“If you do not consider other reasonable alternatives, your exclusion of the public could easily be seen as part of a national and local trend to control public consumption of information and stifle public opinion and dissenting views,” Gray wrote.

Gray compared this to a recent proposed ban by Northampton City Council on “expressions of approval or disapproval in a meeting” and to Donald Trump campaign events where protesters were confined to pens.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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