Town of Amherst Goes to Vote on Town Council Seats, Jones Library Renovation

The Town of Amherst held its biennial municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Positions on the Town Council, School Committee, and Housing Authority were on the ballot, among others. Voters also participated in a referendum on a proposed renovation of Jones Library.

In tandem with the rest of the country, the Town of Amherst held its municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Seats for the Town Council, School Committee, and Housing Authority, as well as the six Jones Library trustees and position of Elector Under the Oliver Smith Will, were on the ballot. Voters also participated in a referendum on the $36.3 million Jones Library expansion and renovation project. Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at various designated locations across town.

Nineteen candidates, including nine incumbents, ran for the 13-member Town Council, which comprises two seats from each of the town’s five districts and three at-large seats. District seats are decided by voters in the district, while at-large positions are voted on by the whole town. There was a contest for the at-large positions, with two incumbents — including Mandi Jo Hanneke, wife of Professor of Physics David Hanneke — and four newcomers vying for the three seats. Races for the District 3 and District 4 representatives were also contested.

Unofficial election results released by the Town on Tuesday night showed that while the two at-large incumbents held on to their seats, one incumbent from each of Districts 3 and 4 lost their seats. A total of six new members will serve on the next Town Council, which will be more racially diverse and include more women as a result, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Nearly every other townwide position was also contested, as seven candidates sought the five seats on the School Committee, two ran for the Elector Under the Oliver Smith Will position, and four competed for the three-person Housing Authority. All incumbents prevailed except for one member on the School Committee, to which two new members were added.

The six trustee positions for the Jones Library were the only townwide positions to be uncontested, as five incumbents — including William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science Austin Sarat — ran alongside with one newcomer.

But while the race for library trustees was uncontested, the question on the back of the ballot — which asked voters about their approval of a $36.3 million expansion and renovation of Jones Library — “drew many voters to the ballot booths,” reported the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The renovation proposes to expand and rehabilitate the building to create new dedicated spaces for children and more room for special collections, in addition to making much-needed physical renovations. Supporters of the plan see it as the smart choice socially, environmentally, and financially — given that it will only cost the town $15.8 million, with the state providing an additional grant of $13.8 million. Opponents of the plan, however, argue that the project is a waste of resources and has not been planned with enough community input.

Tuesday night’s election results revealed that voters approved the project, with 3,187 votes for “Yes” and only 1,683 votes for “No.” As the referendum was binding, the town will thus move forward with the renovation of the library as planned.