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Amherst officials aim to communicate better with townspeople


Months after local officials were criticized for not being transparent in their municipal operations, the Board of Selectmen is taking steps to be more open and to better communicate with citizens.
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The board has launched two initiatives to expand communications and long-term planning and budgeting. The two key initiatives are aimed at "advancing the breadth, quality and efficiency of town services," according to a news release.
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"Our goal is to be able to share with voters our sense of the town's needs and how we plan to address them," said Dwight Brew, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. "We're working now to create plans, related budgets and various trade-offs well before the deliberative session so everyone understands the implications of different strategic choices."
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The board is also soliciting citizen feedback by launching an online communications survey that residents may use to share their opinions. This may be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/s/AmherstWebReview.
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Earlier this year, the board was under fire for not disclosing its reason for temporarily placing Town Administrator Jim O'Mara on paid leave. After several right-to-know requests were filed, selectmen eventually acknowledged that O'Mara's leave was due to an internal investigation regarding the purchase of a town dump truck. No town employee was found responsible for any intentional wrongdoing.
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At the time, members of the Amherst Citizens Association pressed town officials for more information, claiming a lack of transparency in the local government process.Then, a few months later, Selectman Bruce Bowler, former chairman, unexpectedly announced his resignation.Now, selectmen are trying to move forward by implementing new goals to keep citizens apprised of town activities, deliberations and decision making, according to the release.
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Selectmen are also going to implement more ways for citizens to share their views with town officials, and identify and launch more ways for citizens to conduct town business online.

"This initiative targets improvements to all forms of town communications," it says, adding interpersonal, print publications, social media, public media and the town website will be targeted.
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Additional goals are to strengthen the quality of strategic thinking across town departments, tie proposed departmental budgets to operational plans with clear explanations and help residents understand those plans thoroughly.
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And, as appropriate, selectmen hope to improve authority, responsibility and accountability across all levels of town government, according to the statement.

khoughton@newstote.com
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