Amherst Cemetery Trustees aren’t the bad guys

An organization calling itself the Friends of Cemetery Fields wants to ensure that playing fields remain on Cemetery Fields, but faces a problem because in September, the area is supposed to revert totally to the control of Amherst’s Board of Cemetery Trustees and be used exclusively as a cemetery.

So, the Friends, rightfully convinced that Amherst needs more playing fields, are trying to find a way that a cemetery and playing field space can coexist.

The trustees say that won’t work and, besides, they say, they are constricted by a superior court decision from 1999 regarding what they can do and they must, they say, take back the fields and turn the area into a cemetery, period.

We understand both points of view, but where we have a problem is the path the Friends have chosen to take vis-a-vis the trustees. The Friends have submitted a petition warrant article for the March town election calling for the dissolution of the Board of Trustees and its replacement in the oversight of Amherst cemeteries by the Board of Selectmen.

Our problem begins with the concept of dissolving a board simply because you disagree with its decision. That is not the way things work in a democracy, nor in a republic. We elect people like the trustees – our neighbors, by the way, not some people who have no stake in the community – to make decisions, often difficult ones. We find it highly unlikely, for instance, that the Cemetery Trustees are doing gleeful backflips over the decision they seem to sincerely believe they had to make. It’s quite possible that they, too, believe Amherst needs more playing fields.

But the Friends have attempted to make them into the villains and are now trying to divest them of their elected positions.

First of all, while this move might not technically be a recall, it has the same potential result and in New Hampshire, we don’t allow recalls.

But here’s the real problem, or problems, if you will:

How can the Friends possibly know that:

A. The five selectmen, a board of relatively low-paid, part-time volunteers have either the time or the inclination or the knowledge to take on the cemeteries?

B. Suppose the selectmen, having been given that authority by the voters, make the same decision the current trustees have made? Will the Friends then petition to dissolve the Board of Selectmen and replace them with … with what? The Friends of Cemetery Fields, perhaps. After all, if you want to be certain that things will go your way, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to do: Pack the court.

What we wonder is why the Friends believe the selectmen would see things their way. Have they some inside information, some clue, perhaps some intimation, that the selectmen will vote in a particular way? Otherwise, what’s the point, right?

Amherst needs more playing fields, everyone agrees on that. But the Cemetery Trustees aren’t the bad guys here, yet, the move by the Friends certainly paints them that way, as if the trustees are expected to wear some sort of scarlet letter indicating a distaste for athletics.

The trustees say, and we have no reason to doubt them, that they have no choice in this matter and that in September, Cemetery Fields will revert to its initial planned use.

Will that change if the board of trustees is dissolved? The selectmen would likely face the same problem the trustees face.

And where would that leave the town?

Oh, we know where that would leave the town: In either exactly the spot it is in now, or litigating. We just don’t see any other light at the end of this tunnel.