Positions in Northampton filled for Oliver Smith Will, Forbes Library trustees and preservation committee

Northampton City Hall, 2019.

Northampton City Hall, 2019.

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 11-19-2023 3:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After successfully unseating longtime incumbent David Murphy as elector for the Oliver Smith Will in the 2021 municipal election, Mary Odgers this year held off a challenge from Murphy to hold onto her position in the latest municipal election.

Other positions elected at the municipal election earlier this month include two new members on the Forbes Library Board of Trustees and a new at-large representative for the Community Preservation Committee.

The Smith elector is Northampton’s representative to a private nonprofit organization called Smith Charities, which was established in the 1845 will of wealthy Hatfield resident Oliver Smith. Voters in Hatfield, Amherst, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Whately and Williamsburg also choose a Smith elector.

Smith Charities administers up to 12 mortgages and uses the interest on its portfolio to give gifts to new brides, widows with children, nursing students, and trade students and apprentices in local communities. The organization holds no public meetings and does not report to any city department.

Murphy had held the position of the Oliver Smith elector for 20 years before being unseated by Odgers in 2021. In the latest municipal election, Odgers received 55% of the vote to maintain her position. Murphy, however, remains president of Smith Charities, a position that is appointed by the trust’s electors.

In an interview with the Gazette, Odgers thanked the Northampton community for allowing her to continue to serve in the role.

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“I’m just trying to do the part that I can, which is to try and do outreach,” she said. “But I’ve got a lot of ideas this year to try and increase how I do my outreach. So I’m hoping to implement more of that.”

Library Board

Two new members will join the Forbes Library Board of Trustees next year following this year’s election, which saw a four-way race for three available seats on the board.

Katy Wight, the board’s current vice president, was reelected, receiving the most votes of the candidates. Wight has served on the board since 2015, and chaired the committee that led to the library’s current strategic plan.

The other two newcomers are Ruth Francis and Anne Teschner. Francis has previously served on the finance committee and Lee Congregational Church and currently volunteers for the Northampton Jazz Festival. Teschner has more than 30 years experience in nonprofits in the region, helping launch the Amherst Cinema center, and serves as executive director for the Care Center in Holyoke.

The newcomers beat out Alexander George, a philosophy professor at Amherst College, for the positions on the board.

Russell Carrier, the chair of the board of trustees, published a letter in the Gazette earlier in the year urging people to run to fill the positions.

“Clearly, given the need for reliable information, there has never been a more important time to be a library trustee,” Carrier wrote. “Any person who cares about the future of our library and has the desire and the time to serve on the board would make a good trustee and therefore is qualified and encouraged to run.”

Community Preservation

Emily “Lemy” Coffin will join the city’s Community Preservation Committee as one of two elected at-large members.

The state’s CPA allows communities to create a local Community Preservation Fund to raise money through a surcharge of up to 3% of the real estate tax levy on real property for open space protection, historic preservation and the provision of affordable housing. Two members of the committee are elected by the public, while the others are representatives of other city commissions, the mayor’s office and the planning board.

A social worker in the city, Coffin previously ran for the City Council in 2021 to replace the departing Michael Quinlan, but lost that race to current city councilor Stan Moulton. Coffin also has been involved in Northampton Abolition Now, an activist group, and has expressed support for police reform in the city.

Coffin replaces Jonah Zuckerberg, who had been appointed by the city council to fill the elected position prior to this year’s election. The other elected representative, Christopher Hellman, returns to the committee.

A former mayoral assistant, Hellman works as a communications liaison and researcher at the National Priorities Project in Northampton, an organization that helps community groups understand and respond to federal budget cuts in Massachusetts.

Together, the two elected representatives join seven other members of the committee: Brian Adams, Julia Chevan, Chris Tait, Martha Lyon, Kevin Lake, Jeff Jones and Beverly Bates.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.