In the Arena: Plenty to go around for local political junkies

Friday, November 24, 2017

Happy Black Friday, newshounds, although it may seem a bit blacker than usual in advance of what’s likely to be another political conflagration this coming Wednesday.

That’s when the Greenfield Town Council holds a hearing on the recent parking-related dust-up between Council President Brickett Allis, Mayor Bill Martin and Police Chief Robbie Haigh.

For devotees of high public drama, this will be appointment television. For others, it will be just one more political train wreck in a town that seems to have had more than its share recently.

One of the things I’m looking forward to is the presentation of Allis’ “evidence” regarding some allegedly questionable enforcement practices within the parking division.

Allis contends that Martin and Haigh are instructing parking enforcement officers to target certain areas of town, while going easy on others. They have denied it, but Allis claims to have specific examples of where this has occurred.

It should be an interesting night, but that’s next week, and we have a few other things to consider before we go out and wreck the malls today.

Split tax fallout

The Greenfield business community was apparently surprised to wake up last Thursday to find that the town council decided to split the tax rate, and force commercial customers to assume a larger share of the burden.

If they were taken aback, they shouldn’t have been. It’s not like there wasn’t a big fat advance Recorder story, where Isaac Mass called his shot on this. Maybe they thought he wasn’t serious, or that the council would never go along with anything he proposed after his slate of candidates got skunked in the election.

It turns out everyone was wrong, and someone from the chamber should have been there that night. I can remember Ann Hamilton showing up a bunch of times when this was discussed, but now the business community is pushing the mayor to veto, but it turns out that’s unnecessary.

According to Town Clerk Deb Tuttle, the date on the posting for the last classification hearing was incorrect. The date of the posting read Nov. 16, when it should have read Nov. 15, which means the vote taken to split the rate is null and void.

A revote and public hearing is on the agenda for Wednesday night, which may breathe new life into the idea of doing a year-long education campaign about the potential impact of splitting the rate.

My question is, what is the town going to learn from such a study that it doesn’t already know? As Mass correctly pointed out during the split tax debate, there are three basic ways to generate residential property tax relief — expand the tax base, which has always been a challenge in this town; cut the budget, which this council tried to do this year, but probably won’t moving forward; or split the rate, forcing businesses to pay a little more.

This idea of an educational campaign reminds me of the hemming and hawing that took place just before the town instituted its “pay-as-you-throw” trash system. Everyone in a position of power knew from the beginning that the concept of “free” trash pickup was a myth, but no one was willing to pull the trigger on a pay system that would not only subsidize the service, but force people to get more serious about recycling.

Enter then-Selectman Bill Forbes, who suggested a year-long educational campaign to get people to recycle. The effort went nowhere, the recycling rate didn’t go up, and the town eventually had to go with a per-bag charge.

Not a lot of people liked the idea, and many still don’t, but it needed to happen. It’s the same situation here, assuming official Greenfield is serious about actually providing its residents tax relief, instead of just talking about it.

City or town?

Yet another Greenfield “Groundhog Day” moment, again courtesy of Mass, who has suggested that the council pass a charter change replacing the word “town” with the word “city,” which he argues better reflects the Greenfeld of today.

Is it a burning issue? No. Are there more important things to focus on? Probably. That said, it’s a conversation worth having, because this “city known as the town of Greenfield” thing just isn’t working.

Demographically, Greenfield is a small city, with a city form of government, and trying to pretend it is still a small town seems pretty silly.

We will see if the council leadership feels the same when the idea goes before the council chair’s committee next month.

A questionable sendoff

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County will be losing a pretty good leader when Danielle Letourneau-Therrien cleans out her desk at the end of the month, but you’d never know it from the press release the organization issued announcing her departure.

The terse, one-page statement smacked as incredibly cold, and didn’t even contain a quote from the board president or anyone in the organization acknowledging her years of service.

Not a great way to say goodbye to a valued employee, but Letourneau-Therrien can take solace in knowing that her legacy lies not in a sheet of paper, but in the countless numbers of kids whose lives were made better during her tenure.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.