Martin appoints internet service oversight board


Recorder Staff
Friday, July 14, 2017

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin has appointed the five-member board that will oversee Greenfield Community Energy and Technology — the town’s new internet service provider.

Town Council backed the appointments during a special meeting Thursday night, but some councilors questioned whether the council should continue to have some oversight over GCET — particularly regarding finances.

The board members will be sworn in once the state approves special legislation that was written to create the board, which is currently in its third reading.

Martin picked John Howland, David Lanoie, Timothy Farrell, David Russell and Jennifer Stromsten after spending several months looking for the right residents.

“They are all active in community volunteerism and there’s been experience with degrees in finance, economic development, banking and law, so it’s a wide variety of experience, competencies and skills for these five individuals,” he said.

Before being sworn onto the board, which can happen as soon as the special legislation is approved, the members will have to resign from any other elected or appointed town positions they currently hold. Lanoie and Farrell currently sit on the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority, and Farrell is also on the School Committee.

The council voted 9-1 in favor of the appointments. At-Large Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, who cast the only dissenting vote, said she thinks the council should have done more vetting of the candidates.

“I feel the responsibility I have to the taxpayers of Greenfield is to vote ‘no,’ knowing that the exact same people can come back again, we can vet them properly and vote them in, and then wait or this legislation to pass,” she said.

Renaud said she’s also disappointed there was only one woman appointed to the board, who also has the shortest term.

Council Vice President Isaac Mass said he was also prepared to vote against the appointments until this week’s Appointments and Ordinance Committee meeting, which three of the five candidates attended to answer questions from councilors. The other two candidates were on vacation.

Mass and other councilors questioned how much oversight the council should have over GCET, as the council voted to provide the organization with upfront money through a $5 million loan. Because it operates under a municipal lighting plant, GCET is not subject to certain public records requests.

Under Massachusetts General Laws, municipal lighting plants are exempt from public record and open meeting requirements in instances when it’s necessary to protect trade secrets, confidential, competitively sensitive or other proprietary information. Under the law, those instances are determined by the board.

Mass said the council’s oversight is “a very narrow legal question.” At the Appointments and Ordinance Committee meeting, he asked the candidates whether they believe GCET must provide information when requested by a full vote of the council.

“I would obviously follow any local state and federal laws that apply. Part of the intent, I would assume, is to pull it outside of the direct oversight on all bases so you could have a board of directors that could influence without political will,” Farrell said. “I wouldn’t have anything to hide and transparency would be important to me, as well, but there are competitive questions. Ultimately, GCET is competing against Comcast and Verizon, two of the biggest companies in the United States.”

Mass said he believes the council should have access to information, and feels each of the appointees will abide by the law, even if it’s not in line with how they feel personally.

At-Large Councilor Mark Maloni said he knows many of the appointees well and feels confident in their diversity of thought.

“I’m confident in this group and I’m excited to see what kind of synergy this group cooks up. I think they’re going to be pretty dynamic,” he said.