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Blasiak/My Turn: An impartial entity

There probably isn’t anything that so angers the citizens of this country as the perception of special interests controlling the legislative process.

The thought that, before they are even passed, laws enacted in this country are presented to powerful interests to be rewritten to accommodate the few over the many is the root of much of the cynicism in America today. Those in power who say “But this is how things are done,” remain deaf to the citizens who respond, “But that’s not the way things SHOULD be done!” And those same representatives of the people never seem to get it that they are the ones who allow it to happen, often from the best of intentions, and they are the ones who can stop it.

Massachusetts conservation commissions were established and empowered by the Conservation Commission Act of 1957 to protect and preserve the natural resources of the state. That is the commission’s mandate and it walks a fine line to fulfill it.

On one side, the legal rights of landowners to derive use from their land must be respected. On the other, the natural resources of the town are held in trust by us all, for us all, and must be protected

The Conservation Commission must remain an impartial entity treating each case brought before it with fairness and sound reason. To lose that impartiality is to fail in its mission. To be forced by partisan forces to abandon that impartiality is worse.

In accordance with the laws of the state, the Conservation Commission drafts the ordinances that allow it to carry out its mission and these ordinances are periodically reviewed to ensure they are in compliance with the changing state laws. For the past two years, the Greenfield Conservation Commission has been updating its ordinances. During that period, no one was barred from submitting concerns or ideas that would improve those ordinances. Despite his claims of interest and expertise, Mr. Norman chose not to participate in that process. Instead of presenting suggestions to be reviewed on their merits by people experienced and knowledgeable in conservation issues, he chose to inject them into a venue where they would be judged by the standards of political expediency.

Mr. Norman may claim that he is acting with the best interests of Greenfield at heart, but Exxon would no doubt make the same claim if given the opportunity to rewrite the regulations of the EPA to accord with Exxon’s vision, and both claims would ring equally false. It is the effort to move the decision out of the hands of non-partisan professionals and into the hands of politicians that makes it suspect.

It’s unfortunate that the process ensuring the integrity of the commission has been compromised by recent actions. The changes Mr. Norman proposed would provide, at best, only trivial benefits to Greenfield’s natural resources, but they would be an effective tool to bludgeon his opponents. That would put the Conservation Commission in the unenviable position of being, not the guardian of Greenfield’s natural areas, but a thug tasked with enforcing the dictates of a political faction within the town.

As a citizen of Greenfield and a member of the Greenfield Conservation Commission, I will continue to resist any efforts to subvert the mission of the Conservation Commission because my responsibility is not to the narrow interests of a mayor, or of a town council, or of any single individual even if they are, as David Singer describes them, “powerful,” but to the broader interests of the diverse people of Greenfield. For all of our sakes, I can only hope that the elected representatives of the town understand the absolute necessity of ensuring that the Conservation Commission remains free from attempts at partisan control and manipulation.

John Blasiak is a member of the Greenfield Conservation Commission.

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