Council candidates face off in debate
Touch on sustainable master plan, town buying properties, safety, jobs, civility
GREENFIELD — Economic development, jobs, the mayor’s plan to purchase the former Lunt and Meadows golf properties, an increased police presence downtown, and how the Council might learn to disagree without being divisive were the issues of the night as nine of the 10 Town Council candidates debated in the studio of Greenfield Community Television.
The debate, which was produced by former Town Councilor Barbara Tillmanns and moderated by Shelburne Falls Selectman Joseph Judd, lasted two hours.
While most of the candidates calmly discussed the issues, there were times when Town Council President Mark Wisnewski became visibly upset with some of the comments his opponent, former Town Councilor Isaac Mass, made about him and his record.
When asked about an increased police presence, especially downtown, Wisnewski said he supports police and that he believes the heroin problem in Greenfield needs to continue to be dealt with, but that there also needs to be more treatment available to addicts.
Mass said town boards need to work with town leaders and police to find the resources to make Greenfield safer.
All of the other candidates said they’d like to see police funded to the extent they need to work on the problem and to get any other support.
The other candidates were: incumbent Precinct 2 Councilor Alfred Siano — his opponent Ronald Weaver is currently out of the country — Precinct 4 candidates, incumbent Steven Ronhave and Thomas DeHoyos, a Conservation Commission member, Precinct 5 candidates Penny Ricketts and Robert Wainstein, and Precinct 6 candidates incumbent Hillary Hoffman and her opponent Christopher Miller.
The candidates were asked if they agree with the mayor that the town should purchase the former Lunt and Meadows golf properties.
Wisnewski said he wants to see the ball fields preserved on the Lunt property and said he has supported the mayor overall in his endeavors to buy properties that could become blighted, but isn’t sure yet whether the Meadows will be worth it, saying it will depend on the price.
Mass said he thinks purchasing the Meadows is inappropriate because he’d like to keep the property on the tax rolls and use that money to fund firefighters and police and said while he believes the baseball fields at Lunt need to be preserved, he doesn’t want to see the town in the real estate business.
Most of the other candidates said preserving the ball fields at Lunt is a good idea, but felt they need more information about both properties before committing.
Almost every candidate agreed that creating new jobs is going to be the biggest challenge for the town over the next three years — some said that would mean attracting new, smaller businesses, some said that would mean attracting new industry and getting the big box retail store built, and some said they believe green jobs would be the way to go.
When asked what they thought the biggest challenge for the town is, though, Wisnewski and Mass had different answers.
Mass said the current Town Council does not represent the people of Greenfield. He said the current council spends time undermining their constituents’ quality of life.
“The council spends its time trying to ban plastic bags, telling people what time of the day they can start their lawn mowers, and how long they can keep wood on their porches,” said Mass. “It spends all of its time working on things that don’t make life better.”
Mass said he’d like to see the Council work on the heroin epidemic and bringing a big box store to town.
“This council spends its time making resolutions in support of a sustainable master plan.”
Mass criticized two councilors, including Hoffman, who admitted when they voted the resolution that they had not read it from cover to cover.
Wisnewski took offense at Mass’ comments, especially when he said that Wisnewski was one of the councilors who thought spending time on a plastic bag ordinance was important.
Wisnewski said he did not say that at any time, but in a January 2014 interview with The Recorder, Wisnewski said that if re-elected in June, he would work on the town’s budget, as well as work to pass biomass, wetlands and plastic bag ordinances. Since then, the plastic bag ordinance was bagged by a Council committee.
Wisnewski said implementing the town’s new sustainable master plan will be very important over the next three years.
Mass said he would also support the new master plan, but not necessarily all of it, while Wisnewski, who was on the committee that created it, said he would support it
Wisnewski said he would continue to work to bring broadband to Greenfield, get a telecommunications center up and running, and consider zoning updates that allow more flexibility.
Mass said as far as economic development goes, he would make sure businesses feel welcome.
The other candidates said they would do what they could to improve and encourage economic development, but would have to do it by encouraging Tax Increment Financing and other ways that fall under the Council’s purview.
The Council can only do so much when it comes to economic development, some candidates said.
At the end of the night, the four panelists together asked how the Council might deal with disagreement without divisiveness.
Miller said from what he has seen, there is a culture of respect among councilors and Hoffman said she has always allowed everyone to speak at the meetings she has run.
Wainstein and Ricketts both said they’ve experienced a polite atmosphere at most meetings.
DeHoyos said if he is elected he will listen to everyone and his only special interest will be the citizens of Greenfield, while Ronhave said there have been disagreements on the Council, but they were always respectful.
Siano said he found the current council to be a “breath of fresh air.”
When Wisnewski answered the question about divisiveness, he said the Council is open and transparent and said he was the one who last year convinced the Council to move the public forum portion of the monthly meeting to the beginning of the meeting so everyone would get a chance to talk. But, not before he once again took offense to something Mass said earlier in the debate.
Mass said to Wisnewski that several years ago, he was the only other one who voted with Wisnewski to move the public forum to earlier in the evening.
He said that most of the time there’s not divisiveness, but that all councilors should learn to disagree, not be disagreeable.
Weaver’s sister read a short statement her brother wrote before he left for Asia.
Weaver said he would like to be considered for the Precinct 2 seat, saying he has volunteered at the hospital, tutored and volunteered for Meals on Wheels.
The former teacher, who has lived in Greenfield for the past 20 years, said he would like to see more economic development while preserving the beauty and values of the town.
Weaver said in his statement that he is pro-growth, pro-education, pro-diversity and pro-sustainable energy.