Council suspends rules to vote on wetlands
Rare procedural change means issue won’t be passed on to new council after election
GREENFIELD — A longtime town councilor’s request for a revote on the town’s wetlands law was granted faster than anyone expected Wednesday night.
Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis filed a motion with the town clerk this week to have the council reconsider its unanimous vote of May 21 to pass the updated wetlands ordinance.
Allis said he filed the motion because he wanted to change his “yes” vote to “no.”
If this was in any way an attempt to drag things out until after the town’s annual election on June 10 so that there was a possibility that up to five new councilors would have had a chance to vote “no” with him, it didn’t work.
He said after the recent unanimous council vote was taken and he had time to think about it, he realized that the town’s Conservation Commission review and rewrite of the wetlands ordinance, which it took more than two years to complete, was a good one.
According to town rules, because Allis voted “yes” to the wetlands ordinance, which after the commission’s rewrite was then amended by the Town Council Appointments and Ordinances Committee, he had the right to require a second vote, allowing him to change his vote and give the 11 other councilors the opportunity to do the same.
At first blush, it seemed that Allis’ request wouldn’t have changed anything but his vote, and maybe one or two other votes.
Allis said earlier this week that he was expecting the full council to take the matter up during its June 18 meeting.
But at the end of the meeting to vote next year’s budget Wednesday night, Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer, who heads up the council committee that amended the wetlands ordinance after discussing it with the Conservation Commission, asked that the council suspend its rules of procedure and vote on the matter.
If the council had waited until June 18 to vote, as Allis had expected it would — after the town’s annual election on June 10 — the mayor would have had 10 days to veto the new vote and if that had happened, the full council would not have been able to take another vote until its July meeting — a couple of weeks after incumbent councilors or their challenger took their seats. If any of the challengers defeated incumbent councilors, it would have been them taking the vote and possibly changing the outcome.
It also would have given the public one more opportunity to weigh in on the issue, said Allis.
“We had several hearings on the matter, met with the Conservation Commission and gave the public every opportunity to comment,” said Singer.
The outgoing councilor said he believes the new wetlands ordinance is a good one.
Precinct 2 Councilor Alfred Siano, who is also a member of Appointments and Ordinances, said he feels the public had “plenty of chances to speak” on the issue.
“It’s a well-written ordinance, it was amenable to the council and the commission, and the changes were minor,” said Siano.
After Singer asked for the rules of procedure to be suspended so that the council wouldn’t have to wait until June 18 to vote on Allis’ request and the council voted, with the exception of Allis, the same and passed it again, Isaac Mass, who is challenging Town Council President Mark Wisnewski for the only at-large seat up for grabs this year, asked if he could speak during the public forum portion of the meeting.
“I’m disappointed with the vote just taken,” said Mass. “You didn’t allow full consideration of (Allis’) request. It’s very easy for a super majority to do what you just did, instead of taking the time to respect the minority’s view.”
Mass said had the council allowed the issue to be taken up at the June 18 meeting, after the town’s annual election, it would have given voters the opportunity to vote for those they agreed with and who would have taken the new vote in July.
While Singer said waiting would have been a “distraction to the election,” Mass disagreed and said it would have determined the “will of the people.”
“You have five councilors up for office,” said Mass.
He said if those voters wanted to effect change, they could have voted for candidates whom they believe would have voted the same as Allis in July.
According to the town’s rules of procedure, the council should post its agenda at least 48 hours before such a vote is taken so that the public has time to weigh in.
Singer said a request to suspend those rules should be used sparingly. He said he believes this was one of those instances where it was right to use it.
Singer is not running for re-election this year. Penny Ricketts and Robert Wainstein will vie for his seat in Precinct 5. Four other councilors — Precinct 6 Councilor and Vice President Hillary Hoffman, Precinct 2 Councilor Alfred Siano, Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave and At-large Councilor and President Mark Wisnewski — are all up for re-election.
Christopher Miller will challenge Hoffman, Ronald Weaver will challenge Siano, Thomas DeHoyos, one of the town’s conservation commissioners, will challenge Ronhave, and Mass will challenge Wisnewski on June 10.