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Editorial: Let the buyer beware

Despite the centuries separating us from the days when Latin was not only the language of ancient Rome but provided a common means of communication around the known world, there are words and phrases that still hold value today.

For example, caveat emptor — Latin for “let the buyer beware ” — is as true today as when savvy Romans checked to make sure a basket of wheat wasn’t loaded at the bottom with sand.

Greenfield municipal officials and residents got a reminder of the principle following this year’s Fourth of July fireworks display, when the company hired for the show — the New Hampshire-based Atlas PyroVision Productions Inc. — was accused of failing to deliver on what was promised. Contracted to shoot off 1,360 shells high above Beacon Field on July 5, there is some evidence that only 672 actually exploded in the clear summer air — just short of 50 percent of what was promised.

It could have been a simple mistake. But there is also evidence that this seems not to have been the first time Greenfield didn’t received from Atlas what was covered by the contract. According to documents provided to the mayor and The Recorder that go back to 2011, Atlas may have fired off fewer pyrotechnics than were paid for.

Greenfield officials admit they have been somewhat lax in making sure that what was delivered fulfilled the contract.

“We should have been more diligent about counting shells over the past several years,” Greenfield Mayor William Martin said after the apparent shortfall was reported in The Recorder. Recreation Department Director Christy Moore put it more bluntly: “We hadn’t done a shell count in the seven years I’ve been here — and it blew up in our face.”

As a one-year incident, one might be willing to chalk it all up to a mistake and accept the offer from Atlas for an 80 percent discount on this year’s bill. But we agree with Martin’s decision to hold off on accepting anything until the town completes its investigation into what’s happened in past years.

But if Greenfield is feeling burned right now, Atlas, too, may be feeling more heat, especially if attorneys general around New England get involved.

It may not come to that.

But it’s definitely in everyone’s best interest that cooperation be the guide here, no matter what language is spoken.

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