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In The Arena

Not in lockstep this time

Council to mayor on Lunt: Not so fast

It’s never been a big ambition of mine to be inside Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin’s head, but I would have loved to have been there a little after eight Wednesday night when Town Council President David Singer looked across the desk and effectively handed His Honor the first real loss of his administration.

“We’re like the buyers and you are our agent,” Singer said of the plan to purchase the Lunt property for $1.5 million. “We’ve designated you to go out there and do all this good work stuff, but as our agent, we haven’t seen a formal statement from your office and all of the sudden when asked, you said that you are willing to waive this contingency.”

It really wasn’t supposed to go this way, not after the council late last year gave every indication that Wednesday’s vote was little more than a formality. But the council’s Ways and Means Committee flipped the script, recommending instead that the full council table the appropriation until more information was brought forward regarding a “covenant not to sue,” a document to be issued by the state Attorney General’s office, which effectively protects the town from lawsuits from abutters if contamination from the Lunt plant is found on their property.

The discovery of off-site contamination would be a potential deal-killer, but Martin said recent testing on 11 properties in the area revealed no evidence of anything, leading him to publicly suggest that the covenant not to sue may not be necessary after all.

But no one from the administration apparently bothered to keep the council in the loop, either on the findings or the rationale behind the mayor’s position, one that Singer said made some councilors uneasy.

“It’s not that we don’t trust you,” Singer told Martin. “But, because we represent the taxpayers, it’s important that we have some information in front to us to see what you are basing your decisions on, that’s all.”

Singer said the intent is not to squelch the deal, but to clarify the situation for the people responsible for spending the town’s money.

“Everything is moving ahead and different things have to catch up,” Singer said. “Such is the nature of a complex transaction, and tabling this gives the mayor more time to let the council and taxpayers know if we are going to waive the covenant to sue, why will we do that.”

I’m not sure Martin saw things the same way.

“This is a choice to do this,” Martin said. “You can choose to clean it up, protect the fields, re-invigerate the local economy with jobs or you can choose not to,” Martin said. “It’s purely a choice, and if you don’t do it, you can hope someone else does it, but they may or may not.”

“If you choose not to buy it, let it go, and see what happens, but I don’t know what the repercussions will be, to be honest,” Martin added.

Fortunately for Martin, anyone who has lived in Greenfield for any length of time doesn’t have to go too far in the “way back machine” to know what happens when the town lets a property rot. The best comparable example is the former Besley-Bendix property, that was allowed to decay for years before the town finally figured out a strategy for dealing with it.

Martin’s vision for the Bendix property still remains unrealized, but the town is heck of a lot closer to cleaning it up than it was before Greenfield changed to a mayoral form of government. The biggest difference between Bendix and Lunt is that the latter is smack dab in the middle of the second busiest commercial district in town, surrounded by an active neighborhood and adjacent to a recreational space which is sacred ground to generations who grew up playing baseball in the Greenfield Minor League system.

One of those guys is current league president Robert “Bobby C” Campbell, whose grandfather helped found the GML. Campbell spoke at the public hearing and made an impassioned plea to preserve the fields, but now he’s not sure what to think.

“I don’t know what I’m going to tell my board,” Campbell said after leaving the meeting. “I know a lot of people are going to be asking me, and I don’t know what to say.”

Tell them this deal will eventually get done. The sellers have no other likely buyers and the town is still motivated to acquire that property. Tell them that this council, for all of its fits and starts, is finally starting to realize they are an equal partner in Greenfield’s government. Tell them this is how the system of checks and balances is supposed to work in a democracy.

You can also tell them you were there the night this mayor got his you-know-what handed to him. But I’d recommend getting a copy of the tape, because you probably aren’t likely to see it happen again.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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