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Editorial: Checks and balances

When Greenfield was debating a change to a mayoral form of government, one of the worries expressed was about creating a “strong mayor” — where the person in the job would have too much power. Not to worry, said others, including people on the charter commission, there will be checks and balances, with the Town Council taking that lead role.

But what — or who — keeps the council in check?

It’s a reasonable question today, given a number of the sitting councilors declaring that this isn’t the Greenfield Town Council of old; instead, they’re planning an advocacy approach when it comes to Greenfield and the community’s future.

The real issue, as we see it, may be the willingness on the part of this council to push the boundaries, including what’s outlined in the charter and where its relationship with the mayor takes on a more adversarial tone.

Under the charter, the council can reject an appointment, as it did in deciding to ignore Mayor William Martin’s wish to reappoint Jim Allen to the Planning Board.

What, then, can the council do when the mayor opts to pull a nominee, especially one that council members support having on a particular board? Can the council decide to move forward with the appointment process anyway? Since the mayor is the one who is empowered to name people to these boards, it stands to reason that pulling a candidate from consideration would also be within the mayor’s purview.

Here’s what the charter says:

“Appointments made by the mayor shall become effective on the 35th day following the date on which notice of the proposed appointment was filed with the clerk of the council, unless the Town Council shall within the 30 days vote to reject such appointment.”

The appointments of Will Roberts and George Touloumtzis as Planning Board alternates are still within the 35-day window — day 35 in this case is July 4 — therefore, we would think the mayor has the power to withdraw his nominations, which he did on June 14.

It was a political move in light of the council’s Allen decision, undoubtedly. But nowhere does it say in the charter that politics can’t be a criterion.

Since there are others who don’t agree with Martin on this matter, the public will get the official word from the town’s attorney.

As to the question of checks and balances for the council, the biggest restraint would be the judicial branch of government. While there is no “Greenfield Supreme Court,” the council is bound by state statutes, the charter and other ordinances in defining what it can and cannot do, and any conflict can eventually wind up before a Superior Court judge.

The mayor, too, has a role in keeping a watch as to the council’s actions.

And, of course, there are Greenfield’s voters, who must decide whether the council is acting in their best interests.

We suspect that this coming year may provide residents with plenty to think about.

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