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In The Arena

In the Arena: The gloves come off



So where do we go from here?
That seems to be the big question now that Greenfield’s town attorney has ruled that Mayor Bill Martin did have the authority to retract the appointments of Wilson Roberts and George Touloumtzis as alternates to the Planning Board.
Martin pulled those nominations when it became apparent that the council would not support his reappointment of James Allen to the Planning Board, setting the stage for the first real political conflict between the executive and legislative branches of Greenfield government since the advent of the mayoral charter.
Mayors and town councilors have disagreed before, but not like this, with councilors decrying Martin’s decision to pull the appointments as “bully tactics,” while Martin all but threatened Town Clerk Maureen Winseck with disciplinary action should she swear in Roberts and Touloumtzis before the town attorney issued his ruling.
In a way, it’s ironic that it is these two particular appointments have hung Martin up, because I’m sure there weren’t too many big box supporters who were thrilled with his decision to appoint two admittedly staunch opponents of the French King project as alternates to a board that may, ultimately, have to decide its fate, depending on what happens in the courts.
I honestly think Martin made the nominations to try to restore some balance to the board and better reflect the progressive shift that seems to be happening in town. He also may have felt, given Roberts’ past council experience and Touloumtzis’ work on the master plan, they might be good choices for the board, albeit as alternates.
It doesn’t really matter what his motivation was, because all anybody is focused on now is Martin’s decision to rescind and the corresponding political fallout. We will now wait to see whether the Mark Wisnewski-led council will prepare some sort of legal counterpunch or decide to live to fight another day. In the meantime, the pro- versus anti-growth controversy continues to swirl, which is more than a little silly when you consider that ideology should not be a consideration when appointing members of a regulatory board.
The one person to actually make that point the night the council deep-sixed Allen was Albert Norman, who correctly pointed out that how people feel about the big-box issue should have no bearing on their appointment to a planning or zoning board, because the job of those boards is to vote, not on their personal feelings, but whether the project in question conforms to the zoning and planning ordinances of the town. And if those boards were to reject a project for purely political reasons, the town would most likely get sued by the developer.
Despite having been told this multiple times, there are still some members of Greenfield government who either don’t grasp that concept or refuse to accept it as reality. Instead, they pivot to how they and their constituents felt “marginalized” during the debate on both the French King and biomass projects and how they believe none of the boards took their concerns seriously.
But how does one define that, exactly?
It’s not as if the opponents didn’t have ample opportunity to make their feelings known. I mean, how many public hearings have to be held, speeches given, articles written and sound bites proffered before people feel they have been adequately “listened to?”
I firmly believe that the only way the opponents would have been truly satisfied is if both boards voted down the two proposals. These people wanted these projects shut down — even though there was no legal or regulatory reason to do so — and it just didn’t happen.
The laws haven’t changed and neither have the projects or the issues. The only thing different now is the town’s political landscape, where suddenly a lot of people who got into government specifically because of this debate want to put people in place who will vote their way. The only way to do that, right now is to reject Martin’s appointments and hold his feet to the fire on every development-related concern, at least until they can elect a mayor who is more sympathetic to their cause.
That is where I believe Greenfield politics is headed over the course of the next year and beyond and though it certainly won’t be boring, I have a feeling it’s not going to be all that pleasant to watch.
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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