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Mayor questions need for burials ordinance

GREENFIELD — The mayor is questioning why at least some town councilors feel the town needs an ordinance to protect Native American burial and reburial grounds when state and federal laws already protect them.

“A resolution is a request — I could understand that, if the council wants to show support,” said Mayor William Martin. “An ordinance is a law. Why would Greenfield need another layer of bureaucracy if there are already laws in place?”

Martin said if the council wants simply to “echo” state and federal laws, as Precinct 2 Town Councilor Keith Zaltzberg has said the ordinance he helped rewrite is intended to do, it could do just that with a resolution.

Instead, four members of the Appointments and Ordinances Committee, including Zaltzberg, recently voted to send a recommendation to the full council to pass an ordinance that some believe could be used to block or delay future development.

The three other councilors are Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, Precinct 6 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud and Precinct 7 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller. Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer, who also helped rewrite the ordinance that was originally proposed by Native American activist and Greenfield resident Howard Clark, was not present for the vote this past week.

“I’m definitely concerned about the definition of some of the words in the ordinance,” said Martin. “The ordinance is still too broad and leaves too many questions.”

While Zaltzberg contends that the ordinance is not to stop development and said earlier this week that, “I don’t feel personally that it has much to do with the big box development (on French King Highway) except its location,” others believe the ordinance is meant specifically for that purpose, because it is too vague and leaves a lot to interpretation.

“It’s redundant with state and federal laws, but words like ‘not limited to’ and ‘burial and reburial’ and any ‘human remains’ bother me, because they aren’t defined well enough,” said Martin. The proposed law also calls for appointment of an “advocate” if remains are found.

The mayor also questions how much authority a “local advocate” would have and how he as mayor would choose such a person to represent the town.

“What qualifications would such a person have to have and what table would he or she be sitting at?” asked the mayor. “It says a local person chosen by me will have jurisdiction — how much and over what?”

Martin said if the council votes to approve the ordinance, it would be giving the advocate more power than the council itself has over something like conservation restrictions and burial grounds.

“I don’t think it can do that,” he said.

Martin said if the major concern is about White Ash Swamp off French King Highway, the Friends of Wissatinnewag, which have already negotiated with the developer of the planned big box project there, should go back to the developer to make sure the land will always be in a conservation restriction.

Martin said the ordinance, which says a “known place where American Indian remains have been buried or reburied ...” really opens up the potential for bones to be found anywhere in town, especially anywhere where development might be planned now or in the future.

“We all have to abide by the state and federal laws, so why not use those?” he asked. “If bones are found, we would have to follow them.”

Martin said he will request that the council hold another public hearing on the matter — Appointments and Ordinances held one this past week — and that when the hearing is scheduled, the council make sure everyone has the most updated version of the ordinance, so they can make sound comments.

“I went to Appointments and Ordinances to talk about the matter last Monday and didn’t realize that there had been a rewrite of the original ordinance, which wasn’t presented until that night at the meeting,” said Martin. “People have to see an ordinance before the public hearing so they know what they are talking about. That would make it more transparent than it was this last time.”

Martin said he wants to see “open dialogue” about the intentions of the ordinance.

Martin said he wonders, for instance, that if the big box project currently in Housing Court were to go back to the Planning Board to be reviewed from scratch, or even a portion of it needed to be reviewed by the board, and a “human bone was discovered” on the property, would it stall the project again, or even kill it?

“And would the local advocate have unlimited jurisdiction?” he asked. “Would he or she bring it to an extreme level and ask that all 17 acres of soil be sifted to see if there were more there?”

“The councilors who are in favor of this are ready to pass it now,” said Martin. “I think this needs to slow down. Why does it have to happen so quickly? Why wasn’t it brought up before this?”

Martin said he has many questions, some prompted by the town lawyer’s review of the ordinance.

Friends of Wissatinnewag, a private Native American affinity group, negotiated with the developer back in 2006 and 2007, when the project first went before the Conservation Commission.

Clark waited about seven years to propose the ordinance, which he has said was meant to protect the White Ash Swamp specifically, although he does not mention the swamp in his draft. He has said several times that the ordinance was not meant to stop development.

Yet, Clark, along with Joseph Graveline, who is also an advocate of the proposed ordinance, have both spoken out at public hearings against the big box development planned for French King Highway.

Graveline read from a 153-page PowerPoint presentation to the town’s Conservation Commission written by Albert Norman, the Greenfield man who is known nationally as a sprawlbuster consultant against Walmart and other developments, during its public hearing on the project several years ago.

If Town Council decides to pass the ordinance, the mayor could veto its decision, but then the council, with enough votes, could override the mayor’s veto. Martin said if all of that were to happen, residents could file a petition to overturn the ordinance.

“They would also have other options, like running for a seat on the council or speaking to the council en masse,” said Martin. “I truly feel that property owners throughout town should be concerned about this ordinance. It is simply too extraordinary and extreme.”

The mayor said he would like those who had a hand in writing or rewriting the ordinance to explain to him and residents why an extra layer of government is needed, why extra protection is needed, and why more public dialogue hasn’t happened over this issue.

“I also want to know why the rewrite was presented for the first time at the public hearing, so that no one had a chance to digest it,” said Martin. “I think the community deserves explanations.”

Martin said he will advise against the ordinance as drafted.

“Enforcement issues aren’t even laid out,” he said. “Who would enforce this and how? This one is as broad as the first.”

Town Council is expected to, at the very least, discuss the issue briefly at its Nov. 20 meeting. Singer and Zaltzberg have said they’d like to hold off on a vote to give the council and public more time to look at and discuss the ordinance.

Zaltzberg has said, though, that he would like to see a council vote taken by the December meeting.

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