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In The Arena

In the Arena: It’s award time in the ‘arena’

Another year is about to be put in the rear-view, but before we break out the bubbly and toast 2014, it’s time to wave goodbye to the year that was with the “In the Arena End of the Year Awards” for 2013.

∎ The Fidel Castro “Close But No Cigar” Award goes to the town of Greenfield’s efforts to purchase and reuse the former Lunt Silversmiths’ property. What began as a well-intentioned effort to secure a key piece Federal Street property quickly became derailed by a series of bureaucratic mishaps that were further complicated by a contamination problem that may be a lot worse than first thought. And even though this particular deal fell through, something tells me Greenfield is going to own that property before too much longer — just like a number of former Brownfields sites before. How the mayor and Town Council deal with that will be a big story to look for next year.

∎ The Joe Biden “Wish I Could Have That One Back” Award goes to Precinct 7 Greenfield Town Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, for her “not your grandfather’s council” comment made during a spring debate over placing a nonbinding split tax question on the 2013 election ballot. I believe Renaud’s comment was intended to underscore the new council’s desire to continue to be a “voice of the people,” but it wound up becoming a bit of a rallying cry for old-guard residents who are not wild about the direction this new “progressive supermajority” council is taking the town.

∎ The Bill Gates “Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk” Award goes to 2nd Berkshire Rep. Paul Mark, who earlier this year joined a number of Berkshire County colleagues in taking the “SNAP Challenge,” where he had to survive for a week on the equivalent of what the subsidy a SNAP recipient receives for groceries. Mark didn’t need to take the challenge to understand the concept of food insecurity, having grown up in working-class family that had gone through some lean times. But he did it anyway in a symbolic effort to raise awareness of a growing problem that is not getting better. Honorable mention goes to Congressman Jim McGovern, who walked 25 miles with Monte Belmonte this past November to raise money for the Food Bank of Western Mass.

∎ The Paul Revere Award “Sound The Alarm” Award goes to Greenfield At-Large Town Councilor Dalton Athey for his attempts to alert residents about the fiscal tsunami the town is facing related to retiree benefits. Athey has often been criticized for trying to invent issues for political gain, but he is absolutely right on this one. Hopefully more of his colleagues will begin to share that concern and start working to develop a strategy to deal with it.

∎ The Thomas Paine “Common Sense” Award goes to the members of the Northfield Governmental Study Committee, whose proactive steps to improve town government this year, despite resistance of certain members of town government. The addition of a full-time administrator is a good start, but is hopefully just the beginning of what will be a much larger effort to create the best possible town government.

∎ The Mark Zuckerberg “Social Media Story of the Year” Award goes to Greenfield School Committee member Donna Gleason, who might not be sitting in that seat were it not for Facebook. Not only did Gleason benefit from an ill-timed rant on that social media site by candidate Wesley Blixt, she also used it to raise the profile of an ultimately successful, 11th-hour write-in campaign that was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable 2013 Greenfield election season.

∎ The Kim Kardashian “most fascinating non-story of the year” award goes to the continuing dance between Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin and the Greenfield Town Council regarding a still-empty seat on the Planning Board. First Jim Allen’s reappointment is 86’d, then Isaac Mass gets shot down and there doesn’t seem to be any other movement in filling the vacancies on that board, leaving it unable to consider site plan reviews or conduct other business that requires a full board. More interesting still is the political dynamic between Martin and the council, that will bear watching as the town prepares to craft a new budget and deal with a number of socially progressive ordinance proposals in the pipeline.

∎ And the Mike Bloomberg “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” Award goes to Valley Steel Stamp owner Steve Capshaw and his fellow industry leaders who came across with some big dollars this year to establish a new training program for clean industry workers. That kind of private sector investment is somewhat rare in a commonwealth where we have become increasingly reliant on government dollars for our very survival. It’s nice to know that there are still people out there willing to put a little “skin in the game” to create a better life, and economy, for our region.

See you next year.

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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