Norman/My Turn: Exercising my rights as a citizen
The Recorder’s headline, “Norman Rewrites Wetlands Ordinance,” is actually not accurate. It was the Greenfield Conservation Commission that decided to rewrite the ordinance. The first thing I told the ordinance committee is that the wetlands ordinance was not broken, so why fix it?
I learned of this by accident, and I suspect other than the members of the Con Com themselves — no one from the public gave input into the drafting process.
But I did. And am I guilty of expressing my opinion. When I read the rewrite produced by the commission, and I felt they were weakening the ordinance, and leaving wetlands areas in town open to destruction — just as the Planning Board before them had weakened the Major Development Review ordinance which protects us from large-scale developments.
The problem in Greenfield is not too many hands writing these ordinances — but the opposite. Historically, these committees operate like inbred clubs. They are not elected, and if they decide to rewrite an ordinance, there is usually little or no public interest. Their meetings are posted in Town Hall and in the legal notices of the newspaper. But its an insider’s game.
Mr. Tom DeHoyos, who now wants to be a town councilor and a Conservation Commission member at the same time, told this newspaper he wondered how many times I had been “allowed” to work on town ordinances. I did not know a permit to speak was necessary, but I was invited to come to the ordinances committee. Rather than ignore the request, I went.
It was clear to me that my suggestions — most of which retain current law — would go into the mix of ideas submitted along with the Con Com’s ideas. The version submitted by the Con Com would give the commission virtually free reign to destroy wetlands under very vague and ambiguous language.
There are no policy procedures regarding how a Town Council committee is to gather ideas when in the drafting stage of an ordinance. It’s not in the Charter, it’s nowhere. There are no constraints on the ordinance committee. They can solicit comments from anyone — because their document goes to public hearing, and then to the Town Council. No one is excluded.
The real story here is how to protect our natural resources — not who was allowed into the Inner Sanctum of Government Rule-making.
All these hounds that are baying now about being offended that I had the nerve to open my mouth should be more offended by the lack of engagement by average citizens in their commission’s business.
The Master Plan is a recent example of what can happen when citizens are encouraged to roll up their sleeves.
No wonder people don’t want to get involved with town government, or run for Town Council seats. You get attacked for having the nerve to state your opinion.
Somebody better dust off the First Amendment. It’s being buried by people who are outraged and insulted by free speech.
Al Norman known nationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Walmart and other big box developments, is a Greenfield resident.