Wisnewski: Nothing wrong with what Appointments and Ordinances Committee did
GREENFIELD — Town Council President Mark Wisnewski says a council committee did nothing wrong when it allowed the Greenfield man who fights big box developments nationally to present his own rewrite of town wetland rules, but instead set a precedent for allowing all town residents to speak any time before or during a public hearing.
“We didn’t violate state law, town law or rules of procedure, Open Meeting Law or anything else,” said Wisnewski. “We let a concerned citizen speak and were naive to think such a transparent process would not cause such a stir.”
He said the only mistake he and the committee may have made is not getting the word out about the town’s Conservation Commission rewrite of its wetlands law or making sure people knew about the Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting in a better and timelier fashion.
On Feb. 10, Albert Norman, a Greenfield resident known nationally as a sprawl-buster, a term he coined himself, and currently representing abutters suing the town over its approval of a big box store for French King Highway, was invited to Appointments and Ordinances to present his rewrite of the town law the Conservation Commission finished rewriting, after 2 1/ 2 years, last June.
Except for the commission’s chairman, the other four members didn’t find out about Norman’s rewrite until the day after the meeting, causing two of them to become incensed and a third to question the committee’s intentions.
Wisnewski said he has always voiced his desire for “open, early and transparent inclusion of all.”
He said he does not consider Norman’s suggestions, which include his red-lining commission wording and replacing it with his own, as rewriting.
“Calling what Al did a rewrite would imply that we are going to vote his suggestions as he presented them,” said Wisnewski. “He makes some very good points, but there are also things we’re concerned about and may decide not to incorporate in the town’s final version.”
Wisnewski said what people don’t understand, especially those who have criticized the Appointments and Ordinances Committee for allowing Norman to present his own version before a public hearing had been scheduled, is that the “new” council wants input from everyone and is willing to hear it before or during a public hearing.
When asked what the point of a public hearing is if people can speak at any time, Wisnewski said it is another way for people to express themselves.
“Letting people speak when they want gives everyone the opportunity to be heard before the council takes a vote and it helps the council understand all views on a subject before deliberating,” said Wisnewski. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Wisnewski said critics have taken a divisive approach to the issue by publicly scolding Appointments and Ordinances Chairman David Singer (Precinct 5 councilor) and asking for Wisnewski’s resignation, because he was the one who gave Norman a copy of the Conservation Commission’s rewrite.
“It was a public document when I gave it to him,” said Wisnewski. “I would have given it to anyone, because it would have been wrong not to give it to a citizen who asked for it — if a citizen doesn’t ask, and we don’t give, how does he or she get a copy?”
Wisnewski said he has never denied anyone the right to speak before the council or one of its committees.
“This happened to draw more attention, because it was someone known to be so prominently against big box development,” said Wisnewski. “I’d rather err on the side of giving people too much input than not enough.”