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Council to vote on controversial reappointment

Tonight at 7

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin has said he is not going to play “political games” with town councilors who are trying to block a longtime Planning Board member’s nomination to a new term.

After hearing that four members of the Town Council’s five-member Appointment and Ordinance Committee voted against recommending the council reappoint James Allen, a clear backer of a big box department store who is seeking reappointment to a fourth three-year term, Martin withdrew nomination of two alternates to that board who have publicly spoken out against a big box department.

The councilors on the committee are At-large Councilor and Vice President Mark Wisnewski, Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave and Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller. At-large Councilor Dalton Athey, who is also a member of the board, was not there the night it voted to send the negative recommendation.

The nominees Martin recently withdrew are Wilson Roberts and George Touloumtzis, two Greenfield residents who spoke against the big box on French King Highway during the Planning Board’s review.

Martin said he will wait to see what happens with Allen before bringing forth new nominees. He should know by tonight, because that is when the council plans to vote on all of Martin’s recent nominations.

“I withdrew my nominations of Wil and George last Friday, because I don’t want to create a biased board, which would then create a complex situation while litigation on the French King continues,” said Martin.

The mayor was referring to an appeal filed by opponents of the project. A judge plans to hear the case for the big box department store and could then decide to send it back to the Planning Board for re-review.

“My opinion is that if it is remanded back to the board, I don’t want the composition of that board to have changed in the meantime,” said Martin. “It is clear that votes over the past decade have shown a majority consensus that people want French King to have a commercial area and they want a large store there.”

Martin said he does not want to play into some decisions that councilors are making he believes are based on one vote that a volunteer board member has taken.

“If the council does not approve the reappointment of Jim, I will find Greenfield residents, who are qualified and neutral, to serve,” said Martin.

Winsnewski said he believes it is Martin who is “playing political games” by withdrawing his nomination of two “very qualified” nominees.

“We’re still not sure the mayor can withdraw his nominations,” said Wisnewski. “He sent them letters of acceptance and said their appointments are pending approval of the council.”

Wisnewski said that will most likely be brought up at tonight’s council meeting beginning at 7 in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St.

Wisnewski said his problem with Allen is based more on the fact that Allen has said he does not believe in smart growth and sustainability, something the town’s new Master Plan, which is being rewritten this year, will highlight.

“It’s a bad thing for a Planning Board member not to believe in the Master Plan the town is developing, something that will lead the town through the next 10, 20 and 30 years,” said Wisnewski.

The councilor said he can only remember one other time the council voted against someone the mayor wanted to appoint to a committee, and that was because that person had a lawsuit pending and councilors were afraid it might interfere with her service to the town.

“It’s going to take the vote of nine councilors to stop Jim’s reappointment,” said Wisnewski. “If nine councilors deny his reappointment, well that’s a pretty significant number. The mayor is going to have to respect the process.”

Wisnewski said he is also concerned about reappointing Allen because of reports he has received from residents about how they are treated when they don’t agree with him.

“Jim says he has never voted ‘no’ to any project,” said Wisnewski. “That, to me, isn’t critical thinking. And, people have said he is very dismissive.”

Wisnewski said he and the “new” council want to move forward, not look back, as they approve appointees and make charter changes, and so on.

“I think the mayor’s withdrawal of Wil and George is a petty attempt to change the process,” said Wisnewski. “It’s disrespectful.”

The at-large councilor also said he does not believe that appointments to town committees, commissions or boards should be lifelong deals.

Wisnewski said he would be willing to back a nominee who is not dismissive, who understands the issues, who isn’t afraid to stand up for what is right, and who has a concern for the town and what its Master Plan charges.

“There are going to be some pretty significant things in the new plan,” said Wisnewski. “We’re covering all bases: transportation, development, farming, agriculture, housing, everything.”

“We are going to need a Planning Board that ideologically believes in the plan or it is going to be a disaster,” he said.

The mayor said confirmation of his appointments and reappointments should be based on qualifications of the nominee and the efforts and time a reappointment has put in over the years.

“It should not be based on one or two votes they took,” he said.

Martin said if councilors are concerned with the way a board or committee member has acted or treated others, they can be assured that he deals with all reports and incidents and takes corrective actions.

“Behavior modification by the council is not appropriate,” he said. “The council is not the authority for that.”

Martin said he wants to make sure all appointees receive fair treatment.

“When councilors show a bias against a vote, it isn’t fair politics,” said Martin. “If councilors start saying, ‘I’m not going to reappoint’ someone because they don’t like how the appointee voted on biomass, then that’s not fair.”

Martin said boards, like the Planning Board, follow strict regulatory and statutory rules to come to a decision.

Wisnewski said while the Planning Board has to follow certain town and state rules, it also has leeway to vote for what is best for its residents.

Martin said he does not want a Planning Board that says “no” to all development and ends up keeping new business away from Greenfield.

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