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Council board says ‘no’ to Mass

Full council to vote next week  on Planning Board appointment

GREENFIELD — It looks like Town Council would need four more votes to deny the mayor’s appointment of local lawyer Isaac Mass to the Planning Board seat left vacant by James Allen earlier this summer.

All five members of the Town Council Appointments and Ordinances Committee voted Monday to send a recommendation to the full council to deny Mass as the appointee. The full council will vote on the appointment next week.

Mass, who is a former town councilor and former Planning Board member, has been outspoken over the years about his support of large-scale development.

On Monday night, Mass said he accepted the appointment after Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner suggested he consider returning to the board and Mayor William Martin agreed and offered him the position.

Martin said three or four others were considered for the appointment before he chose Mass. He said Wilson Roberts and George Touloumtzis were two of the other candidates considered.

This summer, the mayor appointed Roberts and Touloumtzis to the two vacant alternate seats on the board, but withdrew their names, even after the council approved their appointments, when the council denied Martin’s reappointment of Allen.

All five councilors agreed that the appointment to the board is a very important one and should be filled by someone who has been involved with the town’s current review and creation of a new sustainable master plan.

While Mass said he has not participated in the process of creating the new master plan, he said he has given input to members of the committee working on it.

Councilors said they were concerned that Mass was a founding member of Citizens for Growth in the late 1990s and that he has been for big box development over the years.

Mass said he would be fair and open-minded as a member of the Planning Board and said that the new master plan should be inclusive of the entire town’s goals and objectives. He said it should reflect diversity of opinion.

Mass said he would be privileged to serve on the Planning Board once again and said that while he would not automatically be opposed to any project, he would review each that came before him and make sure the impacts were minimal to the town.

Precinct 2 Councilor Keith Zaltzberg, chairman of the Appointments and Ordinances Committee, allowed the public to speak about the mayor’s appointment.

Sandra Thomas, who frequently spoke out against the big box project planned for the French King Highway during the Planning Board’s review, said appointments should not be political and she felt Mass’ is so.

Thomas said she has issues with the mayor’s appointment of Mass, because though he is qualified, he has also been outspoken in his promotion of large retail stores.

She said if he were appointed, she would be concerned about his prejudice when reviewing projects and said she was also disappointed that Martin withdrew Roberts and Touloumtzis, when they were also qualified.

Thomas suggested that Planning Board members should be elected, rather than appointed.

Albert Norman, the Greenfield resident who is known nationally as a sprawl-buster, said he would expect the town to be as outraged about the mayor’s appointment of Mass as he believes it would be if Martin appointed him to the Planning Board.

“I oppose his nomination with respect,” said Norman. “This is not where Isaac should be, and neither should I.”

Norman said he has been opposed to big box development for years and Mass has been for large-scale development, so the mayor should be looking to appoint someone more neutral.

Though the mayor argued that Mass would be the most qualified candidate for the seat, when it came time to vote, councilors denied the appointment.

Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner said she wants to make sure the next person appointed to the Planning Board understands and supports sustainable growth.

Kelner said she was also disappointed that Martin had two qualified candidates in Roberts and Touloumtzis and withdrew them.

“That was inherently unfair,” she said.

She said she did not object to Mass as a person.

Precinct 7 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud said she felt the same as Kelner.

“This is an issue of fairness,” she said. “It’s not personal.”

Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer said there is a reason the council needs nine votes to deny a mayor’s appointment.

“Those are the checks and balances,” he said. “We need to reconcile our differences on how to proceed.”

Singer said he didn’t want to make his vote about a big box project, but instead about how the town will go forward with all appointments.

“My vision for the Planning Board and that seat is that the new member should be from the group that’s working on the new master plan,” said Singer.

He said that in another time and place, Mass would be a great candidate.

“I want the council to stick together on this,” he said.

Singer may get his way, because at least two other councilors have said they are “on the fence” about Mass, but will decide before next week’s full council meeting.

At-large councilors Mark Maloni and Patrick Devlin said earlier on Monday that they wanted to hear from fellow councilors, as well as the public, before making a final decision.

Town Council President Mark Wisnewski has said he has serious concerns about Martin withdrawing Roberts and Touloumtzis as candidates in favor of someone who is openly for almost all large-scale projects.

The council will meet Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St. All 13 councilors will discuss Mass’ appointment at that time.

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