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Northfield citizens push for group to study town gov’t

NORTHFIELD — A group of concerned citizens is scrambling for signatures to have an article put on the agenda for the Feb. 25 special town meeting, after it failed to win Selectboard support.

In order to have the petition verified, the group must gather the signatures of 100 registered Northfield voters by this afternoon. It is posted at Mim’s Market, the Northfield Food Mart (IGA), and Northfield Coffee and Books. If you can’t get out to sign it, call Sam or Barbara Richardson at 413-498-5931, and they’ll take a copy to your house.

More than a dozen members and supporters of the unofficial Town Government Working Group came to Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, seeking approval for an article that would ask voters to have the town form a committee to examine different forms of town government.

Without Selectboard approval, the only way to have it put on the meeting warrant is through petition. It must be verified by the town clerk before the Selectboard closes the warrant at its Tuesday meeting.

Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer said he could not support the article in the vague form in which it was submitted to the board Tuesday. Chairwoman Kathy Wright agreed, though board member Dan Gray favored putting the group’s article on the warrant.

The proposed article asked voters to form a committee to investigate the town’s government structure and type of management, as well as other forms of municipal government and management, and report to the annual town meeting, with or without recommendations.

The proposed article said the study would include the optimal size of the town’s Selectboard, and the level of professional support that would best allow the board to carry out its duties. The informal working group has been examining these matters since it formed in October. Members have consulted with town managers and municipal officials in other area towns as part of their research.

Working group members say the study is needed to make sure the board runs as effectively and efficiently as possible as the town waits for a new owner to be named for the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus.

Spanbauer’s gripe with the article was that it did not provide specifics, like who would appoint the committee, how many members it would have, and how that membership would be composed.

Working group member Don Campbell said the language of the article was suggested by Town Moderator Nathan L’Etoile, who said it was best to spell out specifics in a motion from the meeting floor. That way, said Campbell, the article would not limit the motion, leaving it open for amendment and suggestion.

Gray moved to accept the proposed article, but did not receive a second.

Once it was clear the board would not support the proposed article, about eight members left the Selectboard meeting, and went to an upstairs Town Hall meeting room to begin work on their petition.

The petition asks voters to support an article that would establish a study committee that would issue a report in 90 days, with or without recommendations for town government.

It goes on to clarify that the motion to be made at town meeting would require the committee to be appointed by the moderator, with one appointee chosen by the Selectboard, and at least one coming from the Town Government Working Group. The committee would contain at least five members, who would review the work the working group has done since it formed in October, identifying and filling any gaps. It also asks that the committee give an interim report to the 2013 annual town meeting.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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