In the Arena: Back in Con Com's hands
The Greenfield Town Council’s attempt to strike a compromise on a controversial wetlands ordinance amendment appears to be over before it ever really had a chance to get started.
The council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee this week voted to remove a proposed amendment to the town’s wetlands protection ordinance that would have designated the Town Council, not the Conservation Commission, as the final decider of whether those regulations may be waived for a potential developer.
“I liken it to the Missouri Compromise — a way to get this through at this moment in time,” A&O Committee Chairman David Singer said. “It could always be changed later, but, for now, I saw it as a way to keep the waiver in, which the commission clearly felt strongly about.”
Based on the reaction, commission members also seemed to feel strongly about giving the council that much sway over wetlands policy, even though, as Singer points out, the idea was broached not by the members of his committee, but Conservation Commission Chairman Alex Haro.
“I think (the committee) had some misgivings about it, especially when it came to the definition of what is and is not an “overriding public interest,’” Singer said.
At first blush, the idea seemed like a pretty good compromise, especially when you consider the political explosion that accompanied the start of this process. The biggest drawback I could see was the potential of making an already political situation that much more so, but, were a waiver to become necessary, it didn’t appear to be the worst idea in the world to have the issue decided by the town’s elected representatives.
The mayor and a majority of the Conservation Commission obviously felt differently, so the ordinance change will head to the council without the compromise, but with an intact waiver that Singer says does not contain the “overriding public interest” language that has, heretofore, been so problematic.
“I think people will find that the document we will be voting on contains pretty much everything the Con Com recommended, which is probably how it should be,” Singer said.
We’ll see if his colleagues feel the same way on Wednesday.
Getting people in the seats
Speaking of the Conservation Commission, it’s about to lose two of its members, creating another potential problem for Mayor Bill Martin.
Haro and Dee Letourneau have asked not to be reappointed to the commission, prompting Martin to renew his request that the council not play politics with his policy board appointees.
“That’s been my comment on council floor many times before,” Martin said. I’ve asked them not to make this a rigorous ordeal about volunteers for board and commissions because we need them. This is our government.”
Before he finds Haro and Letourneau’s replacements, Martin is going to have to face the somewhat daunting task of getting Planning Board Chair Roxann Wedegartner reappointed. That vote was to have happened Wednesday, but has been postponed — at the request of the council’s chairs committee — until the June council meeting, after the annual town election.
Wedegartner admitted to being somewhat apprehensive about the resistance she expects to receive from certain councilors, but said she wants another three years, in part, because the board has three new members who might benefit from her experience.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Wedegartner said. “But I hope the handful of controversial projects I’ve been involved in don’t become the focal point because they are such a small part of what we do.”
“There are so many projects that come before us that are so important to Greenfield, and I want to continue to play a role in moving those forward,” she added.
Whether she gets that chance is something we’ll find out next month following what could be an ugly debate.
I guess timing really is everything, even in small-town politics.
Ashfield Selectboard Chairman Tom Carter reminded me of that this week, when discussing a series of Open Meeting Law complaints filed by now-former Selectboard member Paulette Leukhardt.
“It was not lost on me that she filed four of those complaints on the Monday after the town election caucuses, where it was clear that she didn’t have a whole lot of support,” Carter said.
Leukhardt eventually resigned from the board 34 hours before the election of nominee Todd Olaynk, nephew of late long-time Whately Selectman Charles Olanyk, who, according to Carter, is a “breath of fresh air” in the Selectboard’s office.
“He’s a really good guy, and is going to be a huge asset to the town,” Carter said.
Lovers of political drama might want to circle June 2 on the calendar — that’s when Ashfield Selectboard members and the town’s Personnel Board will meet to discuss possible candidates to become the new Selectboard representative to that committee. Leukhardt’s name is among those under consideration.
Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.