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In The Arena

In the Arena: Council has plenty to chew on

Now that the burning issue of the Issac Mass/Planning Board appointment is in the rear-view, the Greenfield Town Council can turn its attention to more pressing matters — like a growing laundry list of new ordinances that I’m guessing will provide fodder for lively debate over the next few months.

“War” on plastic

The council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee recently opened discussions on two potential plastic-related ordinances, one that would ban plastic bottles of spring water, sizes one liter or smaller. A similar ban was passed by voters in Concord and took effect Jan. 1. It was brought to the council by a pair of activists, but appears to be a non-starter, at least at this point.

“If I end up in a community that has this, and I didn’t have a water bottle of my own, my choices then become soda or juice,” council Vice President Hillary Hoffmann said. “Both have calories and require additional resources to produce, but we’re OK with blaming water because you can work your way around it, but I don’t see this as getting at the problem.”

Most committee members said they would not support the bottle ban as an ordinance, but would have no problem seeing the proposal put in front of the voters as a townwide referendum question.

The proposed ban on plastic bags is another story. There appears to be significant support for an ordinance prohibiting retailers from using single-layer plastic bags. A similar ban is set to go into effect in Great Barrington on Jan. 1.

“I think it has been demonstrated that it is bad for the environment and they are wasteful, Appointments Committee Chairman Keith Zaltzberg said. “Can we do something about it? Sure. And am I willing to take flak for it? Sure.”

Be careful what you wish for Mr. Chairman.

Native American burials

A proposal brought to the council by Native American activist Howard Clark is intended to protect land in town where Native American burials are believed to exist.

The draft in front of the committee states that any “known place” where such burials exist would be recognized as an American Indian Burial Ground and would therefore be accorded the treatment and protections outlined in existing state and federal laws. But it does not include a specific definition of what is and is not a burial, that some members of the committee have already identified as problematic.

It is clear from listening to Clark’s presentation that he and his supporters have definite ideas where such burials exist. But the big focus seems to be the White Ash Swamp, where Clark contends remains have already been disturbed by the developers of a proposed French King Highway big box retail store. If the council does pass an ordinance, it can’t be enforced retroactively, which means any work the developer has done would be grandfathered — a fact that I’m not sure Clark is aware of.

The second part of the draft ordinance calls for the mayor and the Narragansett Indian Tribe to appoint a local tribal advocate to “participate in all matters relating to the development and protection of American Indian Burial Grounds within town borders.” I’m not sure how Mayor William Martin is going to determine what qualifications are necessary to warrant that appointment, but I’m sure the council isn’t going to be shy about sharing their opinions on the matter.

Term limits on appointees

Proposed by Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave, this measure would limit the number of terms a mayoral appointee may serve to three. At this point, the committee has not fashioned it into an ordinance, preferring instead to work to negotiate with Martin to develop a more collaborative process in cultivating future appointees.

But if it ever is moved forward, its passage may be problematic because it limits the mayor’s powers under the charter, which makes no provision for a time limit on appointees. It seems to me, if they want to get this done, it will require a charter change — a move I’m guessing won’t be supported, on any level, by this mayor.

Stipends

This ordinance shouldn’t be a big deal, but I fear it might. It calls for town councilors and School Committee members to be paid a $2,000 yearly stipend, with the full amount based on 100 percent meeting attendance. The stipend would be the same for all board members, whether they are chairs or not, and would not allow inclusion into the town’s health insurance plan.

Though some will viewed this as an expense the town cannot afford, it’s probably going to happen, and I can’t help but wonder if it will wind up encouraging more people to run for office — which, based on what we’ve seen recently, wouldn’t exactly be the worst thing for Greenfield right now.

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.

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