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Renaud/My Turn: A year well spent

The new year always forces us to look back on what just happened during the past 12 months. Did we accomplish what we set out to do last year, what could have gone better or worse? And how can we use the lessons from the past to move forward this year?

I decided to ask these questions as they relate to the Greenfield Town Council. Now that I’ve been a member of our legislative branch of city government for more than two years, I’ve gotten some perspective. And as far as opinions go, I don’t speak for anyone else on the Town Council except myself.

2013 was busy. We addressed our perfunctory duties, but also had a bit more piled on our collective plates.

This past year saw us vote to change the Town Charter a couple times. First, we passed a charter amendment that synchronizes our town elections with the national election cycles. This makes sense economically, reducing the costs of local elections to every other year, but it will also hopefully increase voter participation. The more items on the ballot, the more folks will come out to vote.

Second, we amended the charter to give elected officials on the Town Council and School Committee an annual stipend. This is another change intended to increase civic engagement in town government. Although the stipend is modest, it could cover the cost of running an election, or perhaps make up for some lost time an elected official would miss at a paid job while they are attending evening meetings. The entire current Town Council will run for re-election before this charter change ever takes effect.

Both changes to the charter require approval by the state Legislature.

Spurred by the Biomass Waste to Energy Moratorium that was proposed by citizens and passed by the Town Council, we formed a Biomass Waste to Energy Advisory Committee in September. This way Greenfield can be in front of the next proposal to create an alternative energy plant. Instead of reacting to a developer’s proposal, we will be in a position to be proactive — thereby encouraging the right kind of development for Greenfield.

In the same vein, we passed a new medical marijuana zoning ordinance.

In May, the members of the Community Relations and Education Committee hosted a senior forum at the Greenfield Senior Center. It was well attended and included presentations from the county’s council on aging and YMCA representatives.

A small but important change that happened this year was that we moved the public comment period to earlier on the Town Council meeting agenda. It used to be that if you wanted to address the council, you had to sit through the entire meeting, which could end as late as 11 p.m. The exception was if there was a public hearing that night (during which comments must pertain to the public hearing topic). That never seemed to make sense so we changed it.

This year, we also experienced some heated debates and disagreements between the Town Council and the Executive Office. It wasn’t just on the topic of appointments, but also on taking the police and fire chief positions out of civil service. And though we may not have agreed on everything this year, together the Town Council and mayor maintained a professional and respectful relationship.

The same can be said for my fellow councilors. By far we didn’t agree on everything. We come from a wide range of backgrounds that naturally lends itself to a diversity of opinions. But none of us let our differences get in the way of what unites us — our concern and deep affection for our town.

No doubt, 2014 will be just as busy and, hopefully, productive. So far, a public forum is planned for Feb. 24 to discuss the proposed Dog Park. We also have citizen proposals in the pipeline that have already garnered a lot of attention — both for and against. And we expect another busy budget season. Sadly, this next year we will be saying goodbye to our longtime and very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly town clerk, Maureen Winseck. And that also means we will be welcoming in a new clerk. Whatever happens, I’ve no doubt that the Town Council and the mayor will continue working together to move Greenfield forward.

Karen “Rudy” Renaud represents Precinct 7 on the Greenfield Town Council and is the chairperson of the Community Relations and Education Committee.

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