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In The Arena

In the Arena: Why it’s a big deal

Some people simply don’t get it.

I know that may seem like a blunt way to start off today, but I’m not sure how else to describe what we’ve seen, read and heard in the week since it was revealed that Albert Norman had been allowed to “red-line” a copy of a proposed Wetlands Protection Ordinance submitted by the Greenfield Conservation Commission to the Town Council before any public hearing on the matter.

I expected there would be push-back and that The Recorder would catch some flak, as if reporting the story were somehow worse than the act itself. But I will admit to being surprised by the number of people who seem to think that this is no big deal; just another example of a Greenfield resident exercising his First Amendment rights — one who clearly views any criticism as an attack on those aforementioned rights.

Let me tell you why this is a big deal.

For months, we’ve listened to this council preach about the need to show respect for “process.” That was the basis for the most of the righteous indignation displayed when Mayor Bill Martin decided to withdraw the nomination of Wilson Roberts and George Touloumtzis from the Planning Board when the council rejected Jim Allen’s reappointment. In that instance, respect for the process was sacrosanct.

But certain members of this council, and their supporters, seem to have no problem with their president granting pre-public hearing editorial access to a draft ordinance to an unelected, unappointed and anti-development activist who happens to be advising a group of fellow residents involved in a legal action against the town.

Talk about turning the “process” on its ear.

While we’re at it, can we dispense with the talking point that Al is just an ordinary Greenfield resident exercising his rights? He’s a resident, yes, but one with a very specific agenda — to block any big box retail store from coming to Greenfield, regardless of how his fellow “citizens” feel about it. Because of that, he has emerged as one of the town’s most polarizing political figures, and when he becomes involved in something like this, it’s a story.

This brings me to the theory that this is somehow part of a larger media conspiracy to scuttle Council President Mark Wisnewski’s re-election plans. First, the election is in June and it’s entirely likely this whole incident will be forgotten by then.

But if Wisnewski is upset that his opponent now has an issue on which to run, he should look in the mirror — because that’s the guy who helped this whole process in motion when he forwarded the sprawlbuster’s “revisions” to Appointments and Ordinances Committee Chairman David Singer.

And what about the somewhat beleaguered representative for Precinct 5? I’ll admit to feeling a little bit bad for Singer, who has done his best to spin this in a positive direction. I honestly think he thought he was doing the right thing by bringing Norman into the process early rather than waiting for a potentially more contentious public hearing. He may have been naive to think that was possible, but I believe his heart was in the right place.

I’m not entirely sure the same can be said for some of the other players in what may go down as one of the most potentially avoidable political dramas in recent memory.

2nd District field gets bigger

We could be headed for a rematch in the 2nd Franklin District this year, depending on what happens during primary season.

Republican candidate Susannah Whipps Lee is looking for a second crack at Democratic incumbent Denise Andrews, but to get there, she will have to get past fellow Republican Karen Anderson of Orange. The mother of six is running on a four-point platform of protecting kids, jobs, the elderly and lowering taxes, which were a lot of the same themes that Whipps Lee trumpeted two years ago when she nearly knocked off Andrews.

Whipps Lee says she learned a lesson from that loss, one she has no intention of repeating this year.

“If we had two more weekends to work, I think we would have taken Belchertown,” Whipps Lee said. “We have a plan, we’ve been spending a lot of time there. A lot of Belchertown voters aren’t happy with the incumbent’s decision to co-sign (Rep. David) Linsky’s gun control bill, so we are talking to a lot of sportsmen about that.”

If she wins the nomination, Whipps Lee plans to run a positive campaign that she hopes will shed a good light on what is an often forgotten area of the commonwealth.

“We want to draw some positive attention,” Whipps Lee said. “It’s time for some of these smaller communities to get their fair share and that’s going to be our message moving forward.”

If she plays her cards right, maybe, this time, someone in Boston will get a chance to hear it.

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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