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In The Arena

In the Arena: Chance to change the tone

I have no idea what the future holds for a new appointee to Greenfieid’s Planning Board or why anyone would even want the job. But I do believe it is time for the Greenfield Town Council to cough up the choke pear left behind by Mayor Bill Martin’s decision to withdraw the alternate Planning Board nominations of Wilson Roberts and George Toloumtzis.

“Here were two qualified men willing to sit on that board, and got this close and they had the rug jerked out from under them,” At-Large Councilor Patrick Devlin said to Martin at the most recent council meeting. “You talk about the intimidation effect, but I’ve got to believe there are a number of people in town who are going to look at that and say ‘gee, I don’t want to get involved in anything, and be embarrassed like that.’”

Devlin was referring to Martin’s claim that the council’s treatment of former Planning Board member Jim Allen and recently rejected Planning Board appointee Isaac Mass would make people more reluctant to volunteer for some of these boards. That remains to be seen, but on a public embarrassment scale, I would argue there is a big difference between being publicly shunned by a town council and having your nomination withdrawn by a mayor, albeit at the last minute and for purely political reasons.

Handling it the way he did, Martin made the whole thing personal — virtually guaranteeing that this issue will come up every time he tries to fill those slots.

By letting it go, the council has the opportunity to take the high road, and change the conversation from one of personalities and petty politics to a honest discussion about what kind of town they want Greenfield to be. Because right now, all we really know is what they don’t want — and that’s simply not enough from a body interested in truly being an equal partner in town government.

Legislative campaigns

Don’t look for the region’s Beacon Hill Delegation to involve itself in the ongoing contract negotiations between management and union nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

“It’s hard to pick sides because they both have positions that have merit to them,” 1st Franklin District Rep. Steve Kulik said. “But I do think if the goal is to provide the best possible care at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, then they both have the same goal, and should be able to reach agreement.”

Though the delegation will not be at the negotiating table, a few of its members have not been shy about their support for the rank-and-file’s efforts, most notable 2nd Berkshire Rep. Paul Mark and 2nd Franklin Rep. Denise Andrews, both of whom have made numerous appearances at nurses’ union rallies and events.

If Andrews is smart, she’ll spend less time walking picket lines and more time walking the streets of her district, as she is once again faces the prospect of an electoral showdown with popular Republican Athol Selectboard member Susannah Whipps Lee, who recently announced plans to challenge Andrews in 2014.

“We’ve never seen a time when there was more economic need and so little effective economic leadership from our state Legislature,” Whipps Lee said. “I look forward to waging a spirited, issues based campaign which will show district voters how their lives will improve with a representative that knows how to increase private sector employment, rather than the incumbent, who seems to only know how to increase taxes.”

An issues-based campaign would be a refreshing change from the last time these two tangled, when the major topic of debate was Andrews’ decision to share with Athol Police what turned out to be an unfounded report of alleged drug dealing at Whipps Lee’s Athol home. That resulted in an increasingly personal, razor-thin race that was eventually won by Andrews, thanks mostly to liberal voters in Belchertown, which had been added to the 2nd Franklin in the last redistricting process.

Whipps Lee opening line of attack is likely to be a series of tax increases approved recently by the Legislature, for which every Democrat will, and should, expect to take some criticism when it comes time to hit the campaign trail for real next year.

Location, location, location

Supporters of efforts to keep Greenfield’s Western Mass. Electric Co.’s Greenfield office from closing got a little help this past weekend from an overly curious woodland creature.

A now-deceased squirrel’s unfortunate decision to jump onto a substation wire and knock out power to more than 5,000 customers in six Franklin County communities last Saturday couldn’t have provided a better argument for keeping that office open — especially when you consider that it took less than two hours to get the lights back on.

My guess is we’ll have more examples to point to once the snow flies, but whether anyone at the home office is willing to acknowledge them is another matter entirely.

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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