Editorial: No respect for process, public

Flabbergasted.

That is our initial reaction to having a sitting member of the Greenfield Town Council take a draft of an updated wetlands protection ordinance — which the Conservation Commission has been working on — and give it to Al Norman for his input and approval.

We’re also stunned to learn that Norman’s revisions were then turned over to the Appointments and Ordinance Committee by council President Mark Wisnewski.

If things were working properly in Town Hall, the committee would have gotten the draft first — without Norman’s fingerprints on it — and then gone ahead with its normal procedures.

We’re surprised that David Singer, the committee chairman, doesn’t seem to have a problem with allowing an un-elected and non-appointed individual to work on the ordinance without any previous committee discussion or vote about having an outside person involved so early in the process.

And we’re angry that this can be seen as an acceptable way of doing things by anybody on Greenfield’s Town Council. It shows a disdain for open and transparent government that is necessary to serve the community well.

It would be one thing if, after getting the draft, the Appointments and Ordinance Committee decided, after discussing the idea in an open meeting, had invited Norman to take a look at the ordinance. Although we would still question the validity of having Norman make revisions — we’re not convinced that his long-standing opposition to most types of retail development makes him a wetlands expert — at least it would be a more open way of operating.

What’s happened, instead, is that Norman has been provided a seat at the table before any other member of the public.

This demonstrates a lack of respect to those Greenfield residents who have not been afforded this opportunity, and it also says to the Conservation Commission — which worked long and hard on the draft — that its efforts don’t carry the same weight as this ex-officio member of the council.

The trust that Greenfield’s electorate has placed in its Town Council has been abused.

Here’s what we believe should happen now: The councilor who gave the draft to Norman, circumventing the process that is usually open to all, should resign.

While this councilor’s actions may have been done with the best intentions of serving Greenfield, he or she has taken an unprecedented, and possibly an unethical, action.

We understand there are disagreements about the kind of retail development suited for Greenfield and that there are people, including councilors, who share Norman’s interest in stopping any and all large retailers.

But allowing a third party to interject themselves this way in the process taints the outcome.

And it’s clear, given the council’s current makeup, that those who don’t share the same outlook would never be afforded the same opportunity.

With this in mind, we also believe it’s time for Norman to run for office in Greenfield — or bow out of public policy debates about planning and zoning.

For too long he has been allowed to exert a tremendous amount of influence from the sidelines, some might even say the shadows. This strategy has allowed him to retreat under the guise of being a private citizen when publicly challenged.

Norman doesn’t have to run for the Town Council — his experience as an internationally known “sprawl-buster” would be welcome on the Planning Board, ZBA or the Conservation Commission. But let him first earn the backing of residents in an election — and then their respect in his service as an elected official.

Norman should stop getting others to serve as proxies for achieving his views.

We know that there will be plenty of excuses and attempts to justify what has taken place, including trying to throw it back at this newspaper and those Greenfield residents who are equally appalled at this abuse of office.

But no amount of spin can diminish the fact that Norman has been given a jump-start on a civic process and that his views have been accorded greater standing than his fellow Greenfield residents.

That isn’t right.

Related

Town leaders shocked committee brought Norman in

Monday, February 17, 2014

Editor’s note: Watch a recording of Monday’s Appointments & Ordinances Committee meeting, courtesy of Greenfield Community Television. The discussion about proposed changes to a wetland protection law begins around the 30:30 mark in this video. GREENFIELD — Several long-time town leaders have labeled as “surprising,” “disrespectful” and “disturbing” a Town Council committee’s allowing of a noted big box foe to … 3

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