In The Arena

In the Arena: The race is on

The marquee race of the 2014 Greenfield election season is in place and Isaac Mass, challenger for an at-large Town Council seat, has set an early tone with what might best be described as massive political overkill.

Mass this week submitted nomination papers to the Greenfield Town Clerk’s office containing 969 voter signatures, 869 more than he needed to get on the ballot to challenge Council President Mark Wisnewski — a number that Mass says contains a special significance.

“We set a goal for more than 902 signatures, which was one more than the number of total votes which my opponent received when he ran three years ago,” Mass said. “He won that race by only 14 votes, and there was an 18 percent turnout.”

“We wanted to set this goal and make a statement, to try to make sure people turn out this time,” the candidate said.

That is the key, because as impressive as that signature total may seem, it doesn’t necessarily translate into votes or guaranteed turnout on Election Day. Historically, elections without a mayoral contest or a major ballot initiative usually produce low turnouts, often favoring candidates with Wisnewski’s pedigree. Mass feels things may be different this year, given the amount of public interest in this council’s recent activities.

“I’m heartened by the number of people who have also chosen to run, because the people of Greenfield need a choice,” Mass said. “This council believes they have a mandate to deviate markedly from the way previous councils have operated in the past, but I don’t believe that.

“I don’t believe you have a mandate when you win by 14 votes, or with less than a 20 percent turnout, or when you win with 100 percent of the vote when you run unopposed, or if you are appointed.”

And despite arguments to the contrary, Mass doesn’t believe this council is in touch with or focused on the issues of importance to most Greenfield voters.

“I want a council that spends less time working on plastic bag bans or banning e-cigs and more on real economic development issues which creates jobs and expand our tax base,” Mass said. “And based on the reaction I’ve received from the public, there are a lot of people that agree with me.”

Will find out how true that is in three months.

Caught in the middle

It remains to be seen what kind of public official she will be, but new Greenfield Planning Board member Virginia Disorgher certainly seems to be a quick study.

The retired nurse is the newest voting board member, which now has five voting members and two alternates for the first time in well over a year. But getting there was a bit of a bumpy process politically, one that Disorgher has no interest in rehashing.

“I’m really not going to comment on what may or may not have happened,” Disorgher said. “But I will say that this has been quite a learning experience.”

Exactly what that “experience” entailed remains a mystery, but it was enough to provoke a tussle between Mayor Bill Martin and Appointments and Ordinances Committee Chairman David Singer at the last Town Council meeting — revealing again how differently these two branches of government view their respective roles in the appointment process.

In response to a line of questioning from Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld, Martin explained his process for handling appointees, then chided Singer for allegedly “overstepping” his bounds by calling Disorgher and asking her what she and the mayor talked about in their interview. Disorgher would not reveal the details of that conversation, but whatever was said rankled Martin enough to cause him to publicly call out Singer, who, somewhat surprisingly, pushed back.

“The mayor is on record as saying that he wants the makeup of people on the board to be the same as when they voted on the big box decision,” Singer said. “Knowing that, I think it is our duty, and our obligation, and our right, to question candidates that come before us on the Planning Board.”

“You talk about the transparency of the process, but what’s transparent about the process of how you pick people?” Singer asked, addressing Martin directly. “We have no information, We get a packet and an appointment, and if we don’t vote within 30 days, it’s approved. You don’t come before us ahead of time and say ‘I have a pool of candidates here and ask us what do you think of this person or that person.’”

I don’t expect that is ever going to happen with this mayor, who doesn’t seem to have any interest in giving the council any power to advise and consent on appointments other than what is specifically mandated in the charter. If there is one thing that Singer and Martin agree upon, it is their support for Disorgher, who just happy to be able to serve her new town.

“I chose to live in this town and I love it here, and I believe you will be hard-pressed to find a person who takes the meaning of being a good citizen as seriously as I do,” Disorgher told the council.

I just hope the decision to step forward isn’t one she winds up regretting.

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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