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In The Arena

In the Arena: Mayor’s spin on park problem

If I opened this week’s column with the declaration that al-Qaida was responsible for the allegedly criminal activity occurring in Greenfield’s Hillside Park, you’d probably think I was crazy.

But that would make about as much sense as saying that the responsibility for this problem lies with the decision against taking Greenfield’s police chief’s position out of Civil Service.

“We would not have this situation, because we’d have efficient planning and the coverage that we need,” Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin said this week. “We’ve been working with temporary chiefs and other management positions in the department, instead of working on what we need to — public safety.”

I see Martin working. He desperately wants to be able to hire his own chief, rather than waiting for Civil Service to do it for him. And when politicians want something bad enough, they will spin things in that direction.

The only thing missing is proper context and a realistic look at the history of that park.

I’ve lived in or near Greenfield nearly all of my life and I can tell you that Hillside Park has always been considered a problem area. In fact, it was the one park in town my parents absolutely told me to stay away from and, with the exception of an occasional burger league softball game in my teen years, I was happy to honor that request.

One of the biggest obstacles to monitoring Hillside is its location. It is set back from the road and is not exactly conducive to police drive-bys. There is also a cut in the rear fence that leads down toward Greenfield Gardens, which, based on the police log, has more than its share of illegal drug activity.

I’m not sure what having a non-Civil Service chief in place, or $360,000 in park improvements, could have done to change any of that. What I do know is that $500,000 was diverted from the public safety budget to the school department a couple of years ago, a move orchestrated by Martin.

Just something to consider before the inevitable finger-pointing really starts to get out of hand.

Did vote burn pot dispensary?

It appears some members of Greenfield municipal government are still experiencing a bit of political disconnect when it comes to particular issues.

This past week, the Greenfield Town Council failed to secure the nine votes necessary to impose what would have been a three-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. The final and deciding vote was cast by Council President Mark Wisnewski at the conclusion of an hour-long debate that saw a number of councilors argue against the moratorium because they believed it would prevent sick Greenfield residents from being able to get the drug in a timely fashion.

But, according to Mayor Martin, shooting down the moratorium could create exactly that impact.

“There needs to be a process in place to regulate this,” Martin said. “This is a commodity, just like an underground gas tank, or a liquor store or a gas station, and you need a license to operate it.”

Martin argued that not having a process in place will make it impossible for any potential Greenfield applicant to secure a license from the state.

“The state says you have to have it, but we don’t have any process to allow the license commission to issue (a medical pot license),” Martin said. “And we can’t issue a license to any applicant unless that applicant can prove that this commodity is going to be distributed in an area with proper zoning to allow it.”

“So we’re not going to attract anyone because no one is going to come here until we get a process in place,” Martin added.

It’s likely the town will have that done by the end of the year or early in 2014, but the debate was yet another example of how political passions can sometimes cloud what might, ordinarily, be pretty straightforward issues.

Acknowledging teamwork

I can’t put September in the rear-view without giving a little pat on the back to Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins, who took time on her blog this week to respond to last week’s column where I questioned her comments about allegedly single-handedly re-building Greenfield’s school system from “rubble.”

“(Collins) is completely right that public figures sometimes say something in haste and pay for it later. The second after I made the comment he references, I regretted it,” wrote Hollins. “It sounded wrong when I said it and it sounded worse in the paper.”

“Nothing has happened in Greenfield without teamwork. You couldn’t ask for a more talented or committed faculty than in Greenfield,” she added.

Good on you, doctor — and thanks for all your continued hard work on behalf of Greenfield’s students and their families.

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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