Safe City ordinance fails Greenfield Town Council vote

  • Davis Street Resident Glen Ayers, left, stands outside the Greenfield High School before the start of Wednesday's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Greenfield Resident Benjamin Miner speaks at Wednesday's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Greenfield Resident Betsy Shapiro speaks at Wednesday's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Firefighters turned people away from Wednesday night's Town Council meeting because Greenfield High School's cafeteria was filled to capacity, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Firefighters turned people away from Wednesday night's Town Council meeting because Greenfield High School's cafeteria was filled to capacity, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Firefighters turned people away from Wednesday night's Town Council meeting because Greenfield High School's cafeteria was filled to capacity, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Firefighters turned people away from Wednesday night's Town Council meeting because Greenfield High School's cafeteria was filled to capacity, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Musician Eveline MacDougall leads singing outside the High School before Wednesday night's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • Greenfield Town Councilor Isaac Mass, left, at Wednesday's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

  • A discarded sign after Greenfield's Town Council meeting, Aug. 16, 2017.

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/16/2017 11:42:21 PM

GREENFIELD — Town Council has voted down a proposal to make Greenfield a “safe city” for immigrants.

The ordinance, which has been in discussion for months, would have prohibited town employees — including police — from performing the functions of an immigration officer, to the extent permissible by law. The council voted 6 to 4 against the proposed Safe City Ordinance Wednesday evening, after hearing from more than 70 members of the public during a three-hour public comment period. Two councilors were absent during the meeting and the council president did not vote.

The meeting was held in the Greenfield High School cafeteria, which was packed with more than 200 members of the public. People were asked to rotate out by Fire Chief Robert Strahan, as the room was at capacity.

The proposal, drafted by At-Large Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, has been debated over the last five months at the subcommittee level, with the Community Relations and Education Committee giving it a unanimous positive recommendation. Immediately after the full council took its vote, defeating the ordinance, many members of the public began to shout, “shame,” and voiced support for Renaud.

The ordinance would have prohibited town employees, including police officers, from initiating an investigation or taking law enforcement action on the basis of immigration status, including the initiation of a stop, an apprehension, arrest or any other contact. Under the ordinance, officers could not have detained an individual on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or an Immigration and Customs Enforcement administrative warrant after the individual is eligible for release from custody, unless ICE has a criminal warrant, issued by a judicial officer, for the individual.

“Why do our local cops have to take the responsibility for carrying federal water?” said At-Large Councilor Mark Maloni, who voted in favor of the ordinance. “I don’t see it, I don’t get it.”

Precinct 9 Councilor Daniel Leonovich, who opposed the ordinance, said his parents, wife and many other family members are immigrants, but went through the legal process of obtaining citizenship.

“My parents could have come here, overstayed a visa and become refugees,” he said, adding a “safe city” designation would encourage people to stay in the country illegally. Instead, he said there should be immigration reform at the federal level.

“The stories of the plight of those who are coming here, who are suffering — families who are being broken apart — are all true, but we have to look at this as a larger picture. As creating these sanctuary cities, we are encouraging the process the continue,” he said.

Leonovich also called the proposed ordinance an “exercise in futility,” as it codifies the town’s current policies. Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh has said his officers will not act as federal immigration agents, and Mayor William Martin released an executive order last month that prohibits local police from working with federal immigration authorities without the expressed permission of the mayor.

At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts, who voted for the ordinance, pointed out that it has become much more difficult in recent years for immigrants to obtain citizenship.

“I don’t know how to explain to people that what happened in the ‘40s and ‘50s is not what’s happening today. It gets harder and harder,” she said.

Renaud agreed, saying, “I also feel like our immigration system, just as a practicality, is broken. You can’t just go and get a visa, you can’t just go and get in line and register to come into the country.”

During the public comment period, those in favor of the ordinance said it would encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes to the police without fear of being deported — making Greenfield a safer community for everyone. They said the ordinance also shows support for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of the community; ensures that local public safety resources will not be squandered to enforce federal law; and prevents families from being split apart by deportation.

“We should ensure that all of us can feel safe enough to call the police if we need them or consult a town official or employee about a problem we may have,” Greenfield resident Roxann Wedegartner said. “We should never put ourselves in a position where we are responsible, as a city, for tearing a family apart or preventing someone form seeking rescue from abuse.”

About 10 members of the public also spoke in opposition to the idea of making Greenfield a “safe city.”

Resident Sandy Kosterman questioned whether undocumented immigrants living in a “safe city” would feel the need to work toward gaining citizenship, saying the community should focus instead on making a route to legal citizenship available to them.

Scott Conti, former chairman of the Board of License Commissioners, said town ordinances need to be well written, easy to interpret, and should regulate to the minimum extent possible. He said the proposed Safe City Ordinance did not meet any of that criteria and the town should focus on other problems, such as the opioid epidemic.

“The mayor’s executive order is sufficient on this,” he said.

Precinct 6 Councilor Maria Burge said when she came to Greenfield 45 years ago, she was one of the first Latinas in the area and lived in fear. Today, she said she helps immigrants — undocumented or not — with a number of services, such as finding housing.

However, Burge said at the risk of committing political suicide, she was going to vote against the ordinance.

“I took an oath not only to uphold the constitution, but I don’t get to choose which laws to uphold,” she said. “I’ve dedicated my life to this community for 35 years in spite of all the terrible hurtful things I hear about the Mexicans — my community — so don’t anybody here think that I don’t know what you’re saying, but this ordinance is not going to change anything because the reality is all of you, most of you can hide behind your white skin and I can’t. You’re not going to make this a safe city by an ordinance, that is how I feel, and I will not support this based on those two things.”

After the ordinance was defeated, Ricketts pointed out that the mayor’s executive order still makes Greenfield safe for undocumented immigrants.

“We still are considered a safe city, even though the votes may not be here, the mayor listened to the public,” she said.


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