Norman mulling ‘all options’ on charter change

  • Al Norman makes a point during a break in the big box trial in Franklin County Superior Court last week. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2019 10:45:10 PM

GREENFIELD — City officials may push forward on finalizing language in the charter that could limit the ability of citizens to petition votes of the council

But sprawlbuster Al Norman continues to raise questions.

Asked if he is currently considering legal action against the city, Norman said: “Right at the moment, I’m considering all options.”

The council is anticipated to vote Tuesday on what some city officials say is a housekeeping matter concerning language in the charter. A brief special meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Greenfield High School cafeteria. Public comment is not expected.

Norman, who is opposed to the council’s vote last month to relax commercial zoning citywide, doubled-down on disputing the initial opinion the city lawyer delivered last week.

After the council voted March 20 to remove zoning laws from a majority of the French King Highway corridor overlay district, Norman filed a citizen’s referendum petition. The intention was to pause the zoning change and send it to the ballot box for a citywide vote this November. Critics have said a similar process if duplicated could also up-end the library vote.

However, Norman, a library supporter, said unequivocally these two issues are not linked.

Brokers of the zoning-for-library deal, City Councilors Rudy Renaud and Isaac Mass both said Norman’s suggestions of a citizen’s petition under this circumstance could be dangerous. Renaud said the city has a representative government for a reason, and if Norman wants to seek office, he could run for her seat.

Norman said Monday, “One of the joys of living in a small town is that we have a home rule. We’ve had the right to do referendums for at least 30 years.”

The city ruled Norman’s petition is invalid and later noted the process has changed following a tweak to the charter in 2017. Norman has protested, calling it a clerical error that led to a substantial change to the petition process.

In multiple correspondences with the City Clerk and councilors, Norman said this “scrivener’s error” should be treated as such.

If adopted with the change in language, Norman argues the charter will remove or at least severely limit the ability of residents to petition the decisions of the 13-member council.

Wendy Sibbison, a Greenfield appellate attorney advising Norman, commented on the matter to councilors via an email sent Monday. “Please at least consider acknowledging what is true: no past Town Council vote was ever intended to do away with the citizen protest referendum,” she wrote. “Any claim to the contrary sounds a whole lot like our President, for whom the law means whatever he wants it to mean. If you want to destroy that important civil right for the first time, please have the courage to admit that you’re doing it.”

Norman contests, based off the state and city records he’s acquired, that no amendments were ever made to the charter language. Instead, the governor signed in 2017 a change in the charter that was never approved by the Legislature or the council.

“There’s a legal problem with calling something a law that doesn’t have a straight line back to the Legislature,” Norman, who is not a lawyer but has been consulting with attorneys through this process, said. “Instead of trying to paper over a mistake, get the ordinance right. Stop denying these petitions.”

The petition process is part of what prevented a Walmart from coming to town in 1993, Norman noted. His petition at the time led to a town-wide vote.

“People said to me in 1993 the people aren’t with you. I said, I guess we’ll do a referendum,” Norman said. “People were surprised with the vote.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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