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Al Norman: Legal action coming soon over citizen referendum process

  • Al Norman of Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sprawlbuster Al Norman, right, speaks with Mayor William Martin prior to a meeting on zoning changes to the French King Highway overlay district at the John Zon Community Center in March. file PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2019 11:19:25 PM

GREENFIELD — Sprawlbuster Al Norman is moving closer to taking legal action against the city for altering citizen’s abilities to petition votes of the City Council.

“I’m going to take legal action if I can as a prod to get the council to deal with the thing they have broken,” Norman said. “There is going to be more activity on this. I’m not letting this go.”

Norman has been the subject of constant criticism from residents and some elected officials in Greenfield, who have helped to broker and support the deal last month to swap votes for a new public library for zoning changes that relaxed major development review and removed a majority of the French King Highway overlay district.

Norman, a vocal supporter for a new public library, did not initiate a petition to stop the library, but he did submit one on the zoning changes two days after the vote. This led to questions, including those raised by At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, one of the brokers of the deal, if this would lead to a petition of the library vote as well.

The library petition followed, which now could send it to the ballot box this November.

Norman does not plan to take similar actions as Steven Ronhave, the former Town Councilor, who is petitioning the council’s March vote to approve a new $19.5 million public library. Ronhave is collecting the now-needed 319 signatures within 30 days of a vote to slow down or stop a vote of the council; he needs to submit the signatures by the end of this week.

“I refuse to go by the idea that before you even get certified you have to collect 300 signatures,” Norman said. “That’s completely absurd.”

Previously the process allowed citizens to collect 10 signatures within 30 days of a vote of the council, have those signatures validated, receive blank forms to get the specific percentage of citywide voters to sign, and then move it toward the council.

In 1993, Norman used the citizen referendum process to put a vote over a Walmart to the residents.

“For the layperson, you just scratch your head that what on earth are they trying to do here,” Norman said. “They’re trying to make is so difficult that the layperson cannot understand.”

Norman, and initially Ronhave, too, followed that old process, which City Attorney Gordon Quinn has ruled against with the change to the city’s charter in 2017.

“Instead of jumping through the hoops of an unreasonable ordinance, I’m looking at the ordinance itself.”

He said he hopes to see a law that makes sense to the public.

“I just want people to have an understandable referendum process that they can use,” Norman said. “They should have a right to do that and they should not be made to feel like pariahs for doing it. I don’t care what the issue is.”

City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud, who brokered the library-zoning deal with Mass, has said if Norman is upset with the process, he should run for office and represent the residents of Greenfield.

Norman said he does not have a problem with the city’s representative government model, “as long as there is a healthy referendum process.”

“I’m not saying I’m unhappy with town council government at all,” Norman said. “I don’t want all this shaming and people being called fools for doing it.”

Norman looked back to the beginning of this library-zoning deal, which was first brought before the public in February after a month of being discussed between some councilors and special interest groups.

Without a typical and formal public process, even if it followed the letter of law, Norman said it left some residents, like himself, feeling left out of the process that was adhering to a tight timeframe in which the city had to accept a state grant for the library’s financing.

“The Recorder presented this as a grand compromise that will heal wounds. Look what’s happened,” Norman said. “A lot of feelings have been hurt, relationships bruised over something that probably couldn’t be solved through a private deal, pushed through quickly.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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