Citing lack of trust in administration, Greenfield City Council tables funding police audit

  • HAIGH

  • WEDEGARTNER

  • The Greenfield Police Station on High Street. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2022 10:23:40 AM
Modified: 9/23/2022 10:23:02 AM

GREENFIELD — The City Council has tabled a financial request by Mayor Roxann Wedegartner to support an audit of the Police Department, with residents and councilors alike concerned that recommendations from such an assessment would be ignored by the city’s administration.

“I have really mixed feelings about the audit,” said Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock, who withdrew her proposal for a citizen task force that would work in conjunction with auditors, citing a lack of credibility in the executive branch caused by the mayor’s recent decision to reinstate Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr.

“I don’t have trust right now that there is going to be an adequate response and movement toward accountability and transparency within our city government and within the Police Department,” Bullock said.

Councilors were torn Wednesday night regarding how to move forward in light of the unrest caused by the Sept. 1 reinstatement of Haigh following May’s civil jury verdict in Hampshire County Superior Court that found he and the Police Department had acted with “racial animus” toward former Officer Patrick Buchanan when he was denied a promotion in 2014. Buchanan was the department’s only Black officer at the time.

While some city councilors thought an audit of the Police Department’s structure, policies and practices was a good place to start, others doubted any findings would be taken seriously by Haigh and Wedegartner, and thus were unwilling to accept any financial order Wednesday night.

The conversation began with councilors taking from the table a request for $175,000, which was immediately amended to $100,000. At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey proposed an amendment to that amendment of $60,000, but when that amendment failed, councilors returned to the $100,000 proposal. That request was tabled by a vote of 9 to 3. Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher was absent.

“We’ve heard from a great percentage of people tonight saying they have no confidence or trust in the administration or the Police Department, or anybody who would be part of the audit process,” said Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo. “I don’t think any figure is viable.”

Precinct 1 Councilor Katherine Golub and Precinct 4 Councilor John Bottomley were among those who felt similarly. At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts, however, thought the audit was a place to start.

“I want to see what they find,” she said. “We want to know what’s going on in this Police Department. What’s wrong with getting the facts? I feel like we’re putting our heads in the sand if we do nothing at all.”

Precinct 9 Councilor Derek Helie shared a similar view.

“If we refuse to put a little trust and faith in the system, we’re never going to come up with solutions, and we’re just going to keep pedaling, and the situation is going to get worse and worse,” Helie said. “I just want to see something done and have some recommendations come from a non-biased party … to say, ‘This is what we recommend.’”

The councilors’ comments followed residents who spoke during the public comment period and, in large part, encouraged councilors to vote “no” on the financial request for an audit. Several also called for the resignations of the chief and the mayor in light of her decision to reinstate Haigh, who had been on paid leave for four months.

To that end, Precinct 7 Councilor Jasper Lapienski motioned for a resolution declaring a loss of confidence in the mayor and the chief, but the motion was tabled by a majority.

“Unfortunately, I think this audit would be a gigantic waste of time and resources, and I hope the council will not move it forward,” said resident Rachel Gordon. “When someone shows you who they are, you should believe them.”

Resident Joanna Whitney added that there are “existing sources of information” that point to the problems within the Police Department.

“I don’t see how (an audit) is going to move this difficult situation forward,” she said.

Members of the Human Rights Commission also spoke to the City Council during public comment on Wednesday night. Among them was Wendy Goodman, who announced her resignation.

“I feel like human rights are being violated in this city,” she said. “If I serve on this commission, I feel complicit in these violations.”

Human Rights Commission Chair Daniel Yalowitz said he agrees with the frustration felt by residents and that both the chief and mayor have “erred in their judgments.” Mpress Bennu, another member of the commission, said it was time to talk about solutions.

“I don’t care what color you are, what gender you are, what religion you are — if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” she said. “Nobody’s talking about solutions.”

Bennu said when she reached out to the Police Department looking for officers to attend her inaugural Juneteenth event and a recent backpack giveaway, the department showed up.

“We’re stuck right here, and I’m sick of hearing about it,” she said. “I want to know what the next step is. When are we, as a community, going to stop and say we have to do something to change this? I don’t know about you, but I’m not part of the problem. I’m part of the solution, and I’m going to do something about it.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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