City responds to civil suit on charter

  • Greenfield City Hall. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2019 9:42:33 PM

GREENFIELD — The city has responded to the lawsuit filed by self-proclaimed sprawlbuster Al Norman concerning language in its charter about citizen petitions.

On Friday, the city submitted a response to the civil suit filed on May 30 in Franklin County Superior Court.

“The defendant respectfully requests that the court enter judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety and grant the defendant such other relief as the court deems proper, including defendant’s costs and disbursements,” states the response from Greenfield attorney Layla Taylor of Sullivan, Hayes and Quinn.

“I filed for a change to the city’s referendum charter ordinance,” Norman explained on Monday. “The city’s list of ‘ineligible measures’ in section 7-10 of the charter does not include referendum or initiative language found in the charter itself — so it appears that filing an action about a confusing and controversial referendum process in the charter is an eligible measure for a civil complaint.”

After conversation among the City Council about amending the charter began in May, the Appointments and Ordinance Subcommittee was tasked with looking into the “problem sections” of the charter. At last week’s meeting, the subcommittee tabled the topic.

At the meeting, Norman came forward with a draft of the sections he rewrote to provide clarity.

Norman said on Monday that he is not interested in long litigation.

“I also remain very open to mediation regarding this complaint, because it is my goal to help the city end any confusion over its referendum procedure, as is witnessed by my good faith effort recently to submit to the ordinances committee of the City Council a redraft of the two sections in the charter that I feel can be easily repaired,” Norman said.

The civil complaint requested the court to do two things — correct an error in the charter or for the city to hold public hearings to pass a new measure that clarifies the citizen initiative and referendum process; and to allow the referendum petition he put forward challenging the March 20 City Council zoning votes to proceed.

Norman filed a citizen’s referendum petition after the March 20 council vote that removed zoning laws from a majority of the French King Highway corridor overlay district in exchange for a vote to approve the library project. His intention was to pause the zoning change and send it to the ballot box for a citywide vote this November.

Former City Councilor Steven Ronhave filed a petition in protest of the City Council’s March vote to approve financing for a new public library. That petition, signed by 452 registered voters, was certified.

Voters will be going to the polls in November to vote on the $19.5 million library, as well as to decide on a new mayor and several city councilors.

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

Norman said he used the official number from the charter ordinance section 7-7(a), which he said has the minimum at 10 signatures.

“In both cases, the minimum to commence is 10 names — that’s how the ordinance reads. Then the lawyer looks at the wording and you proceed with the rest of the signatures,” Norman said. “The city lawyer blocked us, saying we didn’t submit enough signatures. We could have gotten more, but there’s no point in gathering signatures for a petition that wasn’t going to be commented on.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

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