Greenfield Planning Board faces Open Meeting Law complaint

The Planning Board meets on Aug. 3. City resident Al Norman has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the board, alleging it voted on motions and approved a site plan for a new grocery store without a quorum at its Aug. 3 meeting.

The Planning Board meets on Aug. 3. City resident Al Norman has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the board, alleging it voted on motions and approved a site plan for a new grocery store without a quorum at its Aug. 3 meeting. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-04-2023 3:50 PM

GREENFIELD — An Open Meeting Law complaint has been filed against the Planning Board, alleging a major vote was made on a commercial development in recent months without a quorum of its members. 

“I think the Open Meeting Law is a wonderful standard and I think that seeing as there is a complaint, we want to honor it and give it its due consideration,” said Planning Board Chairman George Touloumtzis.

In his complaint, filed Nov. 17, city resident Al Norman alleges the Planning Board deliberated and made motions with less than a quorum of its members at a meeting on Aug. 3, during which the board approved the site plan for a 19,432-square-foot Aldi grocery store on the site of the now-demolished Candlelight Motor Inn.

Members present on Aug. 3 included Touloumtzis, Charles Kinney and Amy McMahan, who was elevated that evening to a full voting member by Touloumtzis. Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, serving as an ex-officio member, sat in for former longtime Chairman Charles Roberts and voted.  

As a seven-member body — with five seats reserved for voting — a quorum, or the minimum number of voting members present, is four people. However, according to the City Charter, the mayor cannot serve as a voting member of the board, but can sit in on discussions. 

In an email to the Recorder, quorums at other meetings Norman has called into question include Sept. 1, Oct. 23 and Nov. 16. He filed his complaint after attending a Nov. 16 hearing, during which someone present made a point of clarification and read the charter rules regarding the non-voting status of the mayor.

Recalling the Nov. 16 meeting, Touloumtzis said the information came as a shock to not only himself and the board but also other city officials, including Wedegartner and Planning and Economic Development Director Eric Twarog.  

“That was totally new information,” Touloumtsiz said. 

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Other business discussed at the aforementioned meetings include the proposed construction of an accessory dwelling unit, a series of potential zoning amendments, and a revised site plan development at the site of the former Rugg Lumber industrial buildings. 

Norman said while it doesn’t appear to be an intentional violation, “the business conducted on [Aug. 3] should be brought back before a board with a legal quorum.” 

According to Open Meeting Law guidelines, the public body has 14 business days to respond to a complaint. Touloumtzis said the board plans to discuss the complaint primarily during a public session on Thursday – the 13th day – followed by an executive session with legal counsel. A response, then, will be given to Norman as well as to the Office of the Attorney General. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street. 

Touloumtzis said the board had better membership earlier this year, but following the retirements of Roberts and David Chichester, “it’s been concerning that we’re going down in numbers.” This was an issue “we will certainly be addressing” with the mayor-elect, he added. 

City Council recently approved the appointment of Sarah Brown-Anson to the Planning Board, bringing membership to four members. 

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