Despite local opposition, legislators pass House map with Greenfield split

  • BLAIS

  • WHIPPS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2021 4:48:32 PM

Despite opposition from residents and local officials, legislators have passed the state’s redistricting map for the House of Representatives, which involves splitting Greenfield into two districts.

As a result, the city will be divided between the 1st Franklin and 2nd Franklin districts, which are currently represented by Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, respectively.

Candidates will run in the new districts in the fall 2022 primary election, with the districts formally going into effect when representatives are sworn into office in January 2023.

Thursday’s vote to pass the new district maps was preceded by a failed amendment filed by Whipps that sought to include the towns of Bernardston and Montague in the 2nd Franklin District, rather than the 1st Franklin District, and place the whole of Greenfield in the 1st Franklin District — an amendment that caught Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis off guard.

“I had shared the published redistricting process with our Selectboard on Monday night of this week, and the board was very pleased and satisfied to hear that our representation — both in the House and the Senate — would remain as it is presently,” Ellis said. “That was our last discussion on the matter, and I was very, very surprised to hear that, well after the opportunity for public conversation about the change or input from the town of Montague, there was a last-second amendment that would potentially change our representation.”

As a community that stayed informed of redistricting and had public conversations, Ellis said his biggest concern was one of process.

“I say that with no ill will toward the other representative who might have been our representative,” he said. “But we had no opportunity to consider that amendment and provide any feedback.”

Speaking to legislators during Thursday morning’s House session, Whipps noted that Greenfield and her hometown of Athol, as well as its neighboring North Quabbin communities, have been “outspoken in their opposition” to a representative district that combines both regions.

“It is important that their voices are heard, and that every opportunity to preserve these voices is taken,” she said.

Whipps said previous House district configurations had the North Quabbin and Greenfield in the same district, and thus the communities know from experience that this configuration wouldn’t be in their best interest.

“(Greenfield) is also an important hub for Franklin County, where services are provided to the surrounding small towns,” Whipps said. “Greenfield deserves to have its own distinct unique small-town voice preserved in its entirety in one representative district. It deserves to be a focus and the hub of Franklin County, not split between two districts where half of the city population are in competition with the people of the North Quabbin community.”

Although the amendment ultimately failed by voice vote, Whipps said she remains positive about the change.

“Here I am in Greenfield today,” she said, speaking in the Recorder newsroom on Hope Street Friday morning. “I’m enthusiastic about meeting new constituents and business owners I haven’t had the chance to meet.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the split, said she was disappointed by the outcome.

“What disappointed me is that many, many people from the city of Greenfield — residents and city officials alike — contacted the legislators with what I thought was very good rationale for not doing that, where the Legislature itself never provided any rationale for splitting it, other than some notion of population numbers,” Wedegartner said.

She said it seems as if the state “took the easy way out.”

During a public hearing earlier this month, Rep. Michael Moran relayed the process the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting went through to get to this stage, which included livestreamed hearings, as well as improved access to the process by way of English as a second language (ESL) hearings and the ability to translate the website into 110 languages.

He reported that the 2020 Massachusetts census count was 7,029,917, representing a 7.4% population increase over the 2010 census data.

“What you are going to see in the House maps is a reflection of those numbers,” Moran said at the time.

The approved redistricting map comes the day after Greenfield City Council approved a reprecincting map for the city, which included a handful of small changes to certain precincts, City Clerk Kathy Scott told councilors at their meeting Wednesday night.

Wedegartner said there are still many questions the state owes the city answers to, and that includes what the split means for the city’s precinct map.

“How have they done it?” she wondered. “Have they done it with precincts as a whole? Have they split precincts? If they are split somehow … so that the people who live across the street from me are in one representative’s district and I’m in another, that means we’ll now have twice as many election locations as we have.”

If Precinct 4 is split between two representatives, for example, there would be Precinct 4A and Precinct 4B.

“Then 4A has to find a location somewhere else in town to credibly and safely do our elections,” she said. “We really are at our wit’s end as to how we might be able to find that location.”

Rep. Blais, who currently represents the 1st Franklin District and previously served as executive director of the Greenfield-based Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said she is grateful for the opportunity to work in and for Greenfield again.

“I am excited to collaborate with the mayor and City Council to advance the city’s priorities and will work diligently over the next year to build relationships with community leaders, businesses, organizations and residents,” she said.

Moving forward, Rep. Whipps plans to reach out to Greenfield’s current representative, Paul Mark, D-Peru, for an introduction to the community as well as to catch up on budget requests he planned to file.

She added that Franklin County and the North Quabbin region do have a solid relationship, already sharing several regional services, such as the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region.

“I’m looking at a really smooth transition,” Whipps said.

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




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