Despite show of support, Greenfield councilors deny Court Square petition on legal technicality

  • Court Square in downtown Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 4:43:34 PM

GREENFIELD — City Council voted by majority Wednesday night to not support a citizen’s petition seeking to return Court Square to its setup prior to June’s reconfiguration, as that decision rests with the mayor.

The vote followed a discussion by city councilors, during which several expressed their own opinions on the project. Despite several councilors speaking in agreement with the petitioners, all but At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey voted against the petition.

City Council President Penny Ricketts and Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler were absent for the vote; City Council Vice President Sheila Gilmour declined to vote.

At the Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting last week, City Clerk Kathy Scott relayed a legal opinion on the petition, stating that while City Council should hear the petition, it cannot grant the request as executive powers for the city — which include the day-to-day use and operation of public ways — are “vested solely with the mayor.”

Forgey thanked the petitioners, who collected more than 300 signatures, for their efforts and for offering councilors an opportunity to weigh in.

“We also have personal opinions on things and oftentimes we have to act against our personal opinions because it’s for a common good,” she noted.

With a strong mayoral form of government, Forgey said, the authority to make the change requested in the petition does not lie with City Council.

“I wish there was more we could do to weigh in, but technically we can’t,” she said, noting she preferred Court Square as it was before June’s reconfiguration into a pedestrian plaza. “Unfortunately, there’s very little I can do except publicly announce how I feel about it.”

Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher said she also wanted to go on record saying she agreed with the petitioners, particularly from a disability access and safety standpoint.

“I think it should be blocked off on the weekends,” she said. “I think that would be a great compromise. I think it would be a win-win for all people.”

Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo echoed the opinions of other councilors who expressed support for returning Court Square to its previous state, when it was open to vehicular traffic.

“I see one (food) truck out there,” he said, adding that he acknowledges it is a pilot project. “One truck doesn’t outweigh the voices of similar people who have signed the petition. It’s making it difficult for me to get to my church; it’s making it difficult for me to get to (City) Hall to pay my bills … so if I had my druthers, I would vote ‘yes’ in favor of this, but because the lawyer has already weighed in that this is not within our purview, I cannot support the petition.”

At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel-Rae, who has long voiced support for the pilot project, said on Wednesday night she’s “not going to backpedal on her support.”

“We need more places for people to gather,” she said. “And I know people are going to say ‘Well, we have Energy Park.’ Each space serves its own purpose.”

She said the city needs to bring gatherings to downtown to support businesses.

Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld also spoke in support of the pilot project.

“I really like the idea of having more pedestrian access downtown and less access to trucks and cars,” he said. “I’m a bicyclist myself, and I really feel we put too much time and energy into being able to move traffic.”

Hirschfeld acknowledged that, during winter months, it would be more difficult to maintain activity at the pedestrian plaza.

“For the most part, I was in favor of this,” he said.

Precinct 2 Councilor Dan Guin said he feels “the petitioners already won” in that they managed to start a conversation. He referred to the Appointments and Ordinances Committee hearing last week where residents first had the opportunity to comment on the petition.

But ultimately, he said, he couldn’t support the petition.

“I can’t support this petition because it does have flaws, as pointed out by the city attorney, but I do believe it was a step in the right direction … and I’ll do my best to keep on top of this,” Guin said. “I do believe the city is working to make it a more and more usable piece.”

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




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