Greenfield Charter Review Committee submitting recommendations by end of April

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2021 5:00:21 PM

GREENFIELD — The Charter Review Committee has completed its yearlong review of the document that guides the city in many areas, including the branches of government, administrative organization, elections, and School Committee powers and duties. The committee will hold its last meeting on April 26 before sending its recommended changes to City Council.

The council is responsible for considering the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations, making some of its own if members feel compelled to do so, and eventually voting on any changes it decides to make, but not before holding at least one public hearing to give residents a change to weigh in.

Although the entire Greenfield charter is reviewed every 10 years, it can be amended between reviews. It was first approved by voters on June 6, 2002 and became effective July 2003. It was reviewed 10 years ago and amended in 2008, 2009 and 2013.

Recently, Charter Review Committee Chair David Singer, a former city councilor, sent a summary letter to Mayor Roxann Wedegartner and City Council President Penny Ricketts, explaining what the committee did over the past year. It has met virtually due the pandemic, starting on May 28, 2020.

“The purpose of the committee is to review the charter in the context of what is working, what needs to be fixed and what is needed for our future,” Singer said. “The review is done to make it better and clearer, or take something out that isn’t working and replace it.”

Singer said 10-year reviews are also meant to give the Charter Review Committee, and eventually the City Council, a chance to think about what might be missing because of lack of foresight.

He called the review a “daunting task” in his letter to Wedegartner and Ricketts, and said the standard the committee agreed upon included coming up with a rationale for any proposed change.

“If the rationale for change provides more government access and more equity to citizens, then a ‘lower bar’ of comparison to what is now in the charter needs to be applied, for example, easier to change,” he wrote. “If the rationale for change provides less government access and less equity to citizens, then a ‘higher bar’ of comparison to what is now in the charter needs to be applied, for example, harder to change.”

Singer said the committee took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. The charter is a “living document” that can be amended at any time to reflect the needs of government as matters present themselves, he added.

While some parts of the charter are controlled by state law, Singer said others fall under the “home rule” statute, allowing local control. He said everyone learned that government officials should become familiar with the home rule statute when discussing amending the charter.

For example, upon the committee’s review, members became aware the Public Safety Commission umbrella should include ambulance and medical services, that the board needs more diversity among its members, that the commission’s powers of oversight should be more clearly defined and that in light of current events, the local oversight of civil rights violations to citizens by Greenfield employees was a matter needing immediate study and possibly the need for an independent civil review board.

The committee also looked at different positions, and discussed whether they should be elected or appointed. It looked at citizens’ petitions and what changes, if any, should be made so that citizens have a voice but can’t simply overturn every vote the council takes, for instance.

Once City Council begins its review of the charter and the recommendations the committee will make, it is unclear how long it will take to vote on changes. Any changes will be discussed during council meetings.

Wedegartner said she looks forward to more discussions about the charter. She said she understands there will be changes, but also believes the same as Singer: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are some things throughout the charter that continue to work even after almost two decades, she continued.

The Charter Review Committee’s draft proposals can be found at bit.ly/3duRanD. For more information, email 2020charterreviewcommittee@greenfield-ma.gov.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-77-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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