City charter not in error on citizen petitions

  • Greenfield Town Hall FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2019 11:32:11 PM

GREENFIELD — A day after a tremor shocked the stability of the library-for-zoning deal, it now sits on sturdier ground, following a response sent by Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, to city officials Thursday.

At question is whether citizens have the ability to petition a vote made by the Greenfield City Council, which could effectively put any vote on hold if a citizen can mount a broad enough campaign in a short amount of time.

After sprawlbuster Al Norman filed March 22 a citizen’s referendum petition against the two approved zoning changes, which allows for more commercial development in Greenfield, he was told by city officials the petition was invalid. Then Norman, along with former town councilor and a longtime appellate attorney Wendy Sibbison, searched for a solution to help the petition stay alive.

Norman and Sibbison said they had found what’s called a “scrivener’s error” in the City Charter. They identified a change in the charter from what the council approved locally to what the governor signed into law a few months later in early 2017. They said they believed it was this change that led to the removal of a clear path for citizens to immediately petition and put a stay on a vote by the council.

After seeking answers from the city’s legal team this week, Mark provided guidance to city officials Wednesday afternoon. City Clerk Kathy Scott, City Attorney Gordon Quinn, Mayor William Martin, Chief of Staff Mark Williams and At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass received the email.

“This correspondence from Representative Mark shows that the changes to (the charter) were intentional amendments not ‘scrivener’s errors,’” Quinn wrote in an email Wednesday to city officials, which was made public Thursday in the packet for a special meeting.

The City Council meeting, which was originally supposed to be today and has been postponed to Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Greenfield High School.

When Martin and Scott were asked Wednesday evening about when the public should expect an opinion from the legal team, they said preliminary answers were in; they gave no timeline for the full legal opinion.

Now it appears, based on Quinn’s statement and Mark’s correspondence, the issue as directly related to the library-zoning deal may be put to bed.

“If clarification of how and why this changed is all that is needed, hopefully this makes sense,” Mark said. “If there are concerns that the language signed into law two years ago somehow changed the intent or nature of the charter change, then please let me know and we will work with you to file an amendment to the law.”

While the library-zoning deal may be safe, Norman may raise questions of the abilities citizens have to petition the council.

Norman said in a statement Thursday that he was frustrated with the stance of Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud and Mass, who both called into question Norman’s desire to try to undo or pause a council vote. Mass called it a “dangerous game” and Renaud said she doesn’t see what Norman is doing as “democratic at all because only the people who have means to do that can do that.”

“I grow increasingly concerned by the efforts of a few city councilors to narrow the Constitutional rights of Greenfield citizens to ‘petition the Government for a redress of grievances,’” Norman said.

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