Greenfield charter review committee begins talks on citizens initiative requirements

Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2022 6:50:10 PM
Modified: 11/30/2022 6:47:47 PM

GREENFIELD — A panel of residents, city councilors and city officials convened for the first time Tuesday evening to begin a review of Sections 7-7 and 7-8 in the city charter, with discussion largely focusing on requirements for the citizens initiative process.

During the two-hour discussion, members considered broad topics that focused in particular on Section 7-7, including the number of signatures needed for a petition to be considered by the City Council, and the time allowed for signatures to be gathered and for the council to act. There was also some discussion on whether there should be a two-step process for getting a petition to the ballot.

With citizens initiative petitions, outlined in Section 7-7, new issues or ideas can be proposed to the City Council or the School Committee, or brought to a townwide ballot if rejected by the respective body. As Section 7-7 is currently written, petitioners must meet one threshold to reach the City Council and a second, additional threshold to get a petition on the ballot if the original petition is rejected by the council.

“My goal is, at a minimum, we can reach a consensus on 7-7 of the charter,” said David Singer, chair of the ad hoc committee. “If we’re able to reach a consensus, we’ll provide that opinion to the Appointments and Ordinances Committee of the City Council, and they will take it from there. We don’t have the power to do anything other than make a recommendation.”

In addition to Singer, ad hoc committee members include Chief of Staff Danielle Letourneau, Precinct 1 Councilor Katherine Golub and Precinct 9 Councilor Derek Helie, former councilors Isaac Mass and Ashli Stempel-Rae, and resident Albert Norman. Stempel-Rae was absent during Tuesday’s discussion.

“We all represent a different part of our community that I believe can add a lot to the conversation,” Singer said of the committee’s makeup.

The formation of the ad hoc committee followed a November 2021 ballot question that sought to change the number of signatures required for a citizens referendum petition — outlined in Section 7-8 as the process by which a resident can propose an existing law or ordinance be reconsidered by voters — from the current threshold of 10% of voters voting in the most recent biennial city election (but no fewer than 2.5% of registered voters) to 7% of all registered voters in the most recent biennial city election. The question came as part of the charter review process, which takes place every year ending in zero.

The ballot measure was defeated by a vote of 1,485 “no” votes to 1,321 “yes” votes. This meant the language in Section 7-8 of the charter would remain as it is currently.

After the November vote, the Appointments and Ordinances Committee recommended no changes to Section 7-7, which pertained to the citizen initiative process — a recommendation that was met with criticism from residents who felt the processes for both petitions should be more in line with each another.

Under the current charter language, a resident seeking to submit a citizens initiative petition must collect signatures equivalent to 10% of voters voting in the last biennial election — but not less than 5% of all registered voters at the same date — for the City Council or the School Committee to either accept or reject.

If rejected, that resident would then need to collect an additional number of signatures equivalent to 5% of voters voting, but not less than 2.5% of all registered voters.

Singer said “in fairness to the election,” he would like to focus on the review of Section 7-7, and leave Section 7-8 that already came before voters as “a second piece of business.”

Norman spoke in support of focusing on Section 7-7.

“I do want to respect what the voters said. We — a number of us — said we would leave (Section 7-8) to the voters to decide. This is a voter mechanism,” Norman said. “What we’re talking about tonight, 7-7, is also a voter mechanism. These are things that allow direct democracy to happen in our small city.”

He added that it’s important to acknowledge and respect the vote.

“While (Section 7-7) is flawed in the way it’s currently written … I believe this group of people could come up with a consensus and I’m willing to work toward that,” he said.

Some members, including Mass, suggested it should be easier to engage with the City Council and harder to bring a petition to the ballot. In other words, fewer signatures should be needed to appear before City Council than for a petition to make it to ballot.

Ultimately, the group seemed to lean toward making the process easier for residents.

“It feels we’re mostly in agreement on some of the philosophies on some of the changes,” Letourneau said. “It sounds like we’re all in agreement to make it a little more accessible to a certain extent, but that we recognize the legislative body has a place in Greenfield.”

The ad hoc committee doesn’t expect to meet again until January.

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


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