Council panel tables citizen petition referendum

Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2019 12:08:37 AM

GREENFIELD – A proposed change to the petition referendum process was tabled at the City Council’s Appointment and Ordinances Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The task of amending the charter came about after Greenfield resident Al Norman filed a lawsuit against the city.

Norman submitted a citizen’s referendum petition after the March 20 City Council vote that relaxed commercial development restrictions for a majority of the French King Highway corridor overlay district in exchange for a vote to approve the library project. His intention was to pause the zoning change and send it to the ballot box for a citywide vote this November.

However, the city ruled Norman’s petition was invalid and later noted the process had changed following a tweak to the charter in 2017. Norman protested, calling it a clerical error that led to a substantial change in the petition process.

According to the agenda, the motion was to amend the City Charter “by inserting ‘of any measure,’ prior to the words ‘a petition.’”

The amendment to the charter was tabled to the next Appointment and Ordinance Committee’s next meeting in August.

“They appear to be in no rush to fix a problem that is two years old, referendum process has been broken since 2017,” Norman said in an interview. “I’m disappointed that it hasn’t gotten done. It’s been pushed to August with no action. It could drag on into 2020.”

Residents came forward to express their opinions on the potential charter changes during a public hearing held at the meeting.

Gary Sullivan said he was in favor of the motion in front of the board.

“In this ongoing experiment with democracy in the United States, a system of check and balances are vital part of having representative democracy,” Sullivan said.

Dorothy McIver said she felt clarification needed to made in the section of the charter.

“I feel it is important to take care of now this particular aspect of the charter now,” McIver said. “I think that putting the words back in and making it clear and precise is what needs to be done.”

Council Isaac Mass said he believes there should be changes to the language to clarify the citizen’s referendum section of the charter.

“I believe the cross referencing is confusing, but the original language isn’t very clear,” Mass said. “There is a whole section on ineligible measures, so does ‘any measure’ make sense? People want us to act quickly, and we want to clean up the process, but what is more important is to do it once rather than to do it with haste.”

Norman sent a proposal redrafting sections of the charter to City Council on Tuesday and spoke to it in the meeting.

“Replacing the ‘missing language’ dropped by the General Court is a good first step, but the overall ordinances in these two sections are still confusing,” Norman said. “I tried to make, both in the initiative and referendum sections, as few changes to the language, style and content as possible. I believe these are cohesive and coherent changes.”

According to Norman’s proposal, referendums or initiatives would need at least 10 signatures, an affidavit with five names and name of the city clerk. The petition would then go to the city attorney who would determine if the petition is lawful, can be accepted by the council and if the clerk can issue blank forms within 10 days of the petition’s submission.

“If an attorney approves the petition, the city clerk provides blank forms for the rest of the signatures required,” according to Norman’s proposal. “Petitioners have 45 days after getting the forms to gather 2.5 percent of all registered voters as of the most recent biennial election. As of the November 2017 election, there were 11,728 registered voters (multiplied by) 2.5 percent (would equal) 294 signatures required.”

The Board of Registrars would have 10 days to certify the signatures, and the petition would go before the City Council.

The petition would also allow the City Council 30 days “once it receives the certified petition to pass the measure without change, or pass a different measure ‘in lieu’ of the initiative (or referendum) — which is considered a rejection of the citizen’s petition. If the council does nothing within 30 days, that is also considered a rejection of the petition, and the city clerk notifies the petitioner’s committee.”

It also states, “If an initiative (or referendum) petition is rejected by the council, the city clerk submits the proposed measure to the voters at the next biennial election, or at a special election. If such a biennial election is within one year of when the petition was certified, a special election does not have to be called.”

Former City Councilor Steven Ronhave also filed a petition in protest of the City Council’s March vote to approve financing for a new public library. That petition, signed by 452 registered voters, was certified and the voters will decide the fate of the library in November.

Along with requesting the council put its March 20 vote on zoning on the November ballot, Norman also requested an amendment to the charter. He said his hope is that sections 7-7 and 7-8 of the charter can be combined or rewritten as outlined in his proposal.

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 263.


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