Library issue to be decided in November

  • The Greenfield City Council meeting Wednesday night at the Greenfield High School auditorium. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Library organizers Karen Larabee, right, and Ed Berlin speak during a Greenfield City Council meeting Wednesday on whether to put the library to an election. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Steve Ronhave, former town councilor who put forward a petition on the library, during the Greenfield City Council meeting Wednesday night at the Greenfield High School auditorium. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 10:42:44 PM

GREENFIELD — The final chapter of the library saga will be written at the November mayoral election.

Initially the Greenfield City Council voted to hold a special election in July, but an objection by At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass led to a re-vote, which then led to the final decision.

With threats of lawsuits and questions of how much money will be saved by choosing one way or another, the council ultimately decided it felt more comfortable with a November election, while heeding to a petition by resident and former councilor Steve Ronhave.

The vote that sent it to the November ballot was 6 to 5 in favor with President Karen “Rudy” Renaud breaking the tie.

“I am strongly in support of the library, but I still want to know what the most amount of people have to say about this,” Renaud said.

Renaud and At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, who brokered the original deal in March to approve a new library for zoning changes in Greenfield, backed the idea of holding the election in November.

Councilors who didn’t want a special election in July were: Mass, Renaud, Vice President Penny Ricketts, Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund, Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis and Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Pyfrom. Councilors who did were: Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan, Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour, Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler and Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo.

Precinct 9 Dan Leonovich resigned earlier in the day. At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel was absent.

Mass said he was worried that if the city went with a special election, it may not meet the 25 percent threshold of the city’s voters for it to be valid. He said this could lead to litigation by the backers of the petition. He noted the mayoral election would bring a better turnout.

“The bottom line is we want people to vote on this,” Mass said. “We want as many people as possible to vote on this. It’s the right thing.”

Supporters of the library asked the council to hold the vote during a special election. They cited numbers that holding a special election for $15,000 is less than hundreds of thousands of dollars that it could cost in ever-increasing construction costs.

Supporters of the library petition preferred for it to be on the November election ballot.

(The library project, regardless of the election date, is expected to come in on time and on budget, but starting earlier could allow for it to come under budget and early, library officials have said.)

Councilors against the library often have said the project is too expensive or the city cannot generate enough revenue.

“As a community, it’s imperative we distinguish what our town may want and what we really need,” Ronhave said. “That begins keeping spending within realistic limits of what citizens can afford.”

In his first public comments since putting forward the petition to put a pause on the March library vote, Ronhave said: “A majority of this council is up for re-election or leaving office, what do you want your legacy to be?”

He ended his speech saying that he would sue the city if the council did not consider his petition.

The lead backers of the library, who led the grassroots movement to lobby for the $19.5 million project, said they were unhappy with the fact that the library vote was challenged.

Ronhave and about 400 residents signed a petition within 30 days of the City Council’s vote to approve the library in March to bring the council to its current decision.

“I’m shocked and disappointed that 400 people can come together and petition the vote after all the work we did,” Co-chair and President of the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library Karen Larabee said.

“We all left that day thinking the grand compromise had been accomplished,” Ed Berlin, the lead organizer of the library project, said. “We all feel blind-sided.”

Some residents who were against the $19.5 million new public library said they hadn’t come out to comment in public before for fear of being ostracized.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I want to speak up,” Robert Cloutier said.

Mass, who is not running for re-election, said as an elected official of two decades that he and his family have faced scrutiny in the community for his comments. He said it’s something that happens to people who have his views.

Some of the people who commented in support of the library labeled the people who signed the petition as bullies.

“I can promise you these are not bullies,” Mass said. “These are people who would prefer to not be involved in the process at all.”

Vice President Penny Ricketts wondered why people couldn’t find the courage to voice their opinion.

“I hope that you know now that you can call and you can email,” Ricketts said. “If you don’t want to come to the meetings, it’s not enough of an excuse to me. If I can recover from a stroke and get myself here somehow, you can pick up a phone and call.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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