Greenfield residents pitch changes to City Council membership, citizen’s referendum process

  • SINGER

Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2020 4:30:58 PM

GREENFIELD — Several residents weighed in on the city’s charter review during a virtual public hearing Monday, focusing mostly on whether the City Council should be reduced from 13 to 11 members, whether the mayor should be chair of the School Committee and how many signatures should be collected for a citizen’s referendum.

The city’s seven-member Charter Review Committee is in the middle of its 10-year review, considering numerous proposals from city officials and the public.

Susan Worgaftik read a letter signed by herself and others that said they do not want to see the at-large seats on the City Council reduced from four to two, thus reducing the total membership from 13 to 11, which was a suggestion the Charter Review Committee has been considering.

“We need more voices, not less,” Worgaftik said. “The more, the better.”

Worgaftik, of Forest Avenue, said she and other residents believe if anything, the council should have more than 13 members.

She said she and others also believe it’s reasonable for the mayor to serve on the School Committee, but that person would have too much authority if he or she were to lead both the city and the school system.

“That would be narrowing democracy, not expanding it,” she said.

While Grinnell Street resident Al Norman said he would like to make it easier for citizens to collect signatures for a citizen’s referendum, Worgaftik and those who signed the letter she read, said they’d like to see the process of a citizen’s referendum be more clearly defined in the charter.

Worgaftik said there is currently a “great deal of vagueness” surrounding the process. She said she and others believe instead of having to collect a percentage of voters, those who want to bring a citizen’s referendum that the entire city would eventually vote on should have to collect, for instance, 100 signatures from all nine precincts.

“There needs to be some recognition that the issue is important to all,” she said. “You shouldn’t just have to talk to family and friends, but to people you don’t know in other areas of the city.”

Norman, on the other hand, said he thinks the process is too tedious and the number of signatures required to bring a citizen’s referendum to the city and its voters should require fewer signatures than it does now.

As the resident who led the charge in 1993 and again in the 2000s to stop a big box store from being built on the French King Highway, Norman said the charter is not clear on the process. Currently, the number of signatures someone has to collect is about 594 — 5 percent of registered voters — and Norman believes that should be reduced to about 300 signatures.

“The number of signatures should never to higher than 500,” he said. “I think 900 signatures, or 12 percent of registered voters, which has been proposed, is over the top and puts an enormous burden on Greenfield citizens who want to bring a referendum. It’s an enormous hurdle and I don’t think the city should create road blocks for residents.”

Like Worgaftik, Norman agreed he doesn’t want to see the City Council reduced to 11 members.

“I don’t want to live in a city that considers our city councilors infallible,” he said. “We shouldn’t shrink the council or allow the mayor to be chair of the School Committee — there’s not enough time for both jobs.”

Rachel Gordon, of Eastern Avenue, said she would love to see Greenfield adopt a ranked choice voting system, which is up for consideration as part of Question 2 on the Nov. 3 election ballot.

“If Question 2 passes, it will happen at the state and federal levels, but not the local,” Gordon said. “Ranked choice would encourage more people to run and allow people to vote for their favorite candidates, not against their least favorite ones. It’s running smoothly in other areas of the country.”

Pamela Goodwin, of High Street, agreed with Gordon.

“I echo everything Rachel said, and I believe it’s critical, because it would allow candidates to get along, instead of creating divisive situations,” Goodwin said. “I also oppose the mayor serving as chair of the School Committee, and I would like to see the number of councilors increased, not decreased.”

Charter Review Committee Chair David Singer, a former City Council president who represented Precinct 5 during his tenure, spoke briefly at the beginning of the hearing, giving each resident five minutes to speak, though he allowed them to speak longer when needed, saying the public hearing was about them, not the committee. He said the committee will now consider their suggestions.

When the committee completes its work, it will make recommendations to the full council, which will hold at least one public hearing and eventually vote on a revised charter that would guide the city for the next 10 years, until the next review in 2030. The revised charter will also have to receive an “OK” from the state Legislature and governor, according to Singer.

For more information or to reach members of the committee to make suggestions or ask questions, email 2020charterreviewcommittee@greenfield-ma.gov.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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