In the Arena: So far, Greenfield’s mayor just isn’t getting his way

Friday, January 26, 2018

Happy Friday, newshounds — it’s good to be back after finally being freed from that death spore of a flu bug. Let’s recap what I’ve missed in the last week.

Mayoral shutout

It doesn’t look as though 2018 is starting out any better than 2017 ended for Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin.

His Honor was recently forced to fire his new Health Director Alexeev Jones because Jones didn’t have a driver’s license, which is one of the basic requirements of the job. It’s not necessarily Martin’s fault that the guy fudged his application, but it does raise questions about how this city vets applicants for high-ranking positions.

Then, despite offering a pretty major olive branch to the now-City Council at the end of 2017, Martin was unable to get his legislative counterparts to go along with two financial initiatives he clearly feels are important.

The first involved the transfer of $529,000 dollars from a previously unspent disaster relief fund to the construction of the new Olive Street Parking Garage.

Some may wonder how such a chunk of cash just suddenly becomes available like that, but it’s not exactly a new concept. Former Town Manager Norman Thidemann used to do it all the time.

I’d go to a selectmen’s meeting and see an agenda item calling for money to be reprogrammed from an unexpended line item from a years-old project into some new initiative. No one ever had the guts to call it a “slush fund,” but I’m sure that’s what it used to seem like to some outside observers.

To his credit, Martin hasn’t made many of these kind of moves, but this time he did and the council balked, ostensibly because they didn’t have enough information. Certain members also seemed perturbed at not being able to get what they felt were accurate project budget estimates, which is always going to set off alarm bells given what happened with the abortive Greenfield Middle School renovation.

Then, there is the question of why this transfer has to happen right now. Why is this $529,000 so important in the context of a $10 million project? There also appears to be a healthy amount of concern among some councilors that taxpayer money is going to wind up being used to fund the project, despite Martin’s guarantee to the contrary — a promise that doesn’t seem realistic for an initiative of this size and scope.

The council also threw a monkey wrench into Martin’s plans to fund the final piece of what views as a “very important” re-evaluation of all Greenfield properties. Shortly before the end of the year, Martin spoke of the frustration he was feeling from trying to convince the then-council leadership to support funding the full study, which he says is necessary to ensure that the town’s property values are up-to-date with current market trends.

“When I spoke to Isaac (Mass, then-Council vice-president), he told me that revaluation is just a back door way of raising taxes,” Martin said. “I disagree. I think it’s pretty important information the city needs to have, but we can’t get it if it’s not funded.”

It looks like Martin will have to wait a little longer, because the council voted to trim the $150,000 appropriation down to $30,000, which is enough to cover the revaluation of only non-residential property. The one who made the motion to amend was Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis, who just finished a two-year stint as council president.

And the beat goes on.

Bye bye, Wally World

From the “I hate to say I told you so” file — it looks like there will be no Walmart coming to Greenfield after all.

The Recorder reported this week that Walmart’s parent company said there are no plans to build in Greenfield, a fact which came to light around the same time it was revealed that Stop & Shop, not Ceruzzi Incorporated, has the controlling interest in a tract of French King Highway land that has been eyed for years as a potential Big Box site.

Said information would probably never have come to light had it not been for Sprawlbuster Albert Norman, who apparently uncovered the Stop & Shop connection in the discovery phase of a legal action, that is expected to reach its denouement sometime later this year.

I’m sure there were a few people ticked off by the Sprawlbuster’s recent “My Turn,” which read a lot like a victory lap, but one which did contain some valid points, namely that retail trends are changing, with more of the focus shifting online and away from brick and mortar stores.

Even so, there are people — a lot of them low-income — who would benefit from some type of discount retail store, but it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards for Greenfield.

Like I’ve said before, I’ll believe there’s a store here when I’m shopping in it, and not a minute before.

In the meantime, my advice to local shoppers is to keep up maintenance on their cars, because it looks like they are going to need them if they want to be able to continue to get the stuff they need at prices they can afford.

Chris Collins is a former staff reporter for the Recorder, and is a Greenfield native. Over the years he has continued to keep his eye on local politics from a variety of perches for different news outlets.