Petition to reverse Greenfield’s Court Square pilot deemed outside City Council purview

  • As part of a pilot project, Court Square in Greenfield has been closed to vehicular traffic since June to make way for a pedestrian plaza. Staff Photo/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2021 5:10:16 PM

GREENFIELD — Although a petition seeking to reverse the Court Square pilot project will continue on in the process outlined by law, councilors agreed at a subcommittee meeting this week that they “have no power” with respect to the request, as the authority on the matter lies solely with the mayor.

For that reason, the Appointments and Ordinances Committee forwarded the petition to City Council without a positive recommendation.

The project — which originally came forward in 2017 with a goal of creating more quality open space around the Greenfield Common — involved closing Court Square to vehicular traffic to make way for a pedestrian plaza. The pilot project has been in effect since June.

City Clerk Kathy Scott said the petition to reverse the project was submitted to her office by resident David Lewis on Aug. 16 with signatures exceeding the minimum required.

Following a public hearing on the petition at the Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting this week, Scott relayed the legal opinion on the petition as requested by the mayor, which states that while City Council should hear the petition, it cannot grant the request as executive powers for the city — which include the day-to-day use and operation of public ways — are “vested solely with the mayor.”

“It is my opinion the City Council could not prematurely terminate the mayor’s temporary change to Court Square by overruling or revising your action,” said Scott, reading the lawyer’s response to Mayor Roxann Wedegartner.

Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis said it was clearly stated in the legal opinion that the mayor “holds the trump card” on the Court Square pilot project.

“City Council cannot force the hand of the mayor, no matter what petition is brought forward,” he said. “We do have ample opportunity, as the mayor’s office has stated before, to email our suggestions … and they’ll all be considered.”

Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan added that by his understanding, City Council’s authority lies in passing resolutions, making changes to the law and appropriating money.

“This (petition) is none of those,” he said. “I’m not even sure that if we voted ‘yes’ on this, it would have any effect.”

Overall, councilors agreed that the petition’s request was outside their purview and voted to send the petition to the full City Council for further discussion without a positive recommendation.

At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer said if the petition had come in a different form and sought “purely our opinions or thoughts,” it would have been different.

“I’m happy to weigh in,” he said. “My favorite word here is bollards. … It would be a lovely solution to the dilemma.”

Elmer added that since the Cocina Lupita food truck has started serving from Court Square, he feels “so much better about that space.”

Wedegartner’s Chief of Staff Dani Letourneau, speaking on behalf of the mayor’s office Wednesday night, thanked all the residents who spoke during the public comment period — most of whom spoke against the project or sought some version of compromise — particularly Dawn Morin, who shared with councilors that in an eight-day period during the first week of September, she counted five people using the new tables and seating at Court Square.

“The pilot is exactly for this reason — to gather feedback and to get suggestions,” Letourneau said. “We’ve definitely had people say they hate it and nothing we do will make them like it, but we’ve also gotten some really good feedback about ways it could be better configured.”

She said the city will consider the petition as part of its public comment.

“We’re talking about all different ways to configure parking if we were to close off Court Square permanently,” Letourneau said. “We’ve got about a month left of the pilot.”

Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams added that, according to the original plans for the project, flexibility exists for some traffic and some parking.

“We weren’t able to do it on the pilot program because it was a makeshift Jersey barriers and planters piece,” she said. “We’ll be looking at this in November with all the feedback and a community conversation about what parts work and what parts don’t work.”

Charter change petition

A second petition submitted by David Lewis seeks to amend the city charter by striking the third subsection of Section 2-6(c) — which states that city meetings must be open to the public, unless another provision is made by law — to replace it with language that requires all public meetings to be open to in-person public attendance “except in cases of a declared local or state public health emergency, or a natural or manmade disaster, which renders sessions dangerous to public attendance.”

One resident spoke in support of the petition, but councilors largely felt it was a “moot point” because it essentially describes what the city is doing now.

“Greenfield isn’t making their own laws,” Jarvis said. “These provisions are made by the governor and the Board of Health, and are being followed by the city of Greenfield.”

Precinct 2 Councilor Dan Guin also noted that the proposed language suggests Greenfield Community Television (GCTV) would need to record and air all committee and subcommittee meetings.

“We cannot force a public entity,” he said. “They didn’t mean that, but that’s what they said.”

Ultimately, the Appointments and Ordinances Committee voted to forward Lewis’ petition to the full council without a positive recommendation.

Letourneau told councilors that the hardware for hybrid meetings was on order and that while the setup for the John Zon Community Center is more complicated and will take more time, she believes the City Hall meeting room should soon be ready for hybrid meetings.

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


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