Council’s override keeps safe city ordinance on ballot

  • The Greenfield City Council takes public comment on the safe city ordinance that was approved during a meeting in July at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. The ordinance will be on the ballot of the Nov. 5 general election. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2019 11:08:21 PM

GREENFIELD – The safe city ordinance will remain on the ballot.

In its special meeting Tuesday, the City Council approved the safe city ordinance once again, overriding Mayor William Martin’s Sept. 3 veto and maintaining the ballot question for the Nov. 5 general election.

Councilors in favor of the ordinance were Mark Berson, Timothy Dolan, Sheila Gilmour, Otis Wheeler, Douglas Mayo, Norman Hirschfeld, Vice President Penny Ricketts, Ashli Stempel and President Karen “Rudy” Renaud.

Councilors against the ordinance were Verne Sund, Brickett Allis and Isaac Mass. Councilor Wanda Pyfrom was unable to attend the meeting due to personal reasons.

During discussion of the amended ballot language, councilors spoke about taking the issue to the polls.

Stempel said she doesn’t consider the ballot question a “win” for the city.

“Every bone in my body does not want this to go to a popular vote and I’ll tell you why. Any time that the rights of a minority go to the majority, guess what happens? The minority loses their rights,” Stempel said in the meeting. “I look at all of the women in this room, all of the people of color in this room — that’s what happens and that’s what history has told us ... Some of us are proud this is going to the ballot, but it’s embarrassing for me.”

Mass said he respects people on both sides of the issue and believes debate is healthy, but he hopes people will vote on the matter.

“I understand councilors who are reluctant to put issues they see as civil rights issues before the ballot box, but I would say that I encourage, regardless of how you feel about this particular issue, everyone come out to the ballot box and express their position,” Mass said. “I don’t believe that you need to be scared to vote. I don’t believe the act of voting is a racist act, regardless of which way you vote on this.”

The City Council had two options in Tuesday’s meeting — uphold or override the mayor’s veto.

To override the veto, the City Council needed a two-thirds vote or the approval of nine councilors; otherwise, the veto would be upheld.

Attorney Gordon Quinn said that if the council voted to overturn the veto with a two-thirds vote, the citizen’s initiative ballot would be valid and the safe city ordinance would be a binding ballot question in the November election.

The other option — upholding the veto — would mean the safe city ordinance would no longer exist and therefore would nullify the ballot question.

The veto needed to be taken up by Oct. 1 because ballot questions for the Nov. 5 election must be submitted in their final language, or removed, 35 days before an election, according to City Clerk Kathy Scott.

Following the vote on the ordinance, the council unanimously approved an amended ballot question.

Attorney Quinn explained why he changed the ballot language.

“Changes were made to make it largely consistent, in terms of wording, with the other question on the ballot,” Quinn said, referring to the ballot question about constructing a new library. “That was the nature of the changes and the introduction to the question. What the council approved was a summary, but it included ‘as attached’ and back in August you had the copy of the ordinance before you attached to the proposed order and so you voted. You can’t say ‘attached to’ on the ballot question because the ordinance is not going to be attached to the ballot question.”

Quinn said Massachusetts General Laws mandate the city summarize the ordinance that will go before voters in addition to the language of the ordinance, which was the amended ballot question.

In a 6-to-5 vote, the City Council tabled the mayor’s veto of the safe city ordinance on Sept. 18.

Councilors Verne Sund, Wanda Pyfrom, Brickett Allis and Issac Mass voted against tabling the matter at the last regularly scheduled meeting. Councilors Mark Berson, Timothy Dolan, Sheila Gilmour, Otis Wheeler, Douglas Mayo and Norman Hirschfeld voted in favor of the tabling the matter. City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud and Councilor At-Large Ashli Stempel were not present for the meeting.

The safe city ordinance would prohibit city officials from asking about a person’s immigration status, targeting someone or discriminating against an institution providing refuge to immigrants and their families, and taking law enforcement action against someone on the basis of perceived immigration status.

While City Council originally approved the safe city ordinance July 17, the affirmative vote was temporarily suspended when Precinct 1 City Councilor Verne Sund submitted a motion to reconsider. Following that motion came a citizen’s referendum submitted to the clerk’s office Aug. 12 seeking to overturn the vote.

The council then affirmed its vote in favor of the safe city ordinance again, creating an August vote, which is the subject of the mayor’s veto.

At its August meeting, the council also accepted the citizen’s referendum petition to put the July vote on the ballot. A “yes” vote would uphold the council’s vote and allow the ordinance to go into effect. A “no” vote would rescind the vote.

Martin said in August that he vetoed the safe city ordinance because an executive order directing the Police Department not to ask for immigration status as well as other requests has been in place since 2017, making the ordinance redundant.

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


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