In the Arena: This could be the year for women in Greenfield politics

Friday, January 05, 2018

It’s a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately — “women get stuff done.”

Actually, that’s not the exact wording. I can’t write the actual phrase because this is a family newspaper, but you get the point. And now, they are going to get a chance to prove it, because this is shaping up to be the “year of the woman” in Greenfield politics.

Never in its history have so many women occupied leadership positions in Greenfield government. This week, as expected, the now At-Large City Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud is the new council president, a promotion I believe many feel has been a long time coming.

Renaud was vice president during the Hillary Hoffmann era, but was relegated to the treasurer’s role when Brickett Allis and Isaac Mass assumed the presidency and vice-presidency, respectively, two years ago.

Rudy has long been among the council’s steadiest progressive voices, and a voice of reason in a year marred by an almost unprecedented level of personal acrimony and political high drama. I would expect a very different tone with Renaud at the helm, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few disagreements along the way, especially given the way 2017 ended.

Consider her reaction during the split-tax debate. Not only did Renaud support Mass’ and Allis’ efforts to split the rate, she was one of its biggest advocates, even up until the 11th hour vote that popped that particular genie back into the bottle.

Then there is the matter of the town employee bullying allegations against Mayor Bill Martin. I thought Renaud was pretty even in her questioning of Martin during the recent hearings, but you could tell by her body language that she wasn’t pleased with some of what she heard. I can’t help but think that there is some unfinished business there, as well as with how the town is spending its money, and the impact it is having on the residents who pay those bills.

New council vice president

Joining Renaud in the leadership ranks is fellow At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts, who had to fend off a challenge by Precinct 9 Councilor Dan Leonovich to get the gig.

There had been speculation after the election of a possible race between Renaud and Ricketts for the council presidency, but that got ironed out pretty quickly. I expect Ricketts to be an active vice president, but probably not to the degree Mass was during his time in the job.

In fact, there were moments during that regime where it was tough to tell whether Mass or Allis was running the show — a dynamic I know Penny wasn’t wild about. I’m guessing it will change, but Ricketts has never been a shrinking violet, especially when it comes to economic development, which I believe will be one of the issues she’ll go hardest at over the next two years.

New School Committee chair

On the Greenfield School Committee, the Adrienne Nunez era officially begins with her promotion from vice-chair to chairwoman of that board.

It’s good to see Nunez finally get her shot, a tenure that might have begun much earlier but didn’t because of her perceived lack of fiscal experience. That led to the decision to put the gavel in the hands of Mayor Bill Martin, the first time a Greenfield chief executive has chaired the school board — a scenario even the authors of the mayoral charter were iffy about.

It turns out they may have had reason to be, because Martin ended up unilaterally cutting Superintendent Jordana Harper’s last two budget requests by $500,000 each before they ever went to the finance committee. That could very well happen again this year, but ensuring that Harper’s budget gets at least a chance to be reviewed by the actual budget writers will be a big challenge Nunez will face in her first year.

The other will be negotiating a new contract with Harper, who I’m not sure has quite been “feeling the love” from certain committee members recently. It certainly can’t be easy to have your budget slashed by your mayor/committee chair and your curriculum dissected by your predecessor (school committee member and former superintendent Susan Hollins), but Harper’s been a pretty good solider through it all. Locking her up for another three years should be a priority for Nunez, assuming she doesn’t want to go looking for another superintendent in what lately seems to be a pretty thin applicant pool.

Other new leaders

It’s good to see Wanda Muzyka-Pyfrom slide into the council treasurer’s role. Wanda has been a consistent voice for working class voters, and having her third in line is a good thing.

Ashli Stempel is back as an at-large councilor, and the likely new chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, a position she held last year before her move to another precinct forced resignation in Precinct 8. This has the potential to be a big year for Ashli, who, word is, may have her eyes on another high office heading into 2019.

Whatever happens in the next few months, Greenfield’s “distaff” revolution is a big win for those who worked so hard for it, but that was the easy part. Now they have to govern, which can be a much tougher prospect than shattering even the thickest of glass ceilings.

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.