My Turn: Serving to be part of the solution


Monday, November 27, 2017

Some people expected me to say I ran for Greenfield Town Council to help fill a seat with a woman. Others may think it’s to have the voice of a person of color. Some think when you get fed up with Greenfield, it’s time to shake things up. While others associate me as the one-issue person still awaiting the big box store after almost 30 years; or I’m the person who will spend hours to help keep a little business from closing. So many labels.

The actual truth is that I love Greenfield. It’s my calling to be part of the solution, no matter the topic. I’m not interested in weighing in once a month for the cameras, but attending various community meetings, as well as volunteering at local events. If you ever want to see real dedication for little to no pay, you should check out the groups and clubs that put together various events that happen in this county.

The big question is and will be, how do I now fit in? I am not a progressive nor a conservative. If we need to have labels, then I’m a moderate, I guess. Personally, I just want to be a Greenfield resident.

The most important thing is to be available to listen and talk with everyone. Mostly listen. I overheard some councilors saying I was a “wild card” because they never knew how I would vote. It wasn’t intended as a compliment, but I take it as one. I find it important to read emails, listen at public hearings, return calls and read all the researched paperwork (and there is tons of paperwork).

Abstaining, especially on the most controversial votes, does not leave your constituents feeling heard or involved. Also, I try not to be tied to a voting block. It’s the issue that matters, not who is proposing it. So, the next two years will be interesting as both sides wonder how I will fall on each issue. I hope we can quickly jump into how we can financially keep Greenfield moving along without cutting services or losing employees. I’m hoping to see many full council votes and little division. The work at committee level should help with the compromises necessary to bring the best possible work to the full Council table.

So, what are my thoughts about Greenfield today? I long for the day when all our storefronts and buildings have been transformed into new businesses and mixed-use settings. This would help our tax base, as well as reduce unemployment. I love seeing outdoor seating and A-frame signs downtown. I would like to see the practice continue without it being fee-based, however. It seems like we have a duplication of businesses or types of restaurants going on, but it’s important for people to know Greenfield does not own these properties. Owners can sell or lease their space to whomever they deem fit or has the cash. We can’t afford to not have more jobs in the area. When you sell your house, the entire street does not have a say on who buys it, right? But yes, I agree, I too would like to see new and different businesses coming to Greenfield.

I’m slow to cut department budgets in 1 percent increments. The $60 may be helpful to some, but we heard from many to keep the $60 and to continue the basics. People want their trash picked up, keep teachers and programs in classrooms, plow the streets, keep officers downtown, parks open and upgraded, library open late, public safety fully staffed and to increase recycling pick-up.

There has to be a well thought out plan on keeping the taxes from being raised so high. I can say a split-tax rate would not work for Greenfield. We can’t afford businesses to move a town or two away, nor can landlords put the increase on their renters. It’s time to work together at all levels. The focus has to be on attracting new businesses, retaining current businesses and keep our taxes at a place to retain and entice homeowners, push harder on abandoned/dilapidated homes, while keeping all of our services. Watching our spending is key. Let’s not lose the library funding, as there is lots of support. Also, let’s look into any and all ways to fund a public safety complex. We know neither of these projects can come only from taxpayers.

People voiced themselves regarding a new high school by showing up to vote and sending a mandate. We need to see these types of mandates again. Your thoughts, complaints and ideas matter. Facebook is a great vehicle, but if you want all the councilors, mayor, school committee members and department heads to know about an issue at the same time, you need to contact them.

The new Community Center and GCET wireless service are great additions to Greenfield. Not just for our residents, but attracting new businesses and people wanting to move to the area. Again, we heard from people before making these decisions. Our buildings need to be utilized in smart ways. Let’s use the buildings already open and have various meetings in different rooms. It does not make sense to open closed buildings, turn on the heat for a meeting that lasts an hour or so. The Community Center and new DPW building are very energy efficient. Let’s keep along that path with all new construction. Everything we do to reduce monthly utilities reduces their overall budget.

I have witnessed “our community” coming together time after time for various food, clothing and back-to-school drives, businesses sponsoring sports for our youth and the Y going above and beyond to address various needs. Since June 2016, I have dealt with a racial tone I never thought would happen to me personally. Even during this recent election, the unjustified attack makes me wonder why I have a higher standard to meet to serve our city. But within minutes, the community made it known they “stood with me” and I need not worry about the actions or words of a few. I feel as if I am always paying it forward, and that’s great. It speaks volumes about where I chose to live and raise my children. Even the battle regarding whether we a city or a town has finally boiled down to “we are a community.”

People keep telling me I have no reason to ever worry about being elected, because I’m usually the top vote-getter or pretty close to it. So, it seems to me that I have the support of voters across the spectrum. I value and thank every one of you who believe in me. Everyone who came out to vote showed a real interest and support for Greenfield and where we are headed. As I could not get elected without you, I cannot serve without you, either. Our work is not over. We all need to work together to make Greenfield the best it can be.

Penny Ricketts was top vote-getter when recently re-elected as an at-large Greenfield town councilor.