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I Go To City Council Meetings

Northampton City Council owns a van


[Editor’s note: We are thrilled to announce that Blair Gimma will be reporting regularly on Northampton City Council meetings. This is the second installment of a regular column that will push beyond the banality of journalistic convention; it will try out creative ways to hold elected representatives accountable to the public. Blair’s inaugural column can be read here.]

On February 1st, the Northampton City Council met for its second official meeting of the year. Approximately 15 members of the public attended the meeting. Reporters from MassLive and the Gazette were present at the meeting. While the majority of the 12 members of the public who spoke during public comment, commented on the zoning of marijuana outlets, others spoke on issues ranging from the city’s mysterious pan-handling task force, renewable energy, the newly proposed Conduct Clause amendment, and a recent $250,000 grant awarded to the Northampton Disability Commission.

The Council voted unanimously for a second time to pass the Resolution in Support the of 100 Percent Renewable Energy. (The Council votes on EVERYTHING twice). It also unanimously passed the Resolution calling for DHS to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS). (Resolutions are non-binding documents that hold no legal weight, but do express the will of the Council.)

The TPS Resolution was sponsored by Councilors Jim Nash (Ward 3), Marianne LaBarge (Ward 6), and Bill Dwight (At-Large). In his introduction of the resolution, Nash referenced earthquakes and hurricanes in Haiti (2010), Nicaragua (1998), and El Salvador (2001) as the reason why those with TPS status had fled their countries and come to the U.S. He did not include the influence of decades of U.S. colonialism and imperialism or the financial devastation wrought by the International Monetary Fund and other Western institutions in his explanation for their migration. Nash, endorsing the president’s twisted formulation that a person’s worth should be tied to their economic ability, went on to say, “They are playing by the rules we have set up and our business minded president should know this, that they are good for business and good for our economy.” Councilor LaBarge shared, “I have never seen anything like this in my life. The way immigrants are being treated is unacceptable.” Due to Councilor Alisa Klein’s (Ward 7) recommendation, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center will be speaking at the second reading of this resolution to give testimonies as to what it is like to live in the U.S. under TPS status.

Three orders regarding alterations to roads and sidewalks on King St and Garfield St were introduced to be referred to the “Public Works Commission.” But, apparently, there is no Public Works Commission. So, for a few minutes Councilors gave reasons as to why certain committees should oversee the petitions before finally deciding that the entire Council should oversee the petitions which could necessarily involve a road trip to the relevant sites. At this time, Councilor Dwight said, “There’s a van.” To which, Councilor LaBarge replied, “Yes, there is,” both revealing that THE CITY COUNCIL OWNS A VAN.

Mayor David Narkewicz later introduced an Order to Accept an Easement at Village Hill that would allow “permanent open space protection and public access to and through the open space from the developed portions of the property for the purposes of providing non-vehicular access from the city to the project area and across the project area north/south and east/west.” (An easement is a legal right to use another’s land for a specific limited purpose.)

Councilor Dennis Bidwell (Ward 2) asked that the Order be delayed so that he might inform more of his constituents about the easement. The Mayor informed Councilor Bidwell that the trails and sidewalks had already been built and the homes in Village Hill had already been sold. He even quipped that someone might have been walking on them “right now.”

Upon further investigation, The Shoestring found that one of the partners of Village Hill is Wright Building Inc. According to MassLive, “Wright Builders has been one of the major forces in the development of the former state hospital land.” Wright Building Inc. is also one of Councilor Bidwell’s private clients at his real estate philanthropy consulting business, Bidwell Advisors. Councilor Bidwell’s request that the Order be delayed while he notified more constituents was granted by Council President Ryan O’Donnell.

Later in the meeting, three Ordinances Relative to Zoning and Marijuana were introduced by Mayor Narkewicz. Narkewicz said he introduced the zoning ordinances, which he stressed were not policy ordinances, “to sort of start that public process.” He explained that his decision of sequence of ordinances was “mirroring what we did with medical [marijuana].” A long discussion ensued as to how to include the public in the conversation regarding the policy on marijuana outlets. The Council decided that a forum would be created for public discussion.

During public comment, well known members of the Board of Health and the Northampton Prevention Coalition (NPC) asked that they be given a “seat at the table” in policy decisions. Councilor Dwight addressed this by saying, “…not only do they have a seat at the table, but everyone has a seat at the table for discussion. No one is excluded from that when these things go to the various committees, not only is there an open invitation, the hope is that they will attend.” Later Councilor Klein gave a different opinion, saying that she would like NPC, Board of Health, and the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition (SPIFY), to be allowed to give “more formal presentations” at a Council meeting so that they could “bring their expertise into the room.” The Council ultimately decided to refer the trilogy of weed ordinances to the Legislative Matters Committee (this committee has the power to make recommendations on ordinances, orders, resolutions and the rules of the City Council in consultation with the City Solicitor) and asked the Community Resources Committee (this committee makes policy on economic development, local business, tourism, the environment, the arts, planning, zoning, sustainability, land use, housing and affordability, among others) to plan a forum event for the public.

The Mayor and the Council expressed their concern about being able to conduct Council business and public forums on a timeline that would meet the upcoming state deadline of July 1, by which time legislation for marijuana outlets must be decided.

I left this meeting with 5 questions:

  1. What kind of van are we talking about here?
  2. Can members of the public use the van for transportation?
  3. Can I borrow the van to pick up the good stuff on Free Craigslist?
  4. What color is the van?
  5. Where is the van?

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Blair Gimma is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Northampton, MA.

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