I Go to City Council Meetings #6

Water, Guns, n’ Weed


JULES MARSH

On April 5, the Northampton City Council held its sixth meeting of the year. Councilor Maureen Carney (Ward 1) was not present. Approximately 15 people attended. Reporters from the Gazette and MassLive were at the meeting.

Public Comment

During public comment three people, Marlene Morrocco, Lorraine Weimann, and Susan McGuire who are all involved with the Senior Center, questioned why Mayor Narkewicz did not choose Heather Cahillane, the Senior Center’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator, to be the head of Northampton Senior Services. Earlier this week the Mayor announced he would be nominating Marie Westburg, the director of the Senior Center in Williamsburg, to the position.

A number of community members spoke about the Resolution in Support of Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence in Massachusetts.

Citing the appropriation of $225,000 for weapons, munitions, and riot gear [see pg 238] for the NPD, that the Council approved the previous City Council Meeting, Gregory Goff said, “Having our local lawmakers decide to pass a resolution on gun violence with direct reference to the Parkland shooting right after funding guns, ammunition, trainings, military grade protective gear for our local police, and after conveniently stating that our police won’t use these weapons even though they have twice before seems to be a very convenient way to ignore those people who both happen to be black and were pepper sprayed by the police, one of whom cost this city $52,500.” He continued, “This is violence that has been sanctioned both monetarily by this governing council and seemingly morally by those who spoke in favor of funding $225,000 for the police.”

Henry Pope, a Massachusetts firearm instructor for the Massachusetts Fishery and Wildlife, the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearm Instruction, and Smith & Wesson, shared that he had also been rated a firearm expert by the Northampton Police Chief, Jody Kasper. He argued that the executive protection orders in the Resolution to Reduce Gun Violence are in violation of the fifth amendment. He said that they would interfere with “an individual’s right to face their accuser and with their right to be able to stand in court with due process without unfair judgement.” He reminded the Council that Smith & Wesson, Savage Arms, and Yankee Hill are job creators and that to abandon those people whose pensions are tied up in those businesses is a “harsh position” to take. (For more on the local gun industry, see our piece ‘Welcome to Guntown.’)

Andrew Smith said he didn’t think the resolution went far enough. He suggested that the state divest from local firearm manufacturers. “I’m disappointed that this language doesn’t address future policy on whether or not to procure stock in those manufacturers.”  He continued, “It is worth pursuing local answers to these questions that other people can look to.”

Margot Schocket-Greene, the chair of the Mayor’s Youth Commission, which co-sponsored the resolution, thanked the Council for working with the Youth Commission and asked that they continue to work together to influence state legislation.

Will Meyer, a fellow Shoestring co-editor, made the council aware of legislation being pushed by the Gun Owner Action League (GOAL), an NRA affiliate in Massachusetts. The legislation would remove local authority to create or enforce gun laws. “This group loves the constitution, but they want to stifle democracy on the local level.”

Robyn Wronski spoke about the Northampton Connects event earlier in the week sharing that it was a “beautiful event” and that “everybody, even when they disagreed spoke with civility to each other.” He continued, “My one concern was that the event was inaccessible to the homeless and to other people who are in poverty. They [facilitators of Northampton Connects] addressed that right from the start and said ‘We messed up on the venue.’”

Heather Warner commented on a proposed cap for the number of retail marijuana establishments in the city, saying that she stood with the board of health and police in the suggestion that a fewer number of weed retail establishments is a good place to start, saying, “We should start slowly.” She said that there are no particularly visible alcohol retailers on Main St. because  State St. and Pops are off the main drag. “If the proposal is at 10, what is that going to look like for our community?” She encouraged more regulation that would include local control over retail marijuana licenses.

Water

The Mayor briefed the Councilors on the water and sewer rates which will be raised for fiscal year 2019. (Fiscal years transcend the calendar year, which abide by the earth’s planetary revolution of the sun. Instead of the sun, the fiscal year revolves around taxes.) The raise in water costs will generate revenue for the city. Based on the volumetric consumption of residents who have access to water utilities, the average Northamptonite will see approximately $9.60/yr increase in their bill. The rates will be tiered which allows lower income residents and those who use very little water to pay less, which creates an economic incentive to conserve water.

Guns

The Resolution in Support of Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence in Massachusetts passed unanimously. The resolution was sponsored by City Council President Ryan O’Donnell (At-Large) and Councilor Alisa Klein (Ward 7) and co-written with the Northampton Youth Commission. In introducing the bill, Councilor O’Donnell revealed the inspiration behind it, “The creation of the bill was less of an intellectual process and more of an emotional process. I got the idea when I was standing in a sea of literally thousands of people marching from the high school to the steps of City Hall.”  He felt that the resolution was an acknowledgement of the Northampton March for Our Lives saying, “It would be bizarre if the City Council didn’t acknowledge what happened.” As for the content of the resolution, he said, “I see these as low hanging fruit that could be done tomorrow with the exception of divestment which would be complex. These people came in Northampton and made a demand and I think we have to join with them in their demand and show solidarity with that demand.”

Councilor Klein spoke about the effects of gun violence on communities of color saying, “people of color, black men, and young people are vastly disproportionately affected, communities of color, this alone should be a call to action.”

Councilor Jim Nash (Ward 3), acknowledged the effects of guns on our communities and our culture. “It has changed the way we interact with schools. We have to go through a gauntlet to get into schools, we have to be searched before we go into courthouses.” He continued, “this has impacted the way our police interact with all of us, particularly people of color.” Referencing his experience at the Northampton Police Department’s Citizen Academy, he said, “It was an ever-present thing that was cited by police, that when they approach a vehicle, they are trained now with the idea that someone is armed.” While it is unknown how many people who the police approach have guns, we do know that all Northampton police officers have guns when they approach people.

Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra addressed the fact that the gun industry is alive and well in Western Massachusetts, “I want to call out one thing that I think is an appalling statewide hypocrisy here in Massachusetts. We are a leader on gun control and we have an assaults weapons ban, but the very weapons we ban right here in the Commonwealth are manufactured here, like right here, in Springfield.” She continued, “As a state we really have to grapple with the fact that we believe in trying to protect ourselves from the very weapons we are putting into the world, and are selling to others what we won’t allow to be sold here. I just think that is really morally reprehensible. That should always be acknowledged here when we talk about this in the commonwealth.”

Weed

Councilor Bidwell and Councilor Nash introduced an ordinance that would limit the amount of marijuana retail shops in the city to ten shops total. The ordinance was introduced and then referred to the Legislative Matters committee where it will be discussed before it returns to the Council for a broader discussion and vote. This is a significant ordinance because it intends to treat weed retail shops differently than establishments that serve alcohol, in which the state, not the city, decides on the amount of shops there can be.

Councilor Bidwell said the he was sympathetic to the concerns he has heard from Police Chief Jody Kasper and the Department of Public Health as to how weed retail shops might affect the community. He also said he thinks it is highly unlikely that ten applicants will even be able to fulfill the rigorous application process of being eligible to open shops. Because it is unlikely that what he is trying to restrict will actually happen, he is calling the proposed cap the ‘what-if-we’re-wrong?’ cap. He said he felt 4 was too low of a cap, and wanted to send the message that “we are attracting this vibrant industry to our town.”

Councilor Nash likened this cap to insurance saying, “it is about ensuring that our new retail marijuana industry will not grow in an unchecked manner and change the fabric of our community without us having a say.” He echoed Councilor Bidwell in saying he welcomed this, “vibrant marijuana retail market.” He added that he looks forward to someone being able to purchase their weed product, go home safely to use it, and not be stigmatized by criminalization. He praised legalization and regulation saying, “the legalized sale of marijuana will put a check on the black market which does not generate tax relief and does not always provide a quality product.” This ordinance will likely provoke a larger discussion about the control that police and health officials should have over weed retail regulation and the stigmatization of marijuana use in comparison to that of alcohol.

I left this meeting with a couple questions:

  1. Does the NPD purchase locally produced firearms?
  2. If we divest from the gun industries in Western Mass, what will we do to support those community members who will lose their jobs and pensions?
  3. Does a law that enforces a cap on weed shops create a stigma around those who buy and sell weed?

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

The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! Please donate to The Shoestring on Patreon.