GREENFIELD — With an upcoming series of community forums, a group of residents hopes to provide a space to “foster respectful discussions” on a wide range of issues related to local public policy and civic engagement.
“The goal is to keep citizens informed about what’s happening in the community and talk about what we want to do,” said resident David Lewis, who is among the organizers of the series of events, launched on April 11 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Greenfield Elks Lodge at 3 Church St.
The Greenfield Citizens Forum is an “unincorporated, nonpartisan citizens’ group,” according to a press release from the organizers.
Among the panelists in the first forum – which will cover topics ranging from section 7-7 of the city charter, relating to the citizens’ initiative process; the debate over in-person, hybrid and remote meeting formats; and ideas on how to increase voter turnout – are residents Al Norman, Mike Corona and Donna Festinger.
“I think the forum is designed to be a place where citizens can come and talk freely about concerns they have and issues they care about without it being sponsored by the Government Legislative Assembly, City Council,” said Norman, stressing the importance of maintaining civil and respectful discourse – something he feels has been lost, especially with the growth of social media as a platform for political debate.
Norman is particularly interested in hearing from residents about the Citizens’ Initiative Petition process, through which new issues or ideas can be proposed to council or school committee, or put to a vote if rejected by the body. respective.
The Appointments and Ordinances Committee did not recommend any changes to the Citizens’ Initiative Petition process, which will then go to City Council.
“Hopefully in April … the board will consider a compromise to do nothing,” Norman said.
He added that the conversation between the public and members of the city council is “not great these days”.
“What I intend to speak at the Elks Club are ways to improve citizen engagement in government,” he said. “This would include … finding ways for citizens to have conversations with their elected officials, other than the public comment period.”
He noted that with the public comment period allotted at meetings, residents only have three minutes to speak, with no opportunity for councilors to respond.
“There’s no back and forth,” Norman said. “There is no possibility of having a dialogue.”
Councilors and other city officials are encouraged to attend the forums, Norman said. To have an impact, he said, a dialogue must be engaged.
“I think it would be nice to have the advisers there,” Norman said. “I think it would be good for councilors to know that their citizens want to hear from them. …Councillors are citizens with a particular purpose. They are no different from citizens, but they have a particular purpose.
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne