Below is an exchange I had with the mayor, regarding scheduling at the John Zon Center. For background, for months now we’ve been receiving clear messaging from the executive branch that schedulign community events at the center would be impossible. Yesterday, I woke up to the news that a leader from an SPLC-identified hate group would be appearing on Thursday, 10/24.
For the record, I personally find this speaker to be morally objectionable, and I plan to attend the protest on Thursday night. But ultimately this is a question of public administration and mismanagement: if anyone has access to the community center, then everyone needs to have access to it.
My initial email, 9:02am 10/21
Hi Mayor Martin and Directors Smith and Macary,
There have been rumors flying around of late that groups calling themselves ‘Greenfield Citizens Association’ and ‘Citizens for Transparency in Greenfield’ have booked several events at the JZ Center in the next week. These events include a mayoral debate (which has apparently been canceled and rescheduled) and an event featuring a speaker. I’d appreciate answers to the following questions:
- Are both of these events, in fact, taking place?
- If so, there must have been a process by which the groups in questions arranged to use the space. What was that process? I’d like to share it with other community groups that would like to use the JZ Center.
- The speaker that GCA organized is speaking against the safe city ballot question. What is the justification for using a taxpayer-funded space for a partisan political event?
Greenfield Town Council
The mayor’s response, 11:44am 10/22:
Thank you for your questions. Yes, to the best of our knowledge, both events are taking place.
It has always been our intention to provide policies and procedures for the public use of the JZCC, starting with the conclusion of the task force I appointed in 2018. There continues to be two main issues – liability and resources (human and monetary) to carry this out. To that extent, we have failed. Time and staff has hindered our ability to roll out a policy for non-governmental use. The most recent requests came on October 15 and are itemized below. We will be submitting a request to the Council for November for a part-time position under the COA to schedule, monitor, and implement the policy.
I have heard from the Council that they wanted more community use of the John Zon Community Center. On October 15, I received the following three requests to book the John Zon Community Center (note that two came in late the previous night).
- On October 14 at 8:16 pm – Emma Morgan – “Not in Our Town” for their October Meeting on October 30 from 7-8:45
- On October 14 at 9:24 pm – Lew Metaxas – “The Greenfield Citizens Association” for a mayoral debate on a date/time to be coordinated (now organized by Greenfield Citizens for Transparency, Dawn Morin)
- On October 15 at 9:35 am – Sandy Kosterman – “The Greenfield Citizens Association” for an educational event on the legal process of becoming a citizen on October 24 from 6:30-9
With the current issues at the Library, I am aware that public meeting space is at a premium and that while the policy for use at the JZCC is almost finalized, I am trying to accommodate groups where possible. When we get a request, we must examine time, space, and staff. The dates in question were open. We were able to find a volunteer building monitor to cover one of these events and I and my office will accommodate the other events.
The City must remain content neutral in the approval of events. There is no ordinance that prohibits the use of City facilities by private groups or for specific legal activities. Private use of a public space is not an endorsement of the content any more than it would be if people were protesting on the Town Common. This means that the applicant is not obligated to agree with the Ctiy’s positions regardless of the topic.
The draft policy includes this section: “John Zon Community Center rooms are available for public use regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use. Permission to meet at the John Zon Community Center does not constitute or imply endorsement of the users’ policies or beliefs, or the subject matter of the program.”
Per the Office of Campaign Finance, the City must allow “equal access” for public buildings and cannot deny based on content. As defined by OCPF, ““Equal Access” – means that a group supporting or opposing a ballot question, such as a registered ballot question committee, may be allowed to use a room or other space in a public building for a meeting, as long as a group on the opposing side is given the opportunity, on request, to have a similar meeting, on the same terms and conditions.” The only activities not allowed in public facilities is fundraising. If you are aware of a violation of Campaign Finance laws, these violations should be reported to OCPF.
If you have need for further clarification or suggestions, please get back to us.
William F. Martin, Mayor
City of Greenfield
City Hall, 14 Court Square
Greenfield, MA 01301
I appreciate your thoughtful response. Unfortunately, it seems that I have to reiterate once more the question I’ve been asking for months: What is the process that outside groups should use to reserve time at the John Zon Center? Should they email you directly? What details does that email need to include?
To be clear, the content of this event is not the root of my objection. The process is the problem. We’ve heard repeatedly and as recently as last week that it was impossible for community groups to use the community center after hours–that it couldn’t be accomplished with our current resources. As a librarian, I well understand the first amendment requirements for use of public space, but I also know that every library, including our own, has a set of clear policies about when and how community groups can book space, and that these policies have to be applied consistently. In contrast, the process by which these three groups gained access to the community center is as opaque as it is capricious. I’ll also note that the draft policy you reference is, by definition, not a policy–it’s only a draft. A policy is something that’s consistent, official, applied uniformly, and findable by the public.
I ask you: how was a group supportive of the safe city ordinance supposed to request equal access, when the official position you presented at the previous council meeting suggested that access was impossible for any group? This is an example of mismanagement, plain and simple. I demand that the events currently scheduled be cancelled immediately on the grounds that access to the community center has not been extended to all community groups on an equitable basis. The basic policies and procedures–which I have been requesting of you for several months–need to be in place before any events are scheduled.
Greenfield City Council