Who has authority to approve Community Preservation Act projects?

While waiting for GCTV to post the video of yesterday’s meeting the City Council Committee Chair meeting, I have been reading through the full agenda and meeting materials PDF. As one does.

One of my favorite parts of this beat, is when unexpected drama pops up in obscure corners of municipal government. In this case, it arises from what—at first glance—would seem to be an innocuous bullet point on the agenda: “Governing entity with the authority to approve the Community Preservation Committee expenditures and extend invitation to Travis Drury submitted by Councilor Virginia Desorgher (pg. 58).”

The Community Preservation Committee was established following Greenfield voters’ approval of the Community Preservation Act in 2020, the goal of which is to identify and preserve open space, historic sites, affordable housing, and outdoor recreational facilities in Greenfield. The Committee administers a fund specific to these needs, which is establish by the CPA independent of the rest of the city budget.

While that all may sound fairly cut and dry, what follows from the agenda bullet I mention above is nearly 25 pages of emails back and forth between CPC Chair Travis Drury, Mayor Wedegartner, and the city’s Finance Director Liz Gilman. Everyone remains civil, but the exchange gets heated at points.

According to the CPA as enacted:

The Community Preservation Committee shall make recommendations to the legislative body for the acquisition, creation and preservation of open space; for the acquisition, preservation, rehabilitation and restoration of historic resources; for the acquisition, creation, preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of land for recreational use; for the acquisition, creation, preservation and support of community housing; and for the rehabilitation or restoration of open space and community housing that is acquired or created as provided in this section. With respect to community housing, the Community Preservation Committee shall recommend, wherever possible, the reuse of existing buildings or construction of new buildings on previously developed sites. With respect to recreational use, the acquisition of artificial turf for athletic fields shall be prohibited.

Based on the “shall make recommendations to the legislative body” language, as well as CPA implementations from a number of other cities around Massaschusetts, Chair Drury and the CPC take the position that their recommendations do not require the Mayor’s approval before going to the City Council for consideration.

The Mayor, however, looks to be asserting that any project recommendations coming out of the Community Preservation Committee need to both her and the City Council. Her argument is two-fold: first, that the money in the Community Preservation Fund is part of the city budget and that all financial orders impacting the city budget need to come to the City Council from the office of the Mayor.

I don’t know the answer here, but the whole thing reminds me of any number of project kick-off meetings I have sat through where the various stakeholders and interested parties are duking it out over who owns the funding and who has the authority. The two are not always the same.

I am no expert (and certainly not a lawyer), but it seems to me that the CPA language is fairly clear1 that the road leads directly from the Community Preservation Committee to the City Council without a stop at the Mayor’s office for a yes/no decision. I can also appreciate that the CPC is wary of ceding authority to the Mayor before they have even started their real work.

At the same time, the Mayor’s expressed concern about CPC-recommended projects impacting the city budget is understandable. No one wants to be on the hook for potential budget risk over which they have no control.

I’ll be interested to see how this discussion went at the Committee Chairs meeting this week, and I’d also like to check out the recording of the most recent CPC meeting whenever that shows up on GCTV as well.

  1. Finance Director Gilman asserts at one point that the Charter (which says all funding requests come from the Mayor) trumps the ordinance. She provides no citation, though, and I have not taken the time to dig into this particular bit.