An exchange with Al Norman

After going back and forth a number of times, I decided to post the following exchange with Al Norman and another constituent for two reasons: 1) I don’t have anything to hide, and 2) I actually think it points to interesting questions. What does it mean to be progressive in Greenfield in 2019? And how might that vision differ from previous iterations of a progressive agenda? Debates about these issues are legitimate, and I want to be transparent about where I stand.

For the record, I’m against big box development and I applaud Al for his work keeping Wal-Mart out of town, back when that was a serious threat. At the last council meeting, I made a motion to put the French King zoning on the ballot (though it was defeated),  because I’m genuinely curious what the residents think–I don’t have a clear read on that. I have a proposal on the table to completely rethink the zoning on the French King, and another to streamline the process for building ADUs.

The first emails below are from a constituent, following up on a brief exchange we had just had in the street, and who I presume forwarded my email to Al. I’m only including them because what follows wouldn’t make sense without them. All the emails are public records, so nobody, including me, had any illusion of privacy when writing.

TL;DR my main point is in the last email, at the bottom.


From a constituent, 9/15 11:53am:

Councilor Dolan:

By “French King” I meant, “Put French King rezoning on the ballot so I might vote ‘no. ‘” The answer, ” it’s in the works,” smacks of prevarication. It’s a ‘yes or no’ question. Don’t let 25 years of local progressive politics be undone in one legislative session, particularly one overseen by people who label themselves ‘progressive.’  Peace,
[Name omitted]

From me, 9/15 12:19pm:

[Name omitted],

As far I know, Sheila is leading the individual petition, and I’ll vote to put it on the ballot if it makes it that far. I disagree that this up-or-down vote will actually solve anything, though–the old status quo of the French King Overlay was and will be far from ideal, and I’ve proposed a comprehensive rethink of the zoning in that area by way of community charrettes and consultation with all stakeholders.

It seems we also may have different ideas about what it means to be progressive. I view Al Norman and his crew as the pinnacle of reactionary NIMBYism, and there’s nothing progressive about that kind of politics in a town desperately in need of infrastructure, transit, dense development, affordable housing, and space for industry and business. 

Tim


From a constituent, 9/15 12:44pm:

I guess I’m part of his crew. Al Norman spent his professional life fighting for the elderly and his personal life fighting corporations, including the worst retailer in the world. I suggest you get a track record and accomplishments before you bad mouth him. No need to reply.

From Al Norman, 9/16 2:22pm:

Tim,

Are you willing to say publicly that this is your opinion (see below) of my advocacy over the past 26 years in Greenfield?

If so, let me know and I will share your comments with the Recorder.

I have been called a NIMBY before—but only by wealthy out of state developers. And you are the first to label me”reactionary.”

Are you now voting for candidates who welcome Walmart Boxes and get backing from progress-Ives? Is that what progressives are doing in Greenfield?

I am also the one who fought Penny and Isaac in 2004 when they pushed to convert the French King land from industrial to commercial. So I saw the value of industrial development—and the people who helped me fight off Walmart in 1993 were industrial and retail owners.

I happen to agree that Greenfield has major infrastructure, transit, and affordable housing needs. Not sure why these issues are on your list.

As for dense development  needs, I disagreed with the ADU argument that accessory units would be used to help seniors “age in place.” Of the  few landowners who have tried ADUs in Greenfield, one prominent case resulted in an older homeowner having to take a second mortgage out on his house so his son’s family could build a very large ADU in his backyard. ADUs are being used as a subdivision tool to divide land. He now is saddled with a large debt on a house he once had paid off. Is that progressive?

So here’s what you said. Let me know if you want me to share this with the Recorder and your constituents who elected you in Precinct 5 (including me):

Tim Dolan on Al Norman:

“I view Al Norman and his crew as the pinnacle of reactionary NIMBYism, and there’s nothing progressive about that kind of politics in a town desperately in need of infrastructure, transit, dense development, affordable housing, and space for industry and business.”

Yours,

Al


From me, 9/19 9:23pm:

Al,

In short, yes. You’ve been very public with your criticism of myself and the council, and I fail to see why I should be any less public. I hope for all our sakes that the Recorder isn’t in the business of printing thirdhand, out-of-context quotes from the emails of minor elected officials, but you never know; you’re welcome to give it a shot. As a courtesy, I’ll post this whole exchange on my blog, and you’re welcome to share the link.

I’ll explain my comments to [constituent] briefly:

  • Reactionary. I haven’t been here for 26 years, but at the moment I hear a lot about what you’re against, but very little about the positive change that you want to see. I hear you invoke downtown when it’s convenient for your cause, but I don’t see you doing any actual work to build a strong and economically diverse downtown–work that many people are doing. That’s why I say reactionary. If you’d like to be more proactive, I can recommend a number of important town boards and commissions with empty seats that could use your expertise, and where you could make a difference in the future of downtown.
  • NIMBY. Using a single tragic anecdote to stand in the way of a policy that the data shows to be effective (and, in the case of the ADU, happens to be one of the only tools we have to build walkable, affordable, dense neighborhoods) is a classic NIMBY tactic. In the world of logical fallacies, we call that an ‘appeal to fear’. You and I both know that zoning doesn’t bring anything about, it just determines what is allowed and what is forbidden; people are still responsible for their own financial and family decisions. If you claim you care about affordable housing and you’re not a NIMBY, then what is your idea for solving our generational affordable housing problem? What changes should we make? What are you doing to bring those changes about?

One thing I bring to the council is a lack of baggage. When I look at the French King, I don’t see it through the lens of a quarter century of conflict. I don’t see a victory vs. a defeat, Wal-Mart vs. no Wal-Mart, Al Norman vs. Isaac Mass. What I do see is a big ugly hole in the ground, a truly Byzantine zoning arrangement that prevents the area from being useful to anyone, and a bitter, calcified conflict that is no longer very relevant with big box development on the decline.

I’m not impressed with empty threats to out me to the media. I’m not impressed by single issue, win-at-all-costs politics. I’m not impressed with brinksmanship, litigiousness, obstructionism, or overwrought rhetoric. But more than that, I’m a volunteer and I just don’t have time for conversations like this, which don’t lead to positive outcomes. I’m happy to engage whenever you’re ready to come to the table with a plan you can say yes to and a willingness to compromise, because that’s how things get done. Until that day, I’m unlikely to be very responsive.

Best,

Tim