ORANGE — A husband and wife have reached out to Moderator Christopher Woodcock in an unsuccessful attempt to ask that Saturday’s Special Town Meeting be postponed until the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved.
Mike Magee and Constance Pike said they refuse to endanger their health by attending the drive-in-style meeting set for 9:30 a.m. They also insist the meeting is being rushed in order to ram through a warrant article that pertains to amending the town’s official zoning map.
“This whole rezoning thing is … 100 percent phony,” Magee said, adding that the date and time equates to voter suppression. “It’s right out of the Trump playbook.”
The article in question asks if residents agree to adopt the new district boundary lines to further include 43 parcels in the residential/commercial district zone and remove language describing the boundaries of the C District. Magee said he owns 16 acres that abut the affected parcels and believes the town wants to rezone the land so it can be developed. He and Pike said they are not opposed to development, but there is ample and more suitable space for it, with room for parking, in the nearby Randall Pond Industrial Park.
“There’s dishonesty and deception in this,” Pike said, “and that doesn’t feel good.”
In an email exchange shared with the Greenfield Recorder, Magee emailed Woodcock to insist the moderator use his “best judgment and call off this absurd attempt to have a Town Meeting amid this pandemic,” insisting “lives will be put at risk to attend in the cold weather to debate non-emergency issues.”
Woodcock replied to tell Magee he appreciates his thoughts and concerns, but “every precaution” is being taken to ensure a safe Special Town Meeting.
“My willingness to proceed in moderating the meeting is based on my own judgment, and the judgment and expertise of those who are part of the planning team,” Woodcock said, adding that the team includes Health Agent Matthew Fortier, Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer and Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker. “I have great respect for them, and our collective view is that the meeting can be conducted safely.”
The meeting was originally slated to be held inside Orange Town Hall on Jan. 7, but shortly before Christmas the Orange Selectboard agreed to members agreed to hold it “drive-in style” at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School parking lot as close as possible to Jan. 7, pending arrangements with Superintendent Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski.
Earlier this month, Woodcock cited the pandemic in declaring the meeting be moved to the Mahar parking lot on Jan. 16. He said the ongoing public health crisis posed too great a risk to hold the meeting indoors.
“Once the selectmen sign the warrant, the responsibility of conducting the meeting falls to me,” Woodcock said in his reply to Magee. “While I understand and respect what you have said, my best judgment is that the meeting can be held safely. If I felt otherwise, I would not participate as moderator.”
But this has not satisfied Magee and Pike, who are also unhappy the meeting will coincide with a scheduled Black Lives Matter demonstration. Pike said the meeting’s new date and time is especially hurtful because it will be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
“I think it’s a little insensitive,” Pike said.
The two started organizing regular BLM vigils over the summer, following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Magee and Pike also feel Saturday’s meeting will be unsafe and it will be impossible for people to stay warm in their vehicles without violating a state law that limits unnecessary engine idling to five minutes.
“I’m certainly not going to let my car run for an hour,” Magee said.
“We’re either going to freeze to death and get pneumonia, or get COVID,” Pike said.
Magee also mentioned he is disappointed with the leadership of certain Selectboard members, specifically Chair Ryan Mailloux and Vice Chair Jane Peirce, who he said ran for election as reformers.
“Once you get in power, you become power hungry,” Magee said. “Now they’re the problem. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s what happens.”
Contacted for comment, Mailloux said he respects Magee’s and Pike’s right to their opinions and said they can interpret a situation however they deem fit. He said he goes to bed every night knowing he did what he thought was in the best interest of Orange residents.
Peirce was unavailable for comment before press time.
Woodcock’s declaration and the meeting warrant can be found at bit.ly/38dG86K.
Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.