GREENFIELD — A meet-and-greet for local election candidates was moved from the library to the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center Thursday after the council vice president raised concerns about the legality and ethics of the event.
The meet-and-greet, sponsored by the Greenfield Public Library and the League of Women Voters of Franklin County, was scheduled to be held at the library Thursday night, but Town Council Vice President Isaac Mass expressed concern about whether the library was an appropriate venue for the event.
“I am particularly concerned because we all know the library, which has never hosted this kind of event before … is likely to come before these very candidates for a multi-million dollar request in the next two years,” Mass wrote in an email to the town clerk, mayor and library director.
Town Council and School Committee candidates, including write-ins, for this year’s Nov. 7 election were welcome to participate in the event, according to Marie Gauthier, president of the League of Women Voters.
“We did the best we could (to invite everybody),” she said.
In his email, Mass also pointed out that as a 501(C)(3), the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library is not allowed to engage in political activity.
He also expressed concern that the order in which the candidates were listed on the event flier could be seen as an endorsement, as they were not in alphabetical order nor in the order in which they will appear on the ballot. Mass said Matthew Kuzmeskus, a declared write-in candidate for Precinct 5, was left off of the flier while Bob Cooley, a declared write-in candidate for School Committee, was included.
“We have had meet-and-greet events in the past that have been hosted by the town at the Senior Center. Those have never referenced the names of the candidates; they were focused on the constituency that was at the Senior Center,” Mass said.
He suggested the town check with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance for an opinion on whether it’s appropriate for the library to host a candidates night.
Gauthier contends that there was no conflict of interest in holding the event at the library, as many leagues across the country hold meet-and-greets in their local libraries, and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance in essence confirmed that when it told the Recorder Thursday that political events may be held in public buildings, as long as there is no fundraising.
“It’s a very nonpartisan organization, all the candidates were invited, so there was no endorsing or anything of that nature,” Gauthier said. “It’s civic education and engagement, so I’m disappointed it couldn’t be held at the library. Libraries are all about education, so it seems it would be a natural function for them to hold a meet-and-greet, which is very unscripted and open for all candidates.”
Mass also wrote that he was concerned about the library partnering with the League of Women Voters, which he said could be viewed as the town endorsing the political work of the league.
The meet-and-greet was subsequently canceled.
Mass’s request sparked significant debate and outrage on social media, with many Facebook users expressing anger that it led to the event’s cancellation. Mass said he never asked that the event be canceled.
Gauthier said the library took the lead in organizing the meet-and-greet, and the league did not have a say in the cancellation.
“When it was canceled, there were a number of folks online who then called on the league to see if we would still be interested in holding a meet-and-greet, and of course that is a big part of our core mission, encouraging voter education and being engaged in local elections, so I said, ‘Yes of course, the league is very much committed to holding this,’” she said.
The event was eventually moved to the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center at Main Street and Court Square, following a lengthy discussion on Facebook.
Ellen Boyer, library director, was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Gauthier said she was heartened by the community’s response to the issue, which resulted in the event being moved to the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center.
The League of Women Voters will hold another campaign event Oct. 24 at Greenfield Community College.