There is a proposed ordinance (piece of legislation) that is coming before the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, March 17, 2014, to ban the use of “single use, thin filmed plastic bags,” i.e. the plastic bags one gets at Market Basket and Shaws.
The first, very first thing that I have a problem with in this ordinance, promoted by Newburyport’s Citizens for Sustainable Bagging, and originally championed by City Councilor Barry Connell, is that it has 7 sponsors. (There are 11 members of the Newburyport City Council, and it takes 8 members to pass a piece of legislation.)
I’ve never seen this before. In my experience ordinances are usually sponsored by at most 2 city councilors.
It strikes me that for a proposed ordinance to have 7 sponsors, that it stifles debate, and undermines the democratic process, which to me is unwise. And comes across as manipulative, with the intent of ramming a particular piece of legislation through our city government, without proper input and feedback from the public. To say that I’m disappointed by this approach, when there has been a template for a truly thoughtful way of governance, with the process of the recent proposed zoning amendments (which has been called “brilliant”), is an understatement (the process of the proposed zoning amendments–a whole other post). “Brilliant,” this process of banning plastic bags, it is not.
The ordinance, as now written, has a punitive approach, which in my mind, if pursued, could cause tremendous resentment and a backlash for Newburyport’s Green Community, which has worked very hard over the last decade, led, with tremendous grace, by our Recycling and Energy Coordinator, Molly Ettenborough.
Backlash and resentment against Newburyport’s Green Community is nothing new. Both the wind turbine, and the effort to turn off all of Newburyport’s street lights, did not win Newburyport’s Green Community a whole lot of friends. Not a good rerun.
And, if one looks back to the City Council of 2008-2009, it was one of the most liberal councils that I have seen. A fairly robust liberal agenda was pursued, and a major backlash was the result. I would hate to see this council go down that particular road again, especially, when such a thoughtful governing template has already been demonstrated, with the proposed zoning ordinance process. I’d be concerned with self-destruction a 2nd time. One would hope that history is something to be learned from.
And I think that there are councilors who would suggest a more incentivized approach to this issue, instead of a punitive one. This might not please the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging. However, such an approach could avoid a backlash, and make it a whole lot easier for the Newburyport’s Green Community to achieve its long term goals.