Judge rejects plea to extend Jones Library project petition

  • Jones Library in Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2021 2:52:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Hampshire Superior Court judge has cleared the way for the town to proceed with the $36.3 million Jones Library expansion and renovation project by denying a preliminary injunction sought by a group of residents.

In his decision, issued late Friday afternoon, Judge John A. Agostini denied an emergency motion by residents seeking to use the voter veto provision of the town charter, meaning that the Town Council’s April 5 vote, 10-2 in favor of the project with one abstention, and authorizing $15.75 million in borrowing, remains in place.

Though petitioners had requested an additional week to collect signatures, the ability to use electronic signatures and halving the number of registered voters necessary to force a council revote, Agostini was not persuaded, rejecting any similarities to the case of Goldstein vs. the Secretary of State. In that case, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Judicial Court gave election candidates the right to collect signatures electronically and extended filing deadlines. 

The lawsuit was filed after the town clerk’s office certified 842 signatures, 22 less than the 5% threshold of 862 voters needed to launch a voter veto, which could culminate in a townwide referendum on the project.

Agostini’s decision states that the petitioners are not facing a risk of irreparable harm, suggesting that they may still have other avenues to collect enough signatures and that “they will be as able to petition the Town Council to cease [proceeding with the expansion project] as they are today.”

Agostini held out the possibility of a successful appeal of his decision. “Given the nature of the issues presented … immediate review by the Appellate Court, particularly the SJC, would be warranted,” he wrote in his decision.

The petitioners have also asked the Board of Registrars to review more than 50 rejected signatures of voters who have signed affidavits attesting that the signatures are theirs.

The judge noted the substantial risk of harm faced by the town “given the funding and operation deadlines it faces with regard to the planned renovation.” The initial deadlines for submitting paperwork for the $13.87 million state grant for the project were due Friday.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said with the court decision, the town was able to meet the Friday deadline to provide the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners a certified copy of the council vote and sign a contract and provide other associated documents. The first payment of $2.77 million is scheduled to be delivered to the town before June 30.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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