Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 June 1, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Joe Camden, Chief of Police; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Stacey Senflug, Town Clerk, Brad Foster 1794 Meetinghouse; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Tamara Conde, Cemetery Commission; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; Cam Dunbar, Jen Potee, Board of Health; Brian Falk, Mirick O’Connell; Robert Treutlein; Ron Lunn & Lori Lunn

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

Discussion with Potential New Legal Counsel for FY22

Brian started off by introducing himself and his firm. Mirick O’Connell has a large practice in government providing many Town Counsels and Labor Counsel. The firm provides approximately 9 towns Town Counsel services. They represent towns ranging from small towns like Dunstable and large towns like Shrewsbury. They have around 60 attorneys at any given time and have many specialists who can assist on specific matters. They never take a new community on lightly. They have a decent sized group for representing towns. Most of the towns represented have been long time clients. Holden, for example, has been a client for 40 years. They always seek a long term relationship and pride themselves in being responsive. Brian then went over how sensitive cases are handled and noted that while attorneys come on sight as needed, but also handle much remotely. Randy explained the town is considering new legal counsel. Wayne asked how many associates there are in the firm. Brian responded about 60 total with half being partners and the other half being associates of some level. Hugh asked what Mirick O’Connell’s determination would be to take on the town as a client. Brian responded that it comes down to a few things like whether the firm feels it can take on the town as well as distance from the firm’s offices in its core area which is centered around Worcester. Hugh asked about full service of representation. Brian responded that they can provide many services and can handle full service for municipal and other areas of practice. One of the strengths of Mirick O’Connell is the diversity in its attorneys. Randy asked if there would typically one person assigned to the town. Brian responded he would be the principle person assigned to the town as Town Counsel with a backup and support from others. He would manage all assignments to other firm attorneys. So you always have a main person. Further the town would have a main Labor Counsel. Randy noted the town has a few continuing cases and asked if prior counsel would continue or if it would be transferred. Brian responded like many things with law it depends. If it’s likely to go on for years, it makes sense to switch. If its short and likely to be wrapped up soon then it wouldn’t make sense. Still they can step in if a clean break from prior counsel is preferred. Randy asked if Brian had any questions for the Selectboard. Brian asked whether the towns Annual Town Meeting is fixed or floats. Nancy responded it’s normally in June but otherwise floats. Wayne asked if bills are itemized. Brian responded invoices are detailed and time is billed in six minute increments. Likely more information than the town even wants. Randy thanked Brian for coming out and talking to the town.

Police Department Update/FY22 Appointments

Joe Camden started with the good news. National Grid has started the process of hazardous tree removal around power lines. Calvin Layton is talking to them about procedures that will assist both Tree Committee and Police Dept. He thanked Calvin for his work formally. Then turned to police reform. All department members have completed their required training for the buildup to this. All officers are certified as required. Eventually all officers full time and part time will be certified for the new law. He then turned to the bridge academy and how that will be changed. He does not intend to ask for additional funding to certify. If it is needed the department will find a way to do it. He then reported on work with the Franklin County Chief’s Association and with the County Sheriff’s office. Joe Camden noted he himself has taken classes. There is no charge at this stage for them. He then asked the Selectboard to consider re-appointing him for another 3 years. This is his last term in all likelihood. He then elaborated on future hiring plans. Nothing in the near term, but coming up. He suggested that the town can expand its department in the next few years if it decides to. But for now the small department is working. The town is blessed to have few problems for policing. He conceded more patrols are needed, but that’s something to address as we move forward. Randy noted a lot of towns are considering regionalizing in terms of police forces. He felt it to be responsible to consider the option, but stressed that he does not endorse it at this stage. Wendell is currently exploring doing so with Leverett. With the police reform, we don’t want to be in a situation where we find we cannot support our police because we are so part time and small. The biggest concerns being response times and costs. Joe Camden responded Wendell was a kind of unique situation. He agreed regionalization should be researched and residents should be involved. He reminded few departments are regionalized. In the past he has considered combination with Wendell, but the towns have different policing philosophies. Still, he was open to the general idea. That said, Joe Camden reminded that the town having at least one full time officer in town could address much of the coverage without regionalization. Wayne expressed the view that he could see regionalization happening, but certainly not today. Hugh asked if the department is at full staff or not.

Joe Camden responded it isn’t, the staffing calls for two more officers. But he is waiting to get through this police reform certification process before adding officers back. Nobody really knows how this is going to settle. He asked to be part of the discussions for the future of the department no matter what the town decides given his decades of service to New Salem. Hugh asked if anyone on the department could go full time now. Joe Camden responded that we’d have to adjust the wages, but yes. Hugh asked what Joe Camden’s views on regionalization are. He responded that he’s not really in favor of it personally, but open to exploring it. Wayne agreed noting it depends on the philosophies of any combined departments. They need to be compatible or it becomes problematic. Joe Camden stressed that the officers in New Salem do the work they do because they love the town. It’s not for the pay. Hugh asked if anything is lost if we had at least one full time officer. Joe Camden noted that while hours for other officers might be cut, we’d keep roughly the same department. Still, you might have to add to the department’s budget a bit. Hugh asked about the cost factors with regionalization. Joe Camden was unaware again reminding it isn’t a common thing. Randy noted that most of the appointments are one year and longer terms limit the town’s options. He’s heard different opinions of the police reform legislation and the town could potentially regionalize with another town such as Orange. In the Leverett model they have one person assigned to Wendell and that person lives in the community. So he submitted that we have to consider not saying that surrounding towns are not nearby. Response times are a consideration, but likely not substantially different then now. We have to research this. Cam interjected to note he attended meetings for the regionalization, but New Salem wasn’t at a stage to join while Wendell was. He then talked about a few regionalized departments he knows like Hardwick and New Braintree. Jean noted she also attended meetings but when it became clear Wendell was moving in a direction faster than New Salem was, she stopped attending. Randy noted we’ve had a lot of high turnover in the department. We train them and then they leave. We need to consider what is best for the town. Change may not be the best. But we need to look at it. Randy was unclear on how it came to the point that New Salem wasn’t joining in this with Wendell and Leverett. Nancy noted that Wendell has been meeting on this for 6 years and this was not a quick process. A number of steps were taken. Wendell had to make a decision quickly and that’s likely why they acted and New Salem wasn’t ready when they were.

Nancy continued that New Salem wasn’t ready at that stage and wasn’t in the same position as Wendell. They had to do it immediately. Wendell is still in negotiations with Leverett to finalize things. It isn’t a perfect solution. Hugh asked some questions about the work done with FRCOG jointly with Wendell which Nancy answered. She promised to provide the consultant’s report. Randy noted another consideration is the towns ability to maintain municipal buildings. This is a struggle for the town. A lot of has been held back. If the town makes a certain level of improvements to some buildings, there are code implications that might trigger more work. Joe Cuneo noted it’s complex, but yes certain work can trigger more code enforcement. Jean interjected to report on work she’s done to attempt to obtain funding. The towns delegation to the General Court has been advancing legislation. But these things take time. Robert asked if regionalization would mean losing local control. Randy responded it could. Robert asked if town votes still occur and what the towns exposure would be. Randy stressed that this is the stuff we have to research. Hypothetically speaking we’d have a contract for police services. So the town would pay a set fee for most work with rates and then negotiation as to other matters. For example, Wendell has agreed to every so many years they would provide a new police vehicle. One of the main things with the regionalization model is stability. The limited budget means limited resources. But sharing with another town could assist. Further, as in Wendell’s model with Leverett, you have a consistent officer assigned. So the same face. And if New Salem can only afford 15 hours, that officer can have hours in the other town. We are currently trying to do a lot with a little. But our patrols are limited. We cannot simply rule out the option at this stage of things. It isn’t just the veteran’s memorial. Entire buildings in town have not received the care and attention needed. Randy came back to the appointment suggesting that a one-year appointment maintains the ability to consider this further where a 3-year term may lock us in. Wayne outlined a lot of the strengths of having a police department within the town. Robert agreed with much of them noting the need for a local Chief on firearms given the way MGL works. Joe Camden disputed that he’s ever had less than a 3-year term. Randy noted records that indicate otherwise. It was unclear, but Nancy agreed to research further. Joe Camden stressed he’s at 33 years of service. Lisa suggested that the town should look to introduce the officers. Aside from Joe Camden she really didn’t know the officers. Discussion concluded there.

Veterans Memorial

Ron asked what is being done for this memorial. There has been a grant and yet no work to his eyes has been done. Joe Camden reported on a donation that he was aware of from Police Dept. Nancy added that we’ve changed accounting software and right now the Town Accountant is wrapping up the fiscal year. A letter was then read by Hugh regarding citizen concerns about the monument. The letter expressed concerns about the status of the monument and the lack of expenditure of grant funds received. Randy responded that there have been ongoing discussions about caring for this monument. Tamara interjected to say this is the first she’s heard of any grant funding. Still she detailed what has been done to date. A while back the flag pole was moved from in front of the Town Hall to near the monument. It’s gone through various changes overtime. Cemetery Commission has historically cared for it, but changes have happened outside of the Cemetery Commissions purview. Wayne noted a bike rack was installed nearby, but that was separate and resulted from a federal grant specifically for bike racks. Nancy reminded the Town Accountant is looking for the grant funds, but again, it isn’t something she can locate at this time. It was noted by Lori that an article was published about war memorials in the region and it left New Salem out. Lori then asked question about a new stone placed nearby. Wayne explained that the stone was placed so a plaque could be added. The existing monument is limited in its listing of veterans. Tamara interjected to note the existing monument only lists WWII. She reminded that she’s been working for years to get more. There was a question from Lori about who is ultimately responsible. Wayne responded likely a Memorials & Monuments Committee should be formed. Lori than asked if any additional funds that could be applied to this with the suggestion for a donation account. Tamara submitted she’d be happy to help setup a committee and to fundraise. Ron made the point that most monuments simply honor their dead rather than focusing on listing names. He suggested the statement need not be lengthy, just of quality. Good men and women continue to die in wars serving their countries. Something must be done. He then suggested wording similar to Hardwick’s memorial. Wayne expressed the desire to see language that does not glorify war.

Lisa then noted that Tree Committee has done some plantings around the memorial, particularly a pink dogwood. Those who have volunteered for the Library’s gardens might be willing to help and have already added some mulch near the monument. She submitted that a grant received is one thing, but then you have to organize. The money alone doesn’t get the work done. Randy stressed that we shouldn’t focus on the past, but rather on how to improve for the future. He recommended posting in the New Salem News to obtain feedback and see what ideas and people are interested in taking action. He felt it unnecessary to setup a formal committee but rather to get feedback and ideas that the Selectboard can act upon. He suggested that this topic be returned to in four weeks. This provides time to collect information and formulate a basic plan. Randy reminded those present that in the past too few people have been involved in the process and casting a wider net with more feedback is likely the best way to go forward. Lori agreed that the town should avoid debates on what should be said and focus more on aesthetics and having a nice monument that honors. Veterans should be proud to see the memorial. Ron agreed. This isn’t about rehashing the past. Tamara agreed to assist with getting something in the New Salem News noting her connections to the organization. Wayne reminded he has the tools to add a plaque to the new stone that’s been added. Claire suggested that once you have a list of volunteers that they be appointed to a formal committee as they must be appointed to spend town funds. She felt strongly there should be a formal role. Hugh asked where grant funding would go and how fund raising would happen through the town. Nancy responded that the Selectboard can setup a donation account for this and designate what committee can spend the funds. Hugh asked Lori if she had a copy of the original grant noting that this would assist with moving forward. Lori felt she could locate anything she and Ron had in that regard. Randy again stressed that we need to move forward and this should remain on the agenda, again for four weeks from now. Tamara asked if a donation account can be established at this meeting. Claire interjected to suggest that any funds are likely in the proper care, but she stressed that folks shouldn’t get hung up on where the money is. It’s in the towns care. She felt the donation account can be addressed at that next meeting. Joe Camden noted an account may already exist too given the Police Dept.’s donation from a few years ago.

Updated Governor’s Orders Regarding COVID-19

Jen started off by reporting that as of May 27 Franklin County has achieved 50 percent vaccination and New Salem is higher than that. So she was comfortable with the town taking action in relation to the local state of emergency. Randy expressed the desire to see the end correspond with the Commonwealth’s end date which is June 15, 2021. Stacy asked if town buildings would be addressed by this. Randy responded it’s a separate item. Just for the sake of staying in line with the Commonwealth. Jean asked if there are benefits to keep the state of local emergency in place. Hugh and Wayne both felt it best to keep with the Commonwealth. Jen and Cam agreed from a Board of Health view. Joe Cuneo felt it likely best to go with the Commonwealth’s timeline. Discussion then shifted to the public buildings. Cam noted that Board of Health hopes to continue to meet remotely. Governor Baker has put forward a special legislation request to the General Court that would enable that if it’s passed. Meanwhile Board of Health has lifted its mask order for the town. Discussion then shifted to various buildings and plans. Main considerations being for departments to be prepared. Not all may be ready at this moment. Randy suggested allowing departments some flexibility for departments. Claire agreed but felt it necessary to have a date for re-opening. Stacey noted her own experience throughout the pandemic and felt it necessary to have a date, but she agreed with some flexibility. Her feeling that if departments are ready to open immediately, like hers, that they be able to do so. The flexibility should be for those that need more time. Randy generally agreed with that idea. Stacey suggested further that departments could be asked. Hugh submitted that we go with the June 15 date. Claire noted that most have had notice from the Governor’s orders having changed as that was nearly two weeks ago. Lisa asked if the Selectboard and other committees could meet remotely in light of the special legislation. Randy submitted the Selectboard is exploring hybrid options as well as potentially streaming a feed or recording the meetings for later viewing. The other consideration is meeting space and Wi-Fi availability. Lisa noted it was really nice to attend meetings from home or elsewhere and there was a lot of improved participation. Wayne interjected to remind that meetings are always open to the public. 

A motion was made by Wayne to end the state of local emergency as of June 15, 2021, to correspond with the Commonwealth’s same ending of its state of emergency. Hugh seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

A motion was made by Hugh that town buildings re-open with full service reestablished by June 15, 2021. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

Replacement of Fire Chief’s Vehicle

Randy noted we are at a point where we are deep into the town meeting process. The meeting is in two weeks. He recommended that there be discussion of the pro’s and con’s. Nancy asked if the suggestion is that this be on for a Special Town Meeting. Randy responded that would likely be the case and recommend meetings be held with Finance Committee and the Selectboard over the summer with the intent for a potential STM. He asked Claire whether money from stabilization could be used. Claire responded the towns vehicle stabilization would be available and certainly prior to Free Cash’s certification. Wayne interjected to remind on history and how we used to roll over old police cruisers for re-use for this purpose. Claire noted that this was considered by Finance Committee along with other capital requests. Still a joint meeting over the summer to discuss can be scheduled. Randy felt July would be a good timeframe. Joe Cuneo felt that to be a good process and agreed to attend any such joint meeting to answer questions. Nancy reminded she retires at the end of July.

Skateboard Ramps at Tennis Courts

Nancy reported that mysteriously some ramps have appeared in the tennis court. She has checked with the towns insurance company. As long as it’s not a towns skate park and there is no signage from the town saying it’s the town the risk is lessened. The suggestion from the towns insurer is signage saying these are not the towns. In other words, disclaimer. Randy noted they’re a bit rickety. But the main concern is ensuring the town isn’t liable. Nancy submitted the towns insurance agent can come out and look at them. Still they aren’t very high ramps. It was agreed to have them assessed. Cam noted that he’s seen some skateboarders use the church’s hand rails, so this is technically an improvement. Hugh recalled there being no damage to the tennis courts by this. So if we can disclaim it and protect ourselves with potential removal as an option it should be pursued. Stacy expressed the opinion that anything that keeps town youth off the streets and playing in town facilities is an improvement. It’s better than these being put up in the streets. Joe Cuneo stressed that we should get clarity from the towns insurer. That’s the answer to what action to take in response. Cam reminded that the town has discussed ways to see improvement and better use of the towns recreation facilities and this may tell us of a desire for something.

Review of Annual Town Meeting Warrant – Vote to Support Articles

Randy reported that there are a total of 39 Articles on this Warrant. The first 36 should go pretty easily given their status as uncontroversial. Articles 37 and 38 being the most likely to be discussed at great length. Article 37 having to do with the 1794 Meetinghouse and Article 38 is a by-law for zoning. A dependent article to Article 38 is Article 39. He then outlined what the Selectboard’s process is and how it determines support for articles. Most articles are boilerplate annual items or ordinary financial articles. Randy reminded it is possible for the Selectboard to not endorse an article but for it to still pass or for individual members to take a position at town meeting. The big showcase article is likely Article 37 given its topic on the 1794 Meetinghouse. This article simply empowers the Selectboard to enter negotiations and to make a decision and potentially reach an agreement. Claire asked whether 1794 Meetinghouse would become subject to a special permit requirement. Nancy responded it could, but that would be far down the road. Wendell did it and everything took months. Claire conceded that to be the case but noted the question is likely to come up at town meeting. Stacey noted that if the town is willing to sell a building, the town may need to consider how it makes such a building available. Nancy outlined the process which would entail an RFP under the MGL Chapter 30B process. It’s likely that the nonprofit would be the candidate, but there is the potential that others could respond to the RFP. Randy stressed that the RFP will be built to maintain essentially the use as it is. Brad interjected to submit that he doesn’t expect anyone else will come in with the same drive to maintain the building, but if they did the town should consider it of course. Randy then turned to the other articles, mainly Articles 38 and 39.

These are zoning provisions for residential housing and short term rentals. Nancy reported these are petition articles and not coming from Planning Board as would be the ordinary case with zoning by-laws. Jean asked who the petitioners are. Stacey responded she has the petition in her office and promised to send a copy over. Jean asked if these even appeared before Planning Board. Tamara responded wearing her Planning Board hat that it didn’t. But Planning Board is doing research and discussing these articles. Randy then turned to Selectboard endorsements. Hugh was generally in favor of all the articles. Stacey noted she is unclear as to whether this will pass muster since it hasn’t followed the normal zoning process. The Attorney General may not approve it. Wayne noted this was modeled off what several other towns have done. She was not taking a position, just stressing that it is possible that because the steps ordinarily taken as part of the Planning Board process haven’t been taken it could fail review. Jean noted it hasn’t been vetted by the board responsible for zoning and she suggested it be given greater consideration. The main sponsor of the petition is a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. There was discussion as to whether the Planning Board was even asked to consider this. Tamara responded it wasn’t. Randy reminded that even if the AG invalidates it, it gives us a feel for what the town wants and it could always be redone through Planning Board. Randy returned to the Selectboard’s decision on endorsement. The Selectboard can take the position of having no position. Hugh was in favor of support. Randy agreed. He then turned to Article 39. This relates to taxes connected to Article 38. The town would be allowed to tax for short term rentals. He felt if Article 38 is to be supported then Article 39 should be as well. Hugh agreed. Wayne noted the Assessors agree with Article 39 in the event Article 38 passes. Randy asked Claire about Finance Committees position. She responded that the committee has not had a chance to consider these two articles. Finance Committee will have its own endorsements on articles as appropriate. It was therefore agreed that the Selectboard endorses the ATM Warrant in total.

Review of FY22 Appointments List

Randy noted that this is just to allow discussion. Appointments will be approved and signed at the end of June. Nancy submitted that the appointments slips will be ready for end of June. Cam noted he has some appointments as Town Moderator and noted he will make his appointments at the same time.

Street Sweeping / Playground Concerns & Other Emailed Concerns from Lisa Finestone

Nancy reported that there is a bidding process through FRCOG. Stacey recalled that this used to be done by Presidents Day weekend. Nancy responded that the town used to have the ability to get the sweeper and run it itself. But now with liability issues we have to have a special driver and that’s why the FRCOG program was established and a lot of towns need this. Stacey asked how long the town has done this through FRCOG. Nancy responded it’s been about 4-5 years. Wayne reminded that winter often endures in New England through late April. Lisa then reported on an item at the playground that needs repair. Tamara promised that Recreation Committee would take a look at the item in question. Lisa then asked about a stonewall in town that needs repair and how to address it. Hugh reminded damage can happen as a result of weather. Frost heaves, falling tree branches, and so forth. Wayne was reluctant to have the work done by the Highway Dept. Tamara agreed. This is a special type of stone work and suggested a few people who could conduct repairs. Randy reminded that a fix could also have other implications such as potential changes to the wall. Nancy submitted that the town may not have the funds. So we should obtain reasonable estimates and if we do have a STM in the fall it could go before that. That would be the answer in the short term. Randy agreed noting that fixing the wall poses its own questions and those have to be asked as well. Regardless research should continue on how to address the matter. Lisa then turned to Town Common and Fay Field. There are some outstanding questions about the soil and what’s happening. She noted some contacts and inquiries she’s made and it appears that we may be able to get a consultation from an expert but the town has to make the requests. It appeared possible that follow up can occur and the person would likely be affiliated with UMASS Amherst. The Selectboard was comfortable with having someone take a look.

North Quabbin Community Coalition Request to Locate Signs on Town Property

Nancy reported on the request. The Selectboard was not opposed with the placement and approved the request.

South Main Street Property

Stacey asked about further deliberations on actions to be taken regarding the Weathersby property next to her house on Main Street. Nancy elaborated that the property is still in process as the proper paperwork needs to be received from the Land Court. Stacey asked that any action taken be taken with great discussion as the building is historical in part dating to the 1700’s and she would hate to see it just torn down. This would be the core of the building not the addition which has its roof falling in. It was noted the Town Treasurer would be the custodian of it until such time it was turned over to the town at a town meeting. Wayne asked about long term maintenance. Stacey had no position on that at this stage but asked that the town not rush to dispose of it. Jean stressed that if the building is a danger it could be taken down despite its historic status. But she suggested consulting Town Counsel. Stacey outlined some of the history of the building and how it’s been moved. It used to sit between her house and another neighbor and was moved to its current location between her house and the Town Hall.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for April 5, 2021, April 20, 2021, and May 4, 2021.

Wayne made a motion to accept all the minutes of April 5 and April 20, 2021. Randy seconded and the motion passed by majority vote with Hugh abstaining due to not being a member at the time.

A motion was made by Hugh to accept the minutes of May 4, 2021. Wayne seconded and they passed unanimously.

A motion to adjourn at 9:20 pm was made by Randy. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk