Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 June 28, 2021

Town Hall, New Salem, MA

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Joe Camden, Chief of Police; Stacey Senflug, Town Clerk; Carla Halpern, Village Ultra; Brendan Kuntz; Tamara Conde, Cemetery Commission;

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Cemetery Deed

Discussion Items

Village Ultra 2021

Carla started by thanking the Selectboard for hearing her. For the past four years she’s organized this event on in and around the Town Common. They fundraise for an important cause each year and this year they’re back. The Village Ultra is a 24-hour event starting at 6 pm the Saturday before Labor Day and running to 6 pm the next Sunday. Anyone can participate and can do as little as one lap or stay the full 24 hours. Plenty of people do it for 12 hours or 10 hours. It is more of a running event and is not really a competitive race. The cause this year will be the Trevor Project. That organization provides mental health and suicide prevention for GLBT youth. In the past they’ve also had an aid station by the Fire Station with first aid, beverages, and other needs. They collect all trash and recycling and leave nothing behind. In 2020 participants were asked to bring their own refreshments and take home their own trash and recycling. The event consists of 4 different courses which she briefly outlined. These include courses like around the Town Common and down South Main Street to the Quabbin gate and back. She further asked, for this year, to have use of the Town Hall bathroom facilities. Hugh asked if there is a backup plan for the aid station. Carla responded there is only one station. Hugh clarified if an accident happened if there is any other plan. Carla responded that all participants sign liability waivers similar to the Rabbit Run. That said, they focus on safety and fun and have not yet to date had any incidents. Typically, there is someone with some medical experience involved, including a nurse whose been part of the event in the past. Participants are also encouraged to bring first aid supplies and other accoutrements that they might need. If someone were to get heat exhaustion or to injure themselves, they would contact appropriate services. If it was minor like a sprain, etc. then other participants would help best they could and decisions would be made on any further treatment should the injured party wish. Hugh thanked Carla noting his only concern was to ensure that there was a plan. Randy suggested some proper signage so that the public isn’t confused and is clear this event is approved. He also asked that the aid station be cleared with the Fire Chief to ensure he’s good with its location and comfortable with it in general. Carla noted the only other event typically that coincides is church services on that Sunday, but there have been no issues. Randy then asked that something be put out in the New Salem News to notify the public as well. This should be done at an appropriate time in advance to the date. Hugh had minor concerns about Nancy’s departure and the transition to ensure that her replacement is aware of the event. Carla felt it something she could easily rectify by providing the appropriate announcement to the Selectboard for placement in the New Salem News. It was so agreed. Joe Camden noted he had some signs that she could use for the parking part of things. Carla thanked him for his assistance.

A motion to approve the event was made by Wayne and seconded by Hugh. The motion passed by majority vote with Randy abstaining.

Fire Department Concerns from Brendan Kuntz

Brendan spoke briefly to explain his concerns. He’s had difficulty relating to obtaining burn permits. He couldn’t understand why he’s come under, in his opinion, rather myopic attention by the department. He elaborated on why he is doing the burns. It’s to clear land for agricultural use. He doesn’t like other options like chipping due to environmental issues. He was willing to pay any necessary fees. Randy asked about obtaining burn permits. Brendan responded that permits aren’t issued after April 15. Randy responded that the law sets a legal period for issuance of the permits and the department cannot issue beyond it. Brendan responded that he’s not asking for the town to ignore the law. the law says if it is being done for agricultural purposes he can do it, but the town could fine him. He’s happy to pay fines, happy to pay for firefighters to be present, but wishes to continue. Hugh asked about agricultural designation noting his own experiences. Wayne reminded the town is right to farm, but cautioned Brendan on the dry weather and the danger for forest fires. He agreed agricultural has more leeway for burns, but this is about public safety. Hugh returned to the designation. Brendan noted he could get a designation, but he has to have enough land open for use. Stacey asked about whether the Commonwealth’s Fire Marshal could be consulted. Perhaps they could provide guidance. Randy agreed that could be done, but noted reports from 9 visits by Fire Dept. alleged other burns beyond just agricultural and there was damage to power lines. Brendan disagreed with this and responded that the power line issue was from a tree he cut down. Hugh went over the report on the down powerline. The cited cause was an unpermitted burn that extended to a standing dead tree which was felled to prevent the fire from further spread. The report notes that a verbal warning was issued and that firefighters extinguished the fire.

Brendan responded by claiming the report to be one sided and further claimed he had a permit for that particular burn. Hugh responded that even with a permit it has to be done by 4 pm. Reports were that the fire burned through the night. Brendan responded that it was only embers, otherwise it was extinguished. Hugh expressed the opinion that there is no harassment by the Fire Dept. and that the department is doing its job. Randy noted that we have a strong Fire Chief which grants him much authority under MGL. He further elaborated that the Fire Chief also has the authority to determine if the burn is truly for agricultural purposes or not. The town does not wish a citizen to feel persecuted, but this appears to be proper action by the Fire Dept. Additionally the evidence appears to be that even after warnings were given action to burn continued. Had he come to the town in the beginning, or at least after the first warning, the response might be different. Brendan responded by alleging that the calls in for his fires are by members of the department and claimed that there is an economic incentive for them to do so. Wayne interjected to ask if this could simply become a seasonal event. Cuttings in summer with burn piles made and burns done in the ordinary season. Brendan felt that impractical for his property. Randy returned to the allegation that the department’s personnel are making the calls. He asserted there to be no evidence of that. Rather to his mind, there is the appearance of noncompliance. He then asked if any consultation has been had with DEP. Brendan responded he’s personally tried to get answers from them for his agricultural burns, but has been unable to. Hugh noted that the burn period is roughly 4 months. Randy asked if Brendan has typically gotten burn permits. He responded that he does when he can obtain them. Only when they aren’t issued has he not obtained the burns. Wayne asked if there have ever been any denials. Brendan responded that when he has applied, he hasn’t been denied. Brendan conceded he’s willing to accept that he may not obtain this request here. Hugh stressed that if there is a basis for the agricultural burns to occur outside of the burn period otherwise provided by law, he’s fine with that. But if not, then any burns outside of the burn period cannot be permitted. Further the strong allegation of harassment is concerning with an absence of evidence. Stacey noted as a resident of the town for nearly 30 years, to her knowledge all those who serve in the department do so out of love for the town not any pay they might receive. They don’t make a lot. Few to no town officials make a lot. Randy felt the bottom line was that if there are legal exceptions, they can be used, but if not then the law must be followed. Brendan withdrew his request and departed.

Notice of Intent Not to Exercise Option Under MGL Chapter 61

Nancy reported on this topic and briefly updated Hugh on the procedures for Chapter 61, including the release portion. She then gave a brief overview of the property and its status. The town has a right to first refusal for land taken out of Chapter status, but has to buy it. Thus, unless the town wishes to spend money to purchase the land the decision is to not exercise the option.

A motion was made by Wayne to forego exercising the option under Chapter 61. The motion as seconded by Hugh and passed unanimously.

MIIA Response Regarding Skateboard Equipment on Tennis Court

Nancy reported on MIIA’s observance of the status of the Tennis Court with the ramps. The agent recommends taking the ramps down as leaving them poses a liability to the town and sends the message to those who placed them that the town approves them. This is further sustained by the current status of the Tennis Courts which need some TLC. Randy recommended attempts be made to determine who owns the ramps in order to request their removal rather than the town simply dispose of them. It is unfortunate that these must come down as the town is otherwise happy to see recreational facilities used, but the town cannot sustain a liability here. Hugh agreed that an opportunity to remove them should be presented. Randy noted that on the side of the ramps they have a tag of some sort on them. So that may help identify whose they are.

FY22 Appointments

Nancy presented the Selectboard with appointments. It was agreed as a matter of procedure to sign those that are approved of and to put aside any that the Selectboard wished to hold. Randy went over the process to refresh everyone present. We approve those that are uncontroversial, and we discuss those where there are questions such as to the person to be appointed or the term length. Stacey took a moment go over her requested appointments for elections which weren’t up that evening. She elaborated that most of the positions will stay the same, such as the Elections Warden, but she wanted to refine the list a bit more before those appear before the Selectboard. Randy then turned to questions about mailing of appointments. Nancy responded by outlining how she delivers them and when she mails or when she delivers to department boxes and so forth. Randy asked about the Regional Transit Authority representative position. He has served in this position, but sadly discussion often revolves around services that don’t translate into anything for New Salem. Hugh asked if the town must have a representative. Nancy responded that the town has to have someone and if no one is appointed it automatically becomes the chair of the Selectboard. Hugh agreed to take the position. There was a question about a cemetery Sexton. The job is vacant. Joe Camden noted a few candidates who might be interested. There were also vacancies in the Surveyor of Lumber or Fence Viewer positions. Nancy then reported on a maneuver by the towns Custodian in anticipation of his retirement. He’s leaving his job at Swift River Elementary, but will keep the town. He’ll need to resign from the town for a day when he retires and then be re-appointed. Randy then turned discussion to a few appointments of concern to him. Some committees haven’t been functioning to the level they should be and it is in most cases due to personalities. He posed the question of whether or not his fellow members would know of residents in town who might join these committees and perhaps be able to turn things around. Wayne expressed concern about ensuring that the process is followed properly. Randy reminded that nobody is entitled to be appointed or re-appointed. The Selectboard has the authority to decide on different candidates then incumbents should it wish to do so for appointments under its purview.

Nancy then provided some historical background on these committees and the appointments. Randy returned to the issue of strong personalities noting that this sometimes prevents new blood from committee work. Certainly we need people with experience to continue working on committees, but there are times when changes should be made. Hugh was fine with making some changes, including not re-appointing some incumbents. Still, he asked for a plan. Nancy interjected to remind that if the committees in question don’t have quorums, they can’t function. She suggested appointing perhaps enough to ensure quorum and allow any other vacancies until suitable persons are found. It was agreed to proceed with changes to be taken at the next meeting. Discussion then shifted to police appointments. Randy reported that talks will be had in the next few weeks with various other towns, such as Orange, Shutesbury, and so forth. They will all be coming in to talk to New Salem about policing. Shutesbury doesn’t currently have a Chief and may wish to discuss possible joint hiring or other plans. Orange has offered the potential for regionalization like Wendell and Leverett have pursued. Thus, the question becomes if this moves forward quickly, such as in a year, what would happen if appointments for police, such as for the Chief’s position, is for a longer term. A lot of questions still remain outstanding with the police reforms passed by the General Court and what those mean for the town. Randy cautioned that none of this may move forward at all either. Joe Camden interjected to note that the officers work here not for the money but for love of the town. As for the reforms, the officers are required to be certified. The officers have to obtain the certifications. Randy responded that the requirements are changing, but many things are in flux. Joe Camden reminded he’s done the job for 33 years and felt that not being reappointed for a normal 3-year term would be a kick to him on his way to retirement. He reiterated his position that the town could accomplish a full time officer with some restructuring rather than seeking regionalization. He stressed that he wants to stay part of the process, no matter what the town decides to do.

Randy noted for the record that there has never been a decision not to re-appoint. The sole question is over the length of term. This question of what to do has been on various agendas since Wendell first approached New Salem to discuss potential options for partnership. Wendell went its own way with Leverett. This leaves New Salem with planning for after retirements occur and what to do in the face of the police reform. He stressed that while the he personally wants to hear Joe’s voice on this, he also wanted to hear others. These are posted open meetings. Decisions to proceed with either be made or not. This is not a lack of appreciation for those on the department now. It is about the future. Hugh stressed research being done before any decision is made. Wayne interjected to say that from what he’s hearing we won’t save any money. He questioned the driving force. Randy responded that we have no formal proposals at this stage and cannot make that determination one way or the other as of yet. We have to look past the people in the jobs now and consider the future. Again this is not about not re-appointing, but rather the term length. We should hear these other towns out now. We don’t know if they’ll be interested in 3 years. We have wonderful devoted people in this department. But all are up for retirement soon and with the police reforms, we have to consider the future. Joe noted for the record he won’t argue with any towns that come in with proposals. He stressed the desire to hear what they have to say and to be part of the conversation. Randy returned to the question of term length again. Wayne proposed a compromise of a two-year appointment. Hugh was comfortable with either a two or three-year term. Randy suggested we must put forward what is best for the town. Not what’s best for the officers. Wayne responded that the public input he’s heard is negative to this and he again questioned the driving force. Randy responded that the driving force is planning for the future. We have multiple towns willing to talk about that future. Making a decision to appoint for 3 years at this stage locks us in. He submitted we should be open to hearing the proposals. Wayne countered that the law allows that such officers, without contract, are at will and we can make the appointment and always change our minds later. It was agreed to proceed with a two-year appointment for most officers and a one year where requested by the department. 

A motion was made by Wayne to appoint the members of the police department to two year terms save one position that is only a one-year appointment. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed unanimously.

Juneteenth Holiday

Nancy reported on this new holiday. Both the Commonwealth and the Federal Government have declared the date as a holiday. There are a lot of different opinions on observance, but most labor counsels are recommending observance of the holiday. Town Counsel recommends this. It’s a holiday like July 4th which falls on the day it falls on and is observed either on the Friday before or Monday after when it falls on a weekend. It was so agreed that this holiday should be observed going forward.

Carry Forward Accounts

Nancy reported on several accounts that various departments have requested carry over or encumbrance on. These have included for Library, Fire Dept., Police Dept., and Historical Commission. Wayne took a moment to ask about an expenditure of funds for trees from Highway Dept. He recalled Tree Committee having funds and wondered why those funds weren’t exhausted first. Jake responded, wearing his Highway Admin hat, that the Highway Chief directed that in his role as Tree Warden so any question as to why those funds under Highway were used first should be directed to him. Randy asked about funds for the Old Academy Building and whether Historical Commission has expended those funds or if those are the funds being carried forward. Nancy promised to look into the matter further. Randy expressed some concern about that work which needs to be done to prevent further water damage and mold. It was also noted that the Library has several projects which have been funded and work has not been commenced. The funds can carry forward either through encumbrance or if by town meeting warrant article automatically carry forward until either expended or modified/rescinded at town meeting.

Next Year’s Memorial Day – Need for Flags, Someone to Put them Out

Nancy reported on a request by the Lyman’s that the town find new volunteers to place the flags and that they’ve notified that the town will need some new flags. Hugh took a moment to ask about mowing at the Town Center Cemetery. Randy noted that the town separated the mowing so now Cam Dunbar mows other town properties like the Town Common and the Cemetery Commission contracts separately for mowing of cemeteries. Hugh then asked about whether the Lyman’s were paid for this specific work. Wayne responded that it was something they volunteered for beyond the work they did mowing. Nancy suggested talking to the Cemetery Commission to see if they have any people in mind who might be willing to help. Meantime she had someone to contact or new flags. She then quickly reported on the mower purchased by Cam for his work. The town got a nice discount on the mower and it was purchased for about $8,000 instead of the list price of $12,000. It’s a zero turn mower as was desired. Joe Camden then interjected to not a few boxes he was aware of that had as of yet unused flags that the town has which could be utilized. Nancy promised to follow up on those to determine suitability.

Cemetery Deed

Nancy briefly reported on the deed from Cemetery Commission. Seeing no issue, the Selectboard signed the deed.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for June 1 & June 14, 2021.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of June 1, 2021. Randy seconded and the motion passed by majority vote with Hugh abstaining.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of June 14, 2021. Randy seconded and the motion passed by majority vote with Hugh abstaining.

A motion to adjourn at 9:22 pm was made by Randy. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk