Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 August 10, 2020

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; David Cramer, Planning Board; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Jen Potee, Board of Health; Dan Hammock, New Salem Academy; Gail Spring, Animal Control Officer; Carla Halpern, School Committee; Dan Keller, Town of Wendell Selectboard; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; Jackson Goddard; Genie Gunn Casey; David Skillicorn

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Primary Election Warrant

Discussion Items

New Salem Academy Trustees with Update on Old Academy Building

Dan started off by providing some history. The town decided in the 1930’s to buy buildings and land from the New Salem Academy. The sale price funded the Academy’s endowment and allowed it to transform itself into a charitable organization. He noted that the Academy has always attempted to stay generous and stay out of town politics, although, many Trustees do take part in local politics. Starting in the 1980’s the Trustees asked for financial and legal advice which resulted in good investments. This coupled with frugality has helped keep the Academy alive and resulted in many scholarships and grants to New Salem residents. The Academy has given back close to $500,000 in grants and scholarships over the existence of its charitable work. Dan noted that the Academy does its best to keep its bills low in order to fund those charitable activities. Now the Trustees have paid rent, close to $15,000 over the last number of years. The Academy has not always been able to use the Old Academy Building for a variety of reasons such as bats, paint problems, mold problems, and now of course the pandemic. To that end the Academy has a number of plans for the future for use of the building. They therefore wish to take some steps to enhance the building including the use of cameras and the establishment of security at the building. To that end, the Academy needs a broadband connection. He noted that the building is a town owned building and asked about the whether or not broadband could be provided to that building as it is to other town buildings, for free, rather than the Academy having to pay for the connection and resulting services.

He asked the Selectboard and the MLP Board to consider this request. Nancy briefly interjected to say that the MLP is a separately elected board and it would be the board to make such a decision. No matter how much the Selectboard might like to support this request, the MLP Board would be the authority to make this request to. Dan acknowledged this fact having not been aware of it prior to asking to be on the Selectboard’s agenda. Jean submitted that it is always good to hear about the good work of the Academy. In two decades of work in New Salem she has always been amazed at the Academy’s generosity. She also thanked them Dan for coming to the meeting and talking about future plans for use of the building. She then asked about an article relating to the Old Academy Building which was on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant. Nancy responded that discussion should be had with the Town Accountant about that article and the availability of any funds resulting from it. Randy suggested consultation with the Town Clerk as well. He also clarified that any rent received for the Old Academy Building goes right back into the maintenance of that building. This includes the maintenance of the elevator in the building and the existing alarm system. Jean had a question about shifting the towns alarm system from a phone line to a broadband connection. Randy interjected to suggest that the best authority on that would be Fire Chief Cuneo. Discussion concluded there.

Appointment of Melissa Burke to Fill School Committee Vacancy

Carla began by providing the Selectboard with the School Committees recommendation and nomination of Melissa Burke to fill the existing vacancy. The vote to do so was unanimous. Randy noted that Melissa has served in this capacity on this committee before and has done a terrific job. Jean concurred. It was agreed to proceed with the appointment.

A motion was made by Jean to appoint Melissa Burke to fill the vacancy on the School Committee until the next Annual Town Election. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

Police Succession Planning – Update on Wendell’s Plans

Dan started off by thanking New Salem for participating with Wendell’s planning on this matter. This partnership made the grant funding possible and provided the towns with information that was much needed. The committee on this has been meeting regularly and pretty quickly was able to focus on roughly three options. Of those options it was determined that the idea of contracting with a contiguous town for police services was the best. Leverett is willing to provide such services to Wendell and as a result Wendell has been seriously considering the matter. This would basically be the hiring of Leverett to be Wendell’s police. Such an agreement would help all parties to build a more robust and responsive police force. Dan then asked the Selectboard whether New Salem would be interested in joining in an arrangement with Leverett. Randy responded by asking about distance for Leverett. Dan felt that they would be willing and able to address that. The three towns are contiguous with the exception being the hole in the middle that its Shutesbury. However, Shutesbury might be persuadable to joining such an effort. Certainly Leverett would like to see that happen. David Skillicorn asked whether Shutesbury has been approached. Dan responded that they have, but it’s been a few years. The last time Wendell asked they weren’t interested, but again it was a while ago and they may have a different view now. David Skillicorn asked about economies of scale that make this attractive.

Dan responded that Leverett has given Wendell numbers on what it would have to contribute and these numbers are looking very good to Wendell’s Finance Committee. Randy asked about paperwork burdens and other considerations like gun licensing and evidence storage. Dan was not able to answer all of those elements, but provided some tentative thinking by Wendell as to how they would handle things. They would likely continue to have some sort of issuance of permits and other related services at a satellite office that would be in Wendell. Sort of a subsidiary of the combined department. David Skillicorn asked what the timeline.  Dan responded that the timing is based on Wendell’s Police Chief’s retirement. So the next step for Wendell is for this succession planning committee to make a recommendation to its Selectboard. Nancy submitted that Wendell could proceed without New Salem and New Salem could join later after our Chief retires. David Skillicorn asked about police officer retention. Dan responded that the Leverett Police Chief has committed to retaining officers as much as possible. Wayne asked about any interviews or actions taken toward hiring a new Police Chief. Dan responded that the succession planning committee has focused on the agreement with Leverett. Wayne asked about cruiser allocation and other equipment. Dan noted this is still very early, but the towns might transfer any existing equipment to Leverett to augment it. Randy concluded discussion by saying that New Salem remains interested, but there is still time. It was agreed to remain in touch and for both towns to continue working together.

Language for Proposed Dog By-Law for Special Town Meeting

Randy noted a few date issues on licensure that the Animal Control Officer brought up. Jean responded that she’s spoken with the ACO and felt confident that it has been addressed. Gail noted that she is good to go on this assuming all other interested parties are on board. Randy then asked Nancy about publication of the draft by-law. Nancy agreed to get the draft copy to the New Salem News. Further discussion could be had at the end of the next Selectboard meeting for people to ask questions. It was agreed that having this out in public discourse for a while before any town meeting to adopt it would be beneficial. Wayne noted in particular that this could help keep the vote to up or down and to avoid long discussion at the actual town meeting. Jean generally agreed noting that this is why she has spent a lot of time crafting this. Almost every single provision has been discussed and considered with a multitude of parties.

Set Date for Special Town Meeting

Nancy asked the Selectboard about setting a date for a Special Town Meeting. Obviously this should be done on a weekend and during daytime so as to facilitate the best conditions for a town meeting in the age of COVID-19. She recommended September 12. Randy asked about the items. Aside from the Dog By-Law changes there are some prior year bills that need to be addressed, there may be some action to take in regards to Mahar since the Proposition 2 ½ Override in Orange failed. There may also be other housekeeping items to take care of as well. Randy asked how soon the date could be set. Nancy submitted that it could be done soon, but she still needs to consult with the Town Clerk to ensure the Clerk is available. Randy asked about limits for attendance. Nancy responded that town meetings are the one singular exception to the current limits on gatherings.

Picnic Tables at the Overlook

Nancy reported on a complaint about the moving of the picnic tables. There have been problems with the tables being stolen in the past and so some residents have asked that they be chained. Wayne noted that they have been chained in the past. That said people have been able to move them despite the bolting and chaining of them. Randy submitted that the chain and bolt before was clearly insufficient and suggested that a better solution be found. Wayne noted that as a result of the pandemic the tables should be kept apart. It would make sense to keep them together for chaining and bolting under normal circumstances, but the pandemic makes that unwise so they should be kept apart.

Use of Town Hall over Winter

Nancy asked the Selectboard about use of the Town Hall. The Town Clerk has asked the town to consider not closing the Town Hall this winter in the event a Special Town Meeting is necessary. This year’s heating fuel costs are at a nearly historic low so keeping it functional wouldn’t be cost prohibitive. Wayne expressed some misgivings as the space isn’t very big and with social distancing would likely only be able to hold 16 people. Nancy responded that the Annex wouldn’t be large enough, and it would be unlikely that any other indoor space would be big enough. Wayne asked about possibly meeting at Swift River Elementary. Jean noted that the school is not in favor of that, they are concerned even with parents entering the building. Randy submitted that we have time before this decision has to ultimately be made. It was agreed to revisit this at a later time.

Weekly Update from Selectboard Members

Randy updated on some discussion from the recent Planning Board hearing for the Barletta project. It has been recommended that Planning Board have Town Counsel review any resulting Special Permit. There should be no question of authorization and so he suggested the Selectboard make that clear. Wayne asked that any cost incurred resulting thereof be passed on to the applicant. He was confident that this would be legal. David Skillicorn expressed the belief that this has precedent. The community has spoken fairly clearly with a lot of points to consider. This is so unprecedented and unusual for the town and so this really requires that there be professional assistance with this. He strongly encouraged that this be done through Town Counsel. Randy clarified that no decisions are being made here by the Selectboard. Any terms of who pays for what or what can be recouped is a different matter. Right now the only question is how comfortable the Selectboard is with allowing the Planning Board to have this assistance. Wayne felt it clearly prudent and expressed the feeling Planning Board could use the help. Jean expressed support for this as well. She noted the property owner’s lawyer has expressed interest in working with Town Counsel on this subject. David Cramer then briefly outlined his thoughts and noted that he was unsure about the recouping of costs. David Skillicorn submitted this might be a simple question to put to Town Counsel. To him the value of this is clear. This has to be done anyway, so the town should proceed and the issue of recouping costs can be considered later. David Cramer was in favor of the option being given to Planning Board. It was agreed that the consensus of the Selectboard was to acknowledge and authorize access by Planning Board to consult with Town Counsel.

Board of Health Update

Randy started by noting he’s heard from some residents with concerns about people observing proper social distancing and with that asked Jen about any update from Board of Health. Jen reiterated that social distancing must happen and mask wearing should also be done as well. Other than that she didn’t have anything else to report. Randy noted we’ve had many cases in Massachusetts and we want to keep the town’s cases low. This is simple and involves courtesy and respect for one’s fellow citizens as there is a safety issue due to the pandemic. Jen reiterated that Board of Health will not tolerate any infractions regarding mask wearing and social distancing and has been empowered by the Commonwealth on this matter. Lisa submitted that this starts from the top. Town officials should be the example and community leaders should follow. David Skillicorn asked Jen about enforcement and what that precisely means noting that at the Planning Board hearing there was a kafuffle about a resident who didn’t wear a mask. Jen responded that this is the result of the Governor’s orders and if you cannot wear a mask you must social distance by no less than 6 feet. If there is an individual with a health condition or disability, they have legal rights that are recognized by the Governor but they must still observe the 6 feet distance. Randy noted that the Governor’s orders authorize fines and penalties that may be leveled and enforced by the towns Board of Health. The regulations are very clear and there should be no confusion. Jean noted that this involved an outdoor meeting. She reiterated that there is no requirement that masks be worn outdoors when persons are more than 6 feet away. She asserted this is a civil liberty matter as well disability and public accommodations law. Jean said that people who cannot wear masks due to a medical condition cannot be treated differently or discriminated against. The person in question does have a medical reason. David Skillicorn noted for the record that Cam Dunbar was present and as a member of the Board of Health did his best to handle the matter. Randy returned discussion to the point that this is about public health and safety. People must, when attending meetings held in public or other public events, wear masks and observe social distancing. If people do not wear masks they must observe the social distancing of no less than 6 feet. Discussion concluded there.

Primary Election Warrant

Nancy presented the Selectboard with the warrant for the Primary Election. This warrant is required by the Commonwealth which otherwise calls the primary and sets the date. The Selectboard saw no reason not to sign the primary warrant and determined to do so.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for July 13 which were tabled at the last meeting. It was agreed to approve them and to table the minutes from July 27.  

Wayne made a motion to approve the minutes for July 13. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:13 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk