Town of New Salem Selectboard
March 23, 2020
Held Virtually via FreeConferenceCall.com
Convened: 7:00 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; David Cramer, Planning Board;
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
- Payroll & Vendor Warrants
- Appointment Slip for Historical Commission
Joe Cuneo started off by providing an update on the COVID-19 situation. Hospitals are in the direst need for supplies and everyone is working hard at the Commonwealth level on this. Wayne then offered several N95 masks he had. Joe thanked him and noted they can be kept in reserve. Jean asked about the masks, noting there are a lot of questions regarding the effectiveness of masks at this stage. Joe responded that the general public wearing masks aren’t really recommended unless you are already sick and trying not to spread the virus to others. What type of mask that should be worn in some cases depends on the situation and the nature of the call. It’s a bit complicated and there’s a lot that goes along with it. Essentially the N95 mask by normal standards have to be fit tested. The town only has two sizes in stock, so they have to do just in time fit testing. That’s the best that can be hoped for at the moment given the nature of the emergency and lack of supplies. In the meantime, he reported he has on order the N100 which is a finer filter. Jean asked about the steps being taken for minimizing risk of exposure of first responders. Joe answered that in some detail explaining how each situation is handled. Randy noted that we are at the point of doing preventive things and we want to stay that way as long as possible. Joe agreed noting that most of the cases in Franklin County are in Greenfield. It is still likely we’ll get cases closer to New Salem, but that hasn’t happened yet. Wayne asked how many cases there are in Greenfield. Joe responded that the information is a bit spotty. Likely 5-6 cases countywide. But it is so fluid and could be higher. The assumption has to be that the number will increase daily. Jean asked about how the determinations are being made given some concerns with the reliability of testing. Joe responded that when performed correctly to protocol the test appears rather reliable. The testing itself is still being reserved for those presenting positive symptoms. On another note, priority is being given to first responders who demonstrate symptoms. That hasn’t been put fully in place yet, but it is a priority. He noted that currently the Board of Health is first to be reported to of any cases in town and then they share with first responders. He finished his report there.
Jean reported on her discussions with the Library Director regarding several items. She told the Library which items would be of use to the rest of the town. There are four tables in particular that would be useful. There are some bookcases that might be of use. There is also a filing cabinet that could be utilized. The bookcases are the least likely. Nancy noted that the Library would like to dispose of the items in a silent auction, but obviously that cannot be done soon so the Library is asking if they can store them in the Town Hall. It was stressed that it would not be for long and it’s not a far trip down the street to store them temporarily. The Library will be getting some new furniture to replace it. Randy asked when the Library intends to re-open. Nancy was unclear but noted the furniture was already pre-ordered prior to the current situation. Randy offered that he could potentially assist, but would need to know when the Library plans to do this. Nancy offered to assist in coordination. It was agreed that temporary storage of the items in the Town Hall would be fine.
Personnel Board Update
Jean reported on her attendance of the last Personnel Board meeting. The Personnel Board is asking for guidance. They have concerns about succession planning on a number of fronts and how the town will replace key employees. They are not sure what their role in this is and are asking for clarification from the Selectboard. The Personnel Board has concerns about equity in various roles. They mostly want guidance on policies, annual evaluations, and the like. They need to know what is expected of them and their role. They have asked Jean to report back with any guidance. Nancy suggested when things are back to normal to invite Personnel Board to attend a Selectboard meeting. Jean suggested the Selectboard could go to their next planned meeting. Wayne noted the typical thing is for the Selectboard to invite them to the Selectboard’s meeting. Jean suggested the Selectboard set out the goal of responding to these questions from the Personnel Board. Randy responded that given circumstances its likely better to wait. New Salem is a small town and not extremely attractive to new hires as it often only looking for people to be part time. The question really is does the Personnel Board have any ideas to add to this discussion. The town is struggling on a number of personnel fronts and he was unsure if the point is to express general worry or not. It seems like nobody knows how to solve this yet. Jean responded that the Personnel Board needs to fully understand their purpose. They put things out to boards, committees, and commissions and get varied responses.
Wayne suggested putting some distance between those retiring. Meaning not have everyone planning to retire do so at the same. Staggering would be very helpful as would training. Nancy expressed the feeling that with the way the economy is going people may delay their retirement plans.
Randy noted that the town has been kind of stuck on the concept of employee evaluations for a while. Years ago the Selectboard filled out forms for various departments, rating employees, and so forth. Employees would fill out similar forms and the process was murky as it was hard for the Selectboard to rate such employees. So employees would often generally say they did a great job and the process often wasn’t meaningful. So the implication was the Selectboard would have to agree with that or be put in the position of arguing the opposite. The Fire Chief has put forward a more narrative process in the past, which makes sense. Nancy noted that if the Personnel Board is looking for something to help with, they could revamp the evaluation forms and work towards a better evaluation process. The prior forms were clearly not the answer. It was agreed that the Personnel Board should consider that, but Nancy felt it important to have a conversation with the Selectboard so that they don’t wander off and create a new process that isn’t what the town is looking for. Nancy stressed that employees need feedback, but it seems hard to tie that to any raise given the fiscal constrains of the town. Wayne agreed noting the town often cannot afford to give more than a COLA anyway so trying to tie things to performance seems counterintuitive. It was agreed that this will have to be dealt with after this crisis has lessened.
Historical Commission Appointment
Historical Commission is requesting Lisa DeWitt be appointed to the commission. The Selectboard had no objections to her appointment. There was also a request to have Amy Fagin appointed to the Solid Waste Committee.
A motion was made by Jean and seconded by Wayne to make both appointments. The motion passed unanimously.
Procedure to Call Emergency Meetings
Jean had some questions and concerns regarding the declaration of a local state of emergency which was declared at an emergency meeting that was held by the Selectboard. She objected to the notice process for it arguing that she was not given a reasonable time to respond. Wayne recalled that he sent a text about the meeting and didn’t receive a response which he followed up with a phone call which he also didn’t get a response to. He stressed that he made multiple efforts and felt that the vote that resulted was reasonable. Randy agreed with Jean that attempts need to be made to ensure all are aware of such meetings and to avoid these kinds of problems in the future. He stressed that these were most unusual circumstances. We are both in a national emergency and a local emergency. He verified that under law, he as chair has the right to make the determination for a local state of emergency without having to consult with the rest of the Selectboard. Athol and Wendell followed the same precedent. Right now we are trying to be preventative because we want to avoid unnecessary harm to the citizens of the town. He agreed that some sort of mechanism or procedure should be implemented in the future. He also expressed regret that he wasn’t able to reach her. Jean still felt that she did not receive sufficient notice and she disputed that there was an eminent emergency. Reasonable notice does depend on the circumstances, but in her opinion that was lacking here. It appears in her opinion that people got caught up in this and acted too quickly. There was no eminent danger. Randy responded that the information he had and which has been presented contradicts that this isn’t a serious emergency and he felt that in an emergency, if the Emergency Management Director asks for action, a response should occur. This is not fear; it is common sense. Jean noted that ultimately she isn’t opposed to the declaration of a local emergency. Just the process by which this meeting happened. It was noted that the controlling statute is MGL Chapter 30A, Section 20 which lessens the requirement of the 48-hour notice and places notice on a reasonable basis. Additionally, the Governor has by Executive Order lessened many of the Open Meeting Laws provisions. Discussion concluded with agreement to ensure a better process next time.
Governors Orders, Essential Personnel, Shelter in Place
Nancy brought up the various exceptions the Governor has to his order and made recommendations on proceeding. She intends to continue working, but would like the doors to be locked and the Stowell Building closed to the public. It was so agreed with the Selectboard noting that other offices have done the same. The Library, for example, has closed to the public. Randy suggested doing as much from home as possible for employees with as limited as possible work at offices at the moment. Wayne had a question regarding the new phone line for the Stowell Building. Nancy expressed confidence in the lines operation, but agreed to test it to make sure. Randy asked how many people on a regular basis need access for things like mail and bills. Nancy elaborated noting that a number of departments need to be able to access. These include essential departments like Highway and Health. Randy suggested in the meantime that proper signage be put up noticing people of the buildings closure and notifying departments of procedures for access at this stage.
Update on Treasurer’s Email
Randy asked for an update on an email from the Treasurer. Nancy responded that the Accountant still hasn’t submitted his Schedule A to DOR and since he hasn’t done this report which was due in November, they have cut off state aid. This includes everything from Chapter 90 to Cultural Council. If this isn’t taken care of soon the town will have to borrow money to cover it. She has called FRCOG and the director for the accounting program but so far to no avail. This is super important. It is understood the Accountant had surgery, but that was over the summer. Wayne noted he went during the Accountants office hours to see him and he wasn’t there. Nancy noted that he sometimes works remotely if something like internet in town isn’t working well so that could have been the reason for any absence. Nancy then noted that clearly the day to day work is being done, but big things like the Schedule A haven’t. And this not only impacts state aid, it prevents the town from certifying Free Cash. It’s FRCOG’s responsibility to see this done insomuch as the town pays them for this program and they are supposed to manage things. What compounds this problem is that the town doesn’t have a lot of other choices. Something has to give. It was agreed that further action will need to be considered.
Nancy noted she spoke with Bradford Randell recently and informed him that given the current state of emergency this matter is likely to be shelved for the moment. He agreed that it would be prudent for now.
New Salem Art Museum
Wayne expressed some concerns about the current situation. Jean reminded that they are still going through the special permit process with Planning Board. The increase in height of the building, for example, has to do with the installation of an elevator which Planning Board is aware of. Wayne suggested that the use is being substantially changed from what was originally presented. They appear to be moving away from just a small art museum with a small school and live in artist appears to now include large events such as weddings and he had concerns about parking and the septic system. The matter remains pending before Planning Board, so most of these concerns can be addressed in that forum.
The Selectboard considered the minutes from March 9, 2020. The Selectboard determined to table the minutes until their next meeting.
A motion to adjourn at 7:51 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed without objection.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk