Halsey Settles Select Board Open Meeting Complaint

Select Board member John Halsey addressed his open meeting law complaint against the board at the August 21 meeting of the board. According to the complaint, after the June 19 executive session was adjourned and town staff had left the room, board member Vanessa Alvarado insisted on reading a statement to the board regarding her concerns about conduct during a previous executive session. Halsey’s complaint stemmed from the fact that the reading of the statement occurred outside of convened session and was not part of the published reason for the executive session. Halsey filed his complaint on July 9.

Halsey stated that he “Appreciated all the time the other members put into this.” He reported that he received a letter from Town Counsel Rey Miyares on behalf of the board and while he is “respectful of Rey’s work” believes that Miyares’s findings “were a bit out of context.” Halsey then stated that he respected the opinion of the board and that he had achieved his goal given that the board pledged to be more cautious in the future, though he requested that the board meet in executive session as soon as possible to approve the executive session minutes from the meetings in question. Halsey has written the Attorney General of his decision.

Town Manager Robert LeLacheur reported to the board regarding concerns about increasing rodent populations in town. LeLacheur shared that the health agent and the Board of Health were aware of the issue and we’re addressing it. He also shared that only eight complaints had been made to town hall about the issue. “You are not helping us solve the problem if you only post on social media.” LeLacheur declared. “You need to tell us.” LeLacheur also recommended that residents could hire pest control companies themselves to deal with the issue, perhaps partnering with neighbors to get better rates. Chair Andrew Friedmann also recommended that residents avoid “rat-friendly” practices such as pet food left outdoors and not keeping trash secured. LeLacheur also shared that compost bins and unmowed lawns provided habitats for the rodents. He restated that if there was a severe issue, “please contact town.”

Friedmann announced Select Board liaisons to the neighborhoods with major construction projects in their vicinity. These liaisons are members of the board that residents can contact if there are questions or concerns about the projects. Alvarado is the liaison for the Gould Street project. Dan Ensminger is the liaison for the Woburn Street apartments. Barry Berman is the liaison for the Lakeview/Eaton project and the Sunoco station project on Main Street. Friedmann is the point of contact for the Lincoln/Prescott Street project, and Halsey for the Postmark project on Haven Street.

Friedmann also led a discussion regarding how to better manage liaison assignments if there are difficulties. This stemmed from concerns with Halsey as the former liaison to the Recreation Committee. On April 17, the committee drafted a letter to the Select Board requesting that Halsey should be removed as their liaison. Though the letter was not sent, the former chair of the committee met with former acting Select Board chair Berman two weeks later to discuss the issue. Berman, in his role, decided that the best course of action was to appoint a second liaison, allowing Halsey to recuse himself if needed. “If they decided to ask for a change, they would have sent the letter.” Berman reasoned. The second liaison was added at a May 15 Select Board executive session. Several board members indicated that they were not aware of the letter when asked to appoint a second liaison. Friedmann also indicated that Halsey had threatened a lawsuit against the committee on June 12. Halsey took exception to Friedmann’s assertion stating that he never “threatened” to sue and this was recorded in the minutes of the Recreation Committee meeting.

Board member Dan Ensminger indicated that he had several suggestions on how the Select Board policies could be modified to address potential issues in the future. Ensminger and Friedmann will develop the language for presentation to the full board.

Traffic Consultant Alison Fletcher made a presentation regarding updated downtown parking statistics and recommendations. Fletcher reported that there are 3,400 parking spaces in the downtown area, 2,000 of them off-street spaces. During the busiest periods, only about half the available spaces downtown are occupied, Fletcher stated. While this should be sufficient, directing people to where the spaces are located is the challenge in that many people will decide that there is no parking if they cannot park directly in front of their intended destination. Short term recommendations include expanding the employee permit program, extending limits in some areas to three hours, and updating signage. Medium term recommendations add expanding the walking network, creating additional on-street parking, and exploring shared parking agreements with the owners of private lots in the area. Long term, Fletcher recommended that the town explore adding parking meters, increasing the price of employee permits, and looking at an improved circulation of cars in the downtown area. The board invited members of the business community to an economic development meeting on October 17 where these ideas will be discussed further.

The board approved an amplified sound permit for the Saturday Night Lights program by a vote of 5-0. It tabled discussion of a moratorium on non-emergency gas work permits in town until the National Grid lockout of steelworkers is resolved. Although Town Counsel offered the opinion that the Select Board did not have the authority to restrict the permits, Alvarado provided a statute that seemed to suggest otherwise. The board decided to table the issue to its September 11 meeting after town council could weigh in again on the issue.

The board previewed the November Town Meeting warrant and referred the sale of town-owned property on Brook Street to Town Meeting by a vote of 5-0. There was also a discussion regarding the board’s goals for the coming year. Friedmann indicated that he had invited stakeholders to come to a meeting to offer input and ideas on actions that could be taken regarding anti-semitic graffiti discovered in town.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:40 pm.

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