HANSON — The Board of Selectmen welcomed the town’s first female fire officer Tuesday, June 19 with the official swearing-in of Lt. Sherilyn Mullin, who has been working in that capacity since May 8.
After the ceremony, Selectmen approved a marijuana application process designed to protect the town until a bylaw article on recreational cannabis can be voted on at next May’s annual Town Meeting and Town Election.
Lt. Mullin fills the vacancy created when Dept. Chief Robert O’Brien was promoted to that rank.
Under the department’s collective bargaining agreement, the promotion process requires that applicants score 70 percent or higher on a written exam, followed by an assessment center involving exercises in a fire problem and a structured interview.
Seven members of the Hanson Fire Department participated in the promotion process, according to Chief Jerome Thompson Jr.
“Although we only had one position available, I believe that those members in our department benefitted by taking the time to study the materials and prepare themselves for the process,” he said. “She has been a great addition to our command staff. Lt. Mullin will be the first female fire officer to serve the town of Hanson.”
A native of Abington and a 2006 graduate of Abington High School, Mullin holds a bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State University in 2010. She then trained in EMS and became a paramedic and was hired as a full-time Hanson firefighter/paramedic in 2015. Mullin is a graduate of Mass. Firefighting Academy Class No. 234.
Her fiancé Sean Malley pinned on her badge after Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan administered the oath of office to Mullin.
Town Counsel Katherine Feodoroff briefed Selectmen on the cannabis policy and bylaw process before the board voted 5-0 to approve the policy.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked about how the policy protects the town.
“If people vote yes [on the Town Meeting warrant] then it will go to ballot,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “However, in the interim, we’re talking about having something in place just in case someone comes forward. We don’t want to be left out in the cold without having something that we at least can manage the process until we get to Town Meeting.”
The new article — proposed after this year’s Town Meeting approved a zoning bylaw to allow siting of all recreational marijuana establishments within certain areas of town — would seek to ban retail marijuana sales.
Selectman Jim Hickey asked for simpler language on the ballot question so residents better understand how to vote their opinions.
The article, Feodoroff said, makes it clear an affirmative vote is required at both Town Meeting and on the election ballot, but agreed the ballot language can be difficult to understand.
“To me, it could be confusing to a voter because if all someone is thinking is, ‘I do not want marijuana in Hanson,’ they’re going to vote no,” Hickey said. “But [a no vote] is actually confirming a vote to have marijuana in Hanson. Can that question be simplified?”
Feodoroff said legislation requires the text of the bylaw on the ballot, but said the style of the question and its summary can be changed for clarity.
“You’re asking if the town wants this bylaw,” she said. “You want to make sure everyone votes and their vote is then counted in way they expect it to be counted.”
Feodoroff outlined the procedures applicants would be required to follow under the policy.
“What you want to do, because it’s not necessarily spelled out in the law, what the order should be in terms of local approvals, so you want to create a policy like this,” Feodoroff said. “That’s for every type of establishment, including your retailers, your cultivators, your manufacturers and your testing facilities, because all of them are required by law to execute a host community agreement.”
Such an agreement must be executed by would-be businesses before they can even apply to the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) for a license to operate.
The agreement requires submission of a letter of intent to Selectmen identifying the type of special permit sought, with copies sent to the Police Department. Applicants must then hold a community outreach meeting in accordance with state regulations and broadcast by local cable access TV.
Applicants must obtain a special permit from the Board of Selectmen and site plan approval, providing Selectmen with a synopsis of the community meeting, copies of the special permit/site plan vote and draft application of intent and supporting documents. They must also present a proposed draft of a host community agreement, which Feodoroff said town counsel can help with.
“One of the impacts that you’re going to find is the Board of Health is going to have to ramp up because they are now the inspection agency,” Feodoroff said. “Where, with medical [marijuana] it was under DPH and not the purview of the Board of Health, so we’re going to have to do training — we’re going to have to think about staffing, depending on the number of establishments that are planning on siting in Hanson.”
Police will also require additional training, she said.
The town can lock in a dollar amount in fees, rather than a 3-percent tax over the sales tax, but Feodoroff said the town should not do so at this time, because the 3-percent figure could represent a higher amount.
“When you have a general bylaw in place, there’s no grandfathering [of existing businesses], unlike zoning bylaws, which have a grandfather component,” Feodoroff said. “But what we have proposed for this Town Meeting is both a general and a zoning bylaw.”
She said Attorney General Maura Healy has recommended both kinds of bylaws to avoid cases where general bylaws were invalidated because courts saw a failure of proper procedure to pass them. Zoning bylaws require a two-thirds majority to pass after protectionary procedures.
“If both measures pass and aren’t challenged or are challenged and not properly defended, there’s no grandfathering,” Feodoroff said. “So it is complicated and there are risks in this kind of interim period.”