HANSON — Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert O’Brien Jr., was officially sworn in at the Tuesday, May 1 meeting of the Board of Selectmen — a session in which the board postponed a vote on the revised W-H regional school agreement.
Selectmen opted to wait for town counsel to weigh in on the pact, and plan to vote on it prior to the Monday, May 7 Town Meeting. Whitman Selectmen already approved it as has the School Committee on the legal thumbs-up from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and school district legal counsel.
It was O’Brien’s swearing-in ceremony, however that most of the overflow crowd at the meeting came to see.
Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., noted that former Chief Peter Huska, who gave both he and O’Brien their start on the department, was in attendance.
The deputy chief position has been vacant for several years, Thompson said, adding that call volume has increased in recent years.
O’Brien has been working as deputy chief since March 5.
“As we get to 2,000 a year, we also have had the percentage of multiple calls [at one time] increase,” he said of the need to again appoint a deputy chief. “As this went on we’ve also seen our code enforcement and administrative duties of our department increase. These factors were making it more difficult for our shift commanders to balance the administrative duties and the daily operations of the department.”
Thompson thanked Town Administrator Michael McCue, Selectmen, the town accountant, Finance Committee and residents at Town Meeting for supporting the position. He said the process of selecting O’Brien also provides the opportunity to promote a firefighter to the lieutenant and the hiring of another firefighter.
O’Brien and Lt. Charles Barends applied for the deputy chief position. The selection process included a January assessment center, which evaluated leadership, administrative and management skills. O’Brien was the top-scoring candidate.
A lifelong Hanson resident, he lives in town with his wife Deb, son Christopher — both of whom took part in pinning on his new badge — and three children the O’Briens are in the process of adopting — Armando, Nathan and Chloe. A 1991 graduate of Cardinal Spellman High School, O’Brien went to EMT and paramedic school, working at Fallon Ambulance for many years before becoming a call firefighter in Hanson in 1997, becoming full time in 2000.
O’Brien attained the rank of lieutenant in 2012. He has also been SAFE and training coordinator, a member of the Plymouth County Rescue Training Association and is the deputy director for the technical rescue team. He had been a lifeguard at Cranberry Cove while in high school and served on the Recreation Commission for many years. O’Brien is currently a member of the School Committee, Parks and Fields Commission, CPC and is the town’s harbormaster.
“I don’t know how he’s going to be able to do any Fire Department work,” Thompson joked before Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan administered O’Brien’s oath of office.
After the swearing-in ceremony, O’Brien’s School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes updated the Selectmen on the revised regional agreement.
Hayes outlined the process the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee’s work over the past year in revising a 1956 contract that had not been changed since 1992.
“The goal was to update the document to reflect legislative changes, financial agreements and current facilities,” Hayes said, thanking the committee members from both communities who worked on the revision.
Hanson Middle School was not listed in the original agreement, but schools long-since closed, such as the Park Avenue School in Whitman, were.
Hayes said a conversation he had with Mass. Association of Regional Schools (MARS) Executive Director Stephen Hemmond Tuesday assured the towns that either community would be able to petition the DESE to amend the agreement, pending the DESE’s approval.
“By law, the town is required to teach students,” Hayes said. “You would have to come up with a plan on what to do [in the event a town wanted to leave the district], and it would have to be approved. … It’s the vote of the people at all times.”
Other stipulations for leaving a district would require a town to assume financial responsibility for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) of school employees — about $15 million to $20 million in Hanson’s case, according to Hayes.
“There’s a lot of advantage to being in a regional school district, and it saves money,” he said.
Hayes also addressed Whitman’s concerns over the 60-40 split in financial responsibility, based on most of the students in the district’s enrollment being Whitman residents. He said he looked into the private school enrollment from Whitman and Hanson — 150 total students — and found 60 percent were from Whitman and 40 percent were from Hanson.
“I never figured it would be that exact split,” he said. “It was an interesting thing to see.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested the delay, not to “second-guess what people have done,” but to provide more time to review the agreement.
“It was very enlightening,” Selectman Jim Hickey said of his appointment to the regional agreement committee.
In other business, during discussion of Town Meeting preview, Finance Committee Chairman Michael Dugan indicated two capital proposals — for a Town Hall generator and Highway Department utility truck were not recommended because the FinCom deemed that clear-cut arguments for them were not made.
Selectmen Chairman James McGahan also spoke of two amendments to the proposed revision of the recall bylaw he plans to present at Town Meeting.
One amendment from the floor would shorten the period in which a recall can be scheduled from 170 days after petitions are certified by the Town Clerk — to 45 days. The other would also shorten the time required for a special election in the event an elected official does not resign within five business days of the date of notice, with a minimum of 45 days.