HANSON — The Board of Selectmen have voted against re-appointing Conservation Commission Chairman John Kemmett and Vice Chairman Frank Schellenger.
In a tie vote, with Selectman Bruce Young abstaining, Kemmett’s reappointment was rejected Tuesday, June 28. Selectmen Don Howard and Kenny Mitchell vote for Kemmett with Selectman Bill Scott and Chairman James McGahan voted against him. Schellenger was not even nominated for reappointment.
Several residents, both at the meeting and via e-mail, had voiced support for both Kemmett and Schellenger.
Earlier in the meeting Selectmen also accepted with regret the resignation of Conservation Commission Clerk Brad Kirlin and voted 5-0 to appoint two new members — Sharon LePorte and William Woodward.
Both Kemmett and Schellenger are legally allowed to continue serving on the commission until replacements are appointed, according to Town Counsel Jay Talerman.
The votes came with little comment from selectmen, but followed a heated exchange between Kemmett and Young.
Resident Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett had questioned whether LePorte and Woodward’s past work on wetlands delineations for projects before the Conservation Commission would present a conflict of interest, and supported her husband’s reappointment. Delineations are reviews of land on which development is proposed to determine the boundaries of wetlands.
“I’d like to know if Ms. LePorte has done any work in Hanson, specifically on the Main Street property,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I’d like to know if [she] has done work on the cranberry site, which has been the subject of quite a bit of contention, particularly with the Board of Selectmen.”
LePorte, recently retired, has worked for 20 years in the environmental field, including three years as Halifax Conservation agent. Woodward, also retired, has worked as a civil engineer for the town of Weymouth and Stoughton as well as doing work in Hanson and Halifax.
“I’m not questioning her credentials,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said of LePorte. “I’m questioning whether she has had a vested interest in a project that has been part of Hanson’s history and is likely to be part of Hanson’s future.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said it was her understanding that LePorte had done delineation work on the 1100 Main St. site where a developer has been trying to construct a commercial building since razing the old Ocean Spray building a few years ago. She later said the comments were not directed at LePorte, and also asked if Woodward had done any delineation work for Planing Board Chairman Don Ellis.
“I have done some delineation on the property,” LePorte said. “I have no vested interest that I could possibly imagine. …I hope somebody can do something with it, but I can’t state who.”
Woodward said he had done delineation work for “five or six different clients,” but would recuse himself if any came before him on the Conservation Committee.
McGahan said his main goal was to find people who could work well together and respect others.
Young said he was not sure what FitzGerald-Kemmett meant about controversy involving the Board of Selectmen and asked her to explain.
“I have no interest in the Main Street property, other than seeing it’s developed and put back on the tax rolls properly,” Young said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett referred to a Conservation meeting last summer, attended by McGahan, Young and Scott regarding the site, at which McGahan spoke in favor of helping the developer with orders of condition.
“Mr. McGahan made a point of saying at that meeting that he would not reappoint Mr. Kemmett and Mr. Schellenger because of the fact that he thought they weren’t playing ball with [Joseph] Mariangello,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. Mariangello is the developer at the 1100 Main St. site.
She said “playing ball” meant bypassing conservation by-laws, to which Young took strenuous objection.
“I have a real bad problem with that,” Young had said in response to FitzGerald-Kemmett’s comments.
McGahan cut the exchange short in the interest of decorum, but the issue came up again when Kemmett’s name had been placed in nomination.
Kemmett had asked if anyone could name a project, since he and Schellenger had been commissioners, that had been denied. No response was forthcoming.
Young then asked if Kemmett could name an instance when he had been pressured by any selectman or member of another board to “turn a blind eye to the conservation by-laws” or wetlands protection act to push a project through.
“That’s a difficult question,” Kemmett said, indicating he has felt intimidation. “Sometimes when someone is sitting in a room, especially where there’s a large group of selectmen, and a contentious project … and they don’t seem to feel the Conservation Commission was not voting in a positive way, it would seem intimidating and at that point it might seem that was a problem.”
Young became angry at the suggestion that selectmen would attend a meeting in an attempt to intimidate another board.
McGahan has said the Conservation Commission has to work better with the public in general practice, and said Wednesday he would like to thank Kemmett and Schellenger for their service to the Conservation Commission and the town.
“Honestly, its time for a change,” he said.
Selectmen also voted for a slate of appointments to town boards and commissions, replacing former Town Administrator Ron San Angelo with current Administrator Michael McCue on those boards San Angelo served.
Mitchell, who has served on the Parks and Fields Commission since before he was elected to the Board of Selectmen, was changed to a non-voting member until Town Meeting can vote to change the Commission’s by-laws.
“It is my understanding he is a very valuable member of this commission,” McCue said. “He can still participate … In the interest of that going forward I would make that suggestion.”
Resident Thomas Hickey, a former history teacher and currently superintendent/director of South Shore Regional Vocational Technical High School, was appointed to the Historical Commission through June 30, 2017.
HANSON — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 14 discussed reviewing the regional contract for Whitman-Hanson Community Access Television with legal counsel over budget, programming and personnel concerns since the current contract’s expiration last year.
Selectman Bruce Young said he received a call from a resident seeking information on “how cable access is run.”
“I first got involved in cable, back in the ’80s when I did a program, I just assumed that everything was taken care of by the cable company,” he said. “Which it was, I’m assuming, up until 2005 when this nonprofit corporation was formed between the two towns.”
Young obtained a copy of the most recent agreement between Hanson and Whitman, establishing the quasi-nonprofit corporation in 2005. He said that agreement expired in 2014.
It actually expired in 2015, according to Chairman of the WHCA Board of Dirctors Arlene Dias of Hanson, who plans to attend the next Selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, June 28 to “clarify inaccuracies” in the June 14 discussion and to answer selectmen’s questions.
The contract’s expiration date was one of those inaccuracies, she said.
Dias said the cable access contact should have been renewed at the same time as Hanson’s license contract with Comcast, which was completed in June 2015. New to her position, Dias said Monday she was not previously aware that had not been done. The last WHCA contract, approved 10 years ago, was finalized six months after the licensing agreement.
Rent on the Whitman studio is paid by the town of Whitman based on the amount of taxation it would pay, according to the 2005 pact. Young estimated the value of its equipment at about $340,000. An annual report and financial report are to be presented to both towns’ selectmen, as well as the results of a biannual audit.
Town Administrator Michael McCue has reached out to lawyer Bill Solomon, who works in cable TV law, and to Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam to discuss Young’s concerns.
Dias has assured him that the required reports have been filed, McCue said.
“All of the money that goes to support that cable studio appears to come out of [public access, educational and government] PEG — a percentage of everybody’s cable bill is devoted to funding that studio,” Young said. “The Board of Selectmen have a right to oversee how that money’s being spent, who the employees are — who’s getting paid — what their annual budget is, and how that money is being doled out.”
The board of directors represents the two towns equally, although there are vacancies, which Young argued should be done by the Hanson Board of Selectmen.
The late Stephen Roy had been retained in the full-time executive director post by a vote of Whitman Selectmen, Young noted.
“I’m assuming that any replacement of Stephen Roy would have to go through the Whitman Board of Selectmen,” He said. “I don’t see anything in the agreement as to who actually hires that particular individual, who replaces [them] or how it’s done.”
“I think we ought to consider getting a new director [to replace Roy] and a very qualified one for that position,” said Hanson resident Richard Edgehille. He advocated a person capable of conducting an outreach program to carry the facility into the future.
“It’s been lackadaisical and I think it’s time we move forward,” he said, charging that meetings are slow to be put on the air.
“We need to be briefed on what the process is,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan. “Maybe we need new blood in there.”
Liaisons set aside
In other business selectmen decided to discontinue public safety liaisons for the time being, but would prefer retaining regular reports from department heads.
“I feel we have strong department heads, excellent department heads, I think they do a great job,” said Selectman Kenny Mitchell. “With Mike [McCue] here, I think we have an excellent town administrator to work with these department heads and I just don’t think … we need to keep it.”
Selectman Bill Scott agreed, noting that as Police Department liaison he has not met with the chief in six months, but urging that the monthly reports be continued.
“There’s a war on police currently,” Scott said. “The job is way different even from when I was on the job — the shootings have by far increased. Our police have to be trained on this terrorist activity … I’m sure they are getting that, but they need more.”
Monthly reports are the best way of keeping up with the needs to support police and fire personnel, he said.
The board also approved by consensus a list of goals and objectives for McCue, largely from a list Young compiled. That list includes:
• Completion of the demolition of the former Plymouth County Hospital and establish an acceptable plan for developing the site;
• Taking action, by litigation if necessary, to cancel the cell tower contract with Bay Communications, opening the prospects for other carriers;
• Working with the regional school committee to make necessary changes in the regional school agreement;
• Replacing the inadequate Highway Department facilities with the project at the former Lite Control site;
• Hiring of a new Recreation Services Director and work with the commission to make better use of Camp Kiwanee facilities;
• Encouraging land use committees to work more closely together to bring more commercial and light industrial business to town;
• All government boards and officials responsible for planning and conducting the town meetings should work together to ensure they are open, fair and purest form of democracy “by encouraging and promoting attendance and active participation and actively question articles and budget that they deem necessary.”
The School Committee is already working on a review of the regional agreement.
Scott requested the addition of another goal, noting the Police Department still needs to appoint a sergeant and has been without a lieutenant since the resignation of Lt. Joseph Yakavonis in January.
“Mr. McCue should work on that, possibly with the chief of police, to set up a testing agency with someone to see if any of our sergeants would be interested, or if we want to fill the lieutenant’s position,” Scott said.
McGahan advocated inclusion of the audit recommendation for changes in accounting procedures and a review of the open space agreement.
The School Committee, faced with a daunting time window, voted Wednesday, June 8 to approve the 3.5-percent assessment increases passed by Whitman and Hanson town meetings within the levy limit.
They also reluctantly voted to transfer an additional $200,000 from excess and deficiency — before the assessment vote — in order to ensure class size issues were dealt with at Conley, Indian Head and perhaps Duval schools. Both were 8-0 votes, with members Robert O’Brien Jr., and Alexandra Taylor absent.
That means Whitman’s share will be $10,956,757 and Hanson’s is $7,715,066 of a level-service budget of $46,914,344 for fiscal 2017.
No one was happy with either decision, but Business Services Director Christine Suckow cautioned there were serious deadlines to consider.
“We discussed the time frame,” School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes said. “If we don’t have a budget in place by June 30 it starts triggering other problems.”
Suckow explained that, if the district did not meet the June 30 deadline for an approved budget, school officials would have had to inform the Commissioner of Education of the situation. The district could then use 1/12 of the current budget each month until a new budget could be approved.
“Which would be fine for July and August, but come September when we have three payrolls … we won’t be able to make our payroll obligations,” she said. “If we do not have one by Dec. 30 of this year, then we’d go into receivership and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will take over the budget, plain and simple.”
The September payroll period is most problematic without a budget because that is when the height of costs is felt, along with the start of the new school year. A limitation of 1/12 of what the towns would assess overdraws that first payroll.
Hayes said there were several options facing the committee on June 8 — lessen the amount of the Student Success Budget, accept the level-service budget or go somewhere in between, which would trigger another override anyway as neither town has the funds to exceed the level-service budget available now. He also suggested the E&D transfer, which would reduce the account to a “dangerous” level of $415,000 could help. The decision to vote the transfer was helped by Suckow’s cautious forecast that end-of-budget-year figures could allow officials to return it to more than $1 million through savings in health insurance, utilities after a mild winter, personnel movement and a $62,000 FEMA reimbursement from costs incurred during the winter of 2014-15, among other savings.
“I want everyone to be cognizant that is one-time money we’re spending to get us over a hump,” said committee member Fred Small. “That said, I think we’re in dire straits and an emergency situation.”
The situation left a bad taste in the mouths of committee members, and residents attending the meeting, alike.
A Woodbine Avenue resident of Hanson, who moved to town only two years ago and is expecting a child, is already planning to move because of the failed override.
“We knocked down a house and built a new house that was worth two-and-a-half times more than the old one — we’re the type of people you want in your town and in your district, but given the state of the schools … we don’t plan to stay in town,” said Amy Koskowski, who is an educator, as is her husband. “We don’t see the towns value education. … I think it’s important that you know that it’s a bigger issue. Within the region, people don’t want to come here.”
Whitman resident Marshall Ottina said he is still angry about the vote outcome.
“Plain and simple, our community is not properly investing in our children,” he said. “If the towns continually to refuse to bake a bigger pie, it’s time for the schools to demand a bigger piece.”
They received no argument from School Committee members.
“We’re giving the assumption that we can fix things and we’re back to where we were,” said member Stephen Bois.
“I’m hoping that the Student Success Budget stays somewhat intact for the next fiscal year so we can move it forward,” said committee member Robert Trotta. “After the election I heard it said ‘Well, the people spoke,’ but I don’t know what they spoke about.”
He questioned whether that meant there were too many taxes, that they don’t support public education, that they don’t trust the school committee or that they had no interest in the town past their house and property.
“Everybody knows my position, that public education should be supported by the town,” Trotta said.
Small echoed those sentiments but cautioned if the committee did not certify a budget, it would place the school district in jeopardy.
“If we can’t swallow everything all at once, we’ve got to just keep taking little bites of the apple to get to where we need to be,” Small said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner reported that, on the state budget level, including the increase in per-pupil funding to $55 per student under Chapter 70 [an additional $140,000 for W-H] as well as increases to regional transportation, Circuit Breaker and, possibly, Charter School reimbursement would be a plus for the district budget.
“There is some revenue we can’t account for, for sure,” she said.
She said discussions with the school principals showed they are unanimous in seeing a need for using any available funds within the level-service budget should go to reducing elementary school class sizes and re-opening libraries.
Ottina suggested that cuts, if necessary, should occur at the high school until class size and library problems are resolved at the elementary level.
“One of the core values of our leadership team has always been what goes on inside the classroom,” Gilbert-Whitner said. “The understanding and consensus of that team was, if any additional funding should come into the district, the first priority would be to tackle the big class size issues that we have, particularly at the Conley School right now.”
While the move would only benefit one school, the leadership team recognizes that the problem is most immediate. She is also looking into the possibility of using partial staffing, as well as some “new ways of looking at how we do library services,” to help re-open the libraries if revenue allows it.
New Hanson member Christopher Howard was concerned that the state funding would not materialize to help ease the class size and library issues.
“Everything on the Student Success budget is important,” Howard said. “The leadership team’s at a point where they need to look at trying to prioritize.”
Committee members from both towns said they have spoken to their respective finance committees about building future budgets and Hayes indicated the entire school committee should attend those sessions.
“They need to see the 10 of us,” he said. “We never want to see public education become the haves and have-nots.”
Hayes and Gilbert-Whitner also advocate multiple public hearings on the school budget before it gets to Town Meeting to answer residents’ questions and concerns.
The Whitman-Hanson Regional High School Class of 2016 has already made its mark in the community and, with the Friday, June 3 graduation ceremony behind them, they are focusing on what Valedictorian Lea Polito calls “the power to be positive ” as they approach the future.
“As humans, we tend to absorb the attitudes that surround us and reflect these attitudes in our own behavior, which is why I think that we are in the midst of a general slump in our country today,” she said. “However, I do not think the world has to be cruel. Within each of us exists a power — the power to be positive … there is power in simply doing the right thing.”
One need only take a tour of the school for evidence of that, noted Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner in her remarks.
“Throughout the high school, I saw information about Special Olympics, Best Buddies (it takes just you to make a difference), Relay for Life, Cancer Awareness Week, and support for Children’s Hospital,” she said. “In the library, Portraits of Kindness, the Whitman-Hanson Art in Action memory project for children living in Ethiopian orphanages, was on display.”
Students have been active in feeding neighbors and protecting the environment, too. The latter reflected in the class gift, the addition of environmentally friendly, refillable water bottle stations.
“Every graduating class has an overarching personality,” Class Treasurer Joshua Spicer said in announcing the gift. “Our class is full of leaders and innovators who are very interested in and compassionate about the world we live in. We are a class that is well aware that many small actions can lead to something bigger than ourselves.”
The Class of 2016 hopes the water stations will encourage future students and staff to consider the effect of small actions on the greater world.
“My tour of this high school served as a testimony that you, the Class of 2016, through your involvement in an array of activities, concern for the environment, and service to others have learned the skills necessary to become responsible citizens,” Gilbert-Whitner said. “You have offered your time, energy, and commitment for meaningful participation in plays, projects, presentations, and organizations by demonstrating the skills of self-discipline, positive goal setting, and team work.”
As W-H Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak spoke of some of the graduate’s accomplishments, the numbers spoke for themselves.
There were 76 John and Abigail Adams Scholarship winners, based on MCAS scores; seven seniors received college book awards; five won prestigious science or social service prizes; four won music prizes; four art students were honored for their professional endeavors; Student Council members received the Gold Council of Excellence Award for their charitable and service projects; 34 seniors earned All-Scholastic sports team honors; and 23 won sportsmanship awards.
The show choir High Frequency, the boys’ basketball team and the cheerleading team were recognized for competition championships as were other teams participating in post-season play, as well as students participating in music, drama, art, DECA, Key Club, sports programs, CSL internships and honors societies.
Thirteen members of the Class of 2016 also plan to serve their country, with five joining the U.S. Marine Corps, another joining the Air Force and seven enlisting in the Army or another branch of the service. They received a standing ovation from classmates when they were announced.
One member of the Community Evening School Class of 2016 is also joining the Marines.
During the Wednesday, June 1 Dollars for Scholars/Community and School awards ceremonies, senior Samantha Coletti was awarded her certificate of appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The West Point liaison officer for the Mass. 8th Congressional District, Lt. Col. William Ramsey presented Coletti with her appointment, representing a scholarship valued at more than $250,000.
“I would like you to meet one of your neighbors who is stepping up to the challenge of accepting a West Point appointment,” Ramsey said. “As an officer, she will be entrusted with the responsibility of leading your sons and daughters all over the world. In these trying times, it is important that we all realize the magnitude of this responsibility and Samantha has proven to-date that she has what it takes to be successful at West Point and in our Army.”
West Point’s mission is to train and educate a corps of cadets so that each graduate is a mission leader of character committed to the values of duty, honor country and prepared to serve with professionalism as an Army officer, Ramsey said.
“Tonight, we celebrate and reward hard work, dedication to school and academic achievement,” Szymaniak said before the awards were presented. The combined awards programs bestowed a total of $230,000 in scholarship awards this year.
“We would like to express thanks for the businesses and organizations, alumni and the townspeople of Whitman and Hanson whose overwhelming generosity and support for Dollars for Scholars allows us the ability to award $125,055 to the Class of 2016,” said DFS President Michael Ganshirt before he and Treasurer Jean Dean awarded the 54th annual scholarships, some of which are matched by colleges.
Recognizing the importance of student volunteers toward DFS scholarship fundraising, Ganshirt announced the $1,000 Nancy McLaughlin Volunteer Award, honoring the student who put in the most volunteer hours for DFS, was earned by Nils Wanchers, who will attend UMass, Boston in the fall.
In 2011, an out-of-work journalist named James Renner began searching for Maura Murray.
While he didn’t find her, he has drawn his own conclusions about her disappearance and, in the process of writing a book, he has found himself while getting “lost” in the case.
The book, “True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray,” [Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 280 pages, $25.99 hardcover] goes on sale Tuesday, May 24.
“It’s been a long time coming, for sure,” Renner said last week. “I hope the book eventually brings some sort of closure to Maura’s case. At the very least, I think it will advance the story and bring up some new clues and information.”
The same week Facebook was launched in 2004, Murray disappeared. Renner has termed the case one of the first unsolved mysteries of the social media age. In fact, he leaned heavily on a small army of Internet sleuths — which he dubbed My Baker Street Irregulars, after the poor street kids who fed information to Sherlock Holmes. Renner’s Irregulars lived online, reading blogs, surfing sites and even trolling him. They helped pose questions, interpret information and notice overlooked clues.
The trolls also second-guessed him, sniped at his plans to write a book and, in one case, cyber-stalked him. Maura’s father Fred did not cooperate with Renner on the book.
At the time Murray vanished on Feb. 9, 2004, Renner was a reporter for alternative weeklies in northeastern Ohio. By 2009, the fallout from his coverage of an Ohio state senator at the center of a sex scandal had cost him his job and he was looking for a new story.
True crime seemed a natural draw for him.
At age 11 he had fallen in love with the photo of missing Amy Mihaljevic. The obsession led him to his career as an investigative journalist and a struggle with PTSD. By 2011, Renner told his counselor he was ready to delve into another mystery.
The new mystery he was ready for was Maura Murray. While conducting his investigation, there were mysteries in his own life to confront: the truth about his grandfather, the violent tendencies his son was beginning to display and Renner’s own impulses.
Chapters in “True Crime Addict” jump between Murray and Renner’s own demons — “Being a true crime addict is not a good thing and I learned this the hard way,” as he says.Renner spoke about the book with the Express by phone from his Cleveland home on Friday, May 13.
Q: Why the Maura Murray case?
A: “I was looking around for a big case, something national. I was a reporter in Cleveland for about seven or eight years and I had written about some famous cases from the northeast Ohio region. I looked around for a while — I’m always drawn to the cases that are difficult, if not impossible, to solve. What I find interesting is that it’s actually kind of a double mystery. Number one, what happened to Maura, but number two is, what was she doing in the White Mountains to begin with? I think if you can find the answer to one of those questions, you’ll get very close to the solution to the other question. I think I have an answer as to what was she doing in the White Mountains. I believe she was running away, I believe she was looking to start a new life and to put the people that treated her wrongly in her rear-view and not look back.
Q: It seems certain that people will read it expecting some kind of break in the case. What do you want readers to get out of it?
A: “I think there are quite a few new pieces of information in the book and new clues. I think the takeaway here is that Maura, like everyone else, was very complicated. She had her secrets, she had her skeletons and the question is whether or not those contributed to what happened. I think for sure they did. There were some things that hadn’t been reported — the fact that when she disappeared, she was in trouble for credit card fraud and identity theft.”
Q: What were your reasons for being so frank about your own family’s past?
A: “I wanted to explore why I was so fascinated with these true crime cases and what led me into that career as a true crime writer. That made me take a good, hard look at my own life and, of course, looking at it objectively now, I can see that the story about my grandfather and who he was — what he did and how I learned about all that when I was 11 years old — certainly had an impact. All these bad guys that I’ve been chasing after since I was 11, they’re my grandfather. I could never go after him, so I looked elsewhere. As I was uncovering Maura and her personal demons I thought it was only fair to share mine as well.”
Q: How do you think Maura’s case has been handled?
A: I think the police did their due diligence. When they found her car up there, it certainly looked like a DUI. The car had run into a snow bank, there was wine spilled on the inside … they see that kind of thing all the time, so I think they treated it correctly at the time. Now, a day later when the owner hadn’t come to collect the car and they start to put together that it was Maura who was driving, then it becomes a missing persons case. The [N.H.] State Police were actually in the air with helicopters. … The family’s always been critical of them, but I think they did all right.”
Q: How do you assess your methodology? Would you have approached it differently if you had it to do again?
A: “Looking back I think it happened organically, the way it was supposed to. These pieces are always different. The family could have been more helpful. Fred was the first person I contacted indirectly and he made it clear through family members that he did not want a book written about this case, so that was always a difficulty. But over the course of a few years I did manage to speak with every member of the Murray family except for Fred.”
Q: You describe this as the first major missing person case of the social media age — has social media really been any help or does it do more to hinder cold cases like this?
A: “It’s certainly a double-edged sword. Social media is more helpful to these cold cases than anything, the fact that you can reach practically every person on the planet. You can get the information out to anybody and they can, in turn, find you. It’s a wonderful tool for journalism. With that also comes the anonymity of the Internet and that allows these dangerous people to mask themselves and threaten you from afar. It’s the worst of the worst and the best of the best.”
Q: How can social media be better used in crime investigation?
A: “I think police should be using social media. In fact over the last year or two, the U.S. Marshals have reached out to me and asked me to help them with getting some of the cold cases they’ve worked on out into social media through Reddit and Twitter, online message boards and things like that. So I know bigger agencies are really paying attention to it and trying to use it as a tool for investigation, too. It’s remarkable what’s possible with it.”
Q: Your title: “True Crime Addict” — does it still apply? Toward the end of the book it seemed you might be turning away from all that.
A: This is the last big crime story I’ll work on, at least for the foreseeable future until my kids are grown up. It does take you to a dark place and what I’ve discovered through the course of this book is the fact that I was addicted to true crime, not just true crime, but “addict” extends to my own life, the fact that I learned through the course of this that I was an alcoholic, I was addicted to prescription medication. These true crime stories are and addiction, just like anything else. Once you realize that it’s unhealthy, then you need to start taking action and get it out of your life.”
Q: What’s next for you?
A: “I’m concentrating on novels and screenplays. I’m adapting my first novel (“The Man From Primrose Lane”) into a television series right now. It’s a murder mystery about an out-of-work reporter who tries to solve an old cold case — write what you know.”
This is only the beginning.
As the state continues to deal with the crisis of opioid addiction, a generation is being plagued by death from overdoses just as there have been changes in the Massachusetts Legislature and among local community coalitions to curb the increase of those overdoses and help those desperate to get clean.
The figures are disturbing: 865 people between 2000 -2015 have been confirmed as unintentional deaths related to opioids in Plymouth County, according to a recent report and statistics released by the state [Department of Public Health, Office of Data Management and Outcomes Assessment for January 2016].
In 2014, State Police responded to 75 suspected fatal overdoses in the county, according to a press release with recent data provided by investigating State Police assigned to the District Attorney’s office. In Hanson there were 37 overdoses and three deaths in 2015, and another five overdoses with one death so far this year. Whitman had 49 overdoses in 2015 with seven deaths and another 13 overdoses and two deaths between Jan. 1 and April 28 this year.
First responders, such as local Hanson Fire Department EMS Coordinator Lt. Keith Wilson, spoke with the Express about the crisis of addiction that has swept its way to every corner of the state — for addiction is not just an urban problem.
“This is a statewide problem,” said Wilson. “It’s not just the heroin junkie in the alley … there are no social backgrounds that are excluded.”
The rate of unintentional overdose deaths are based on the last five years, in which many confirmed heroin overdose victims also had tested positive for Fentanyl in autopsy results, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health data. Whitman and Hanson police are trained to carry nasal NARCAN. Most town emergency services have a protocol if a patient is given NARCAN after overdosing they must be transported to the hospital, said Hanson Fire Chief Jerry Thompson.
Agencies often help each other.
Whitman EMS, for example, received a 911 emergency call last week for a person reporting someone who appeared to be overdosing in their car. A Massachusetts state trooper was nearby and heard the call. He arrived and administered a nasal form of NARCAN on the scene giving enough time for Whitman EMS to arrive and transport to the hospital. In this case he was revived, Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton said.
“If you are a parent you can’t put money on how many times you would save your child and be able to hug them … you want them alive,” Benton said.
The call for an overdose usually is phoned in — with a sense of frantic helplessness in their voices — by a parent or the person who has found the victim. Officers and first responders know what they are dealing with, and time is of the essence.
Although officers as first responders are trained in nasal NARCAN the surge of Fentanyl being cut into heroin is creating a lethal form of the drug with it divesting NARCAN of its typically fast-paced reversal rate.
NARCAN (Naloxone Hydrochloride) is an opioid antagonist. The administration reverses the effects of narcotics such as morphine and heroin, which depress the central nervous and respiratory system.
In mid-March, Gov. Charlie Baker signed the Opioid Abuse Law, which some say is a step in the right direction toward helping addicts, and their loved ones. Under the new law, a patient must remain in the hospital for treatment after NARCAN is administered, although some find ways around the assistance they need and addiction takes hold once again.
“Today, the Commonwealth stands in solidarity to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic that continues to plague our state and burden countless families and individuals,” Baker said at the signing. “While there is still much work to be done, our administration is thankful for the legislature’s effort to pass this bill and looks forward to working with the Attorney General and our mayors to bend the trend and support those who have fallen victim to this horrific public health epidemic.”
Most addicts reach the point where they either know they need help or they are doing drugs to die. It is a vicious cycle, officials say, and recovery is a hard road.
“It is not going away. We (as law enforcement) have to embrace this. The state has finally made changes… we are making strides within the arena of rehabilitation and they are recognizing that. It is an epidemic,” said Benton.
He also emphasizes that many addicts were treated for legitimate injuries or surgery, given pain pills and then could not get off them. The manufacturer knew how addictive Oxycodone was, according to Benton.
“But now through the vicious cycle with these coalitions we are learning there are many players. It is an ‘all-in approach’ from the doctors, clergy and clinicians this is not an instance of something just happening overnight, It will take years and millions of dollars to undo what has happened,” he said.
On April 11 community leaders and parents gathered at WHRHS to hear guest speaker Kathi Sullivan speak to an audience that wants to make a difference in the grip of drug and alcohol abuse in our community and how easily available these things are to their children.
That very same night, Whitman police and fire had calls for two overdoses on their afternoon shift of 4 p.m. to midnight — and two overdoses at midnight. Two more overdoses were reported on the April 13 one was a repeat person from the 11th. One of the overdoses resulted in the death of a 27-year-old male, Benton said.
Sullivan knows too well the tragedy of losing a child. Her daughter Taylor Meyer died in a shallow swamp after a night of binge drinking, found three days after she wandered off from friends.
Whitman Hanson WILL, which co-sponsored Sullivan’s talk, brings a heightened awareness of the opioid and substance abuse for parents, students and community leaders. In a panel discussion following Sullivan’s talk, some found hope and answers as others struggled privately with an addiction that takes away all sense of “behind closed doors” secrecy as we have learned this approach is not helping addicts or their families.
Despite higher overdose rates among men in recently released data there is no discrimination, Benton said.
“The epidemic is one of public safety and health. It requires our empathy these people are addicted — they don’t want to be addicted,” Benton said. “As a parent what would you give to hug your kid again? When we hear comments on repeat offenders — that we shouldn’t keep responding to the same addicts overdosing) it doesn’t matter if we save the person 10, 20 or 1,000 times.”
His answer to naysayers who say “just let them die, we are wasting time and resources on people who want to do drugs,” is direct and heart-felt.
“No, they don’t want to die,” Benton said. “They don’t want to be addicted. We need to show compassion and empathy. It can be frustrating. The odds are we may not make it in time. The stigma of letting that person die doesn’t belong here.”
Whitman is part of the WEB Task Force and has recently become part of the East Bridgewater Hope (EB Hope) survive. Benton praised the drop-in center as ‘angels,’ former addicts who can relate and assist to talk with those struggling to break free of addiction.
“They know what it is like because they have been there with collaborative efforts to educate and learn from addiction while offering services to addicts and their families,” he said. “These are just a few of the pre-emptive changes that will join law enforcement and community members who will all be affected in different forms through this crisis. “
Several local groups working together to aid those in crisis are the Abuse task force for Plymouth County and the Brockton’s Mayors Opioid abuse coalition. Whitman Police Lt. Dan Connolly attends the meetings regularly as a liaison and instructs officers on administering NARCAN.
The data for Massachusetts’ deaths from overdoses is evidence that opioids and Fentanyl-related deaths are still on an incline. The increase in overdose is suspected to be caused by the cutting of Fentanyl creating a purification of the heroin to over 90 percent.
“As first responders we understand the problem and we want to work with other public safety agencies to assist with the growing problem of narcotics addiction in our state and community,” Wilson said.
Throughout the area, in playgrounds and along the roadside, there are random improper disposal of hypodermic needles, which is a health danger to others, Wilson said.
A conference, “Diversion Trends/Methods and Investigating Opiate Overdoses” was held Friday, April 29 with a two-part educational series on law enforcement attended by both Hanson and Whitman officers.
“Everyone knows someone struggling with opiate addiction and there is no telling where the bottom of this crisis is,” Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz has stated. “This training is about law enforcement coming together to share information and best practices on how to proceed with investigations into fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Productive investigations lead to successful prosecutions of those who are peddling these deadly poisons into our communities.”
Plymouth County Sheriff McDonald Jr. said, “By identifying what measures have been effective, and replicating these successes in other communities, we stand a better chance of preventing deaths, or more directly, saving lives.”
Herion addicts need access to treatment and recovery, but those responsible for distributing lethal drugs like heroin and Fentanyl to the citizens of Massachusetts need to be held accountable for their actions, advocates DEA Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson.
“In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic, DEA and its federal, state and local partners are committed to bringing to justice those that distribute this poison,” Ferguson said.
“The elevated number of fatal overdoses in Plymouth County unfortunately reflects the numbers being reported around the state and country,” Cruz said. “Opioids are causing tragedies everyday within our communities and everyone knows someone affected by this epidemic. Law enforcement will continue to work at combatting the issue on all levels in 2016.”
HANSON — The Recreation Commission has begun the work of revising its policies and procedures by deciding Thursday, April 28 to form a subcommittee for that work.
In the meantime, members have voted 6-0 to amend section 12 of its policies and procedures to allow recreational vehicles on the Camp Kiwanee property under certain circumstances by a majority vote of the commission and selectmen — and then voted 6-0 to allow no more than 15 RVs on Camp Kiwanee grounds during the May 20-22 Bluegrass on the Bogs festival.
The RV waiver for the festival would also require locating RVs where they are visible to Hanson Police, festival and Recreation staff, the fire department and Board of Health.
Both Recreation Commission votes were contingent on majority votes of the Board of Selectmen during it’s meeting Monday, May 2 before the annual Town Meeting.
Commission member James Hickey urged that members of the Board of Selectmen and new Town Administrator Michael McCue also be on the policy revision subcommittee.
“We don’t want to be spending all this time and be going in a different direction than the Board of Selectmen wants us to be going in,” agreed Commission member Sue Lonergan.
Selectmen voted 4-0 prior to Town Meeting, with Selectman Don Howard abstaining, in favor of both amendments.
The board made it clear their vote on the RV exemption was in force for this year’s bluegrass festival only, especially in view of concerns on the part of both town counsel and the festival producer’s insurance carrier regarding the lack of hookup facilities at the camp.
“At this point, because it came so late in the process, we’re just trying to patch it up,” said town counsel Jay Talerman. “Next year we’ll get it in a little bit more shape, but [his associate Sarah Bellino] felt, with the beefing up of the agreement, we’re basically covered from a liability perspective. Is it perfect when we have the RVs there? No. But we felt the town was covered … this was a patch.”
Selectmen have also imposed a Friday, May 13 deadline for submitting the insurance coverage, cleared by town counsel, and a revised and re-signed rental agreement for Kiwanee — including a clause indemnifying the town and police detail requirements — to the board for a Tuesday, May 17 vote.
“If we don’t have it, the event is not moving forward, it’s done,” Selectman Kenny Mitchell said of the updated documents.
Bellino of the town counsel firm of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead had listed the RV prohibition as one of four issues she “highly” recommended be addressed before the bluegrass festival is allowed to proceed in an email to selectmen April 26. She also listed public safety details, the need for liability insurance and sanitation concerns as points that need to be addressed before the event.
“This is specific to make sure we have all this in place before the event goes off,” Recreation Commission Chairman David Blauss said of the RV waiver.
“You need to establish some kind of exception to that under circumstances where the use of recreational vehicles, there’s sufficient policing of how those recreational vehicles are parked and how they are maintained,” said Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young, who attended the Recreation Commission meeting.
Blauss said the policies and procedures would likely be maintained as-is, but should allow room for exceptions by a majority vote of both the commission and selectmen.
Young said RV owners, when traveling look for electricity, water and sanitation hook-up facilities not available at Camp Kiwanee.
“When you don’t have that particular option, naturally you restrict RVs,” Young said. “You don’t encourage them.”
Sue Lonergan suggested the RV ban was initially aimed and controlling people who might seek to park an RV at the camp for an entire summer and that cabin rentals, too, are limited to two weeks for that reason.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t have someone living with us for the season,” she said.
The exception approved April 28 would be used in the event another event sought to have RV access.
Food pantry benefit
In other business, the Recreation Commission voted to set aside the date of Friday, Oct. 28 for what will likely be a benefit chili cook-off festival with music in support of the Hanson Food Pantry.
Laura Fitzgerald-Kemmett, of the Food Pantry’s board of directors, made the pitch for the event, saying she would pay the $40 liquor permit fee out-of-pocket so the pantry would realize 100-percent of the event proceeds.
Hickey had suggested the commission might donate the fee as a gift to the pantry, but Fitzgerald-Kemmett declined, arguing the pantry did not want to start a precedent the commission could not keep up.
“It’s the Hanson Food Pantry,” Hickey said. “Everybody’s volunteering. We could co-sponsor this where the [pantry] would not be charged a dime. That’s why I’m here, it’s to do stuff like this and not have people spending money out of their own pocket.”
“I love where your heart is at, I really appreciate it … I just would be afraid that you guys would be setting a precedent.”
The pantry’s board of directors have also considered a trivia night event for the 5 to 11 p.m., Oct. 28 time slot for the 7 p.m. event, Fitzgerald-Kemmett said.
“We’re kind of narrowing it down, but either event would be ideally suited for Camp Kiwanee,” she said. “Both would involve liquor because, frankly, liquor makes the money flow at fundraisers — it’s just a fundamental truth.”
Other than bartenders, who have to be paid so they can cover insurance and the liquor license fee, the Food Pantry is planning on all services — including the hall rental — to be donated as the pantry is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
“I enjoy trivia,” Fitzgerald-Kemmett said, “But I thought [a chili cook-off] would be a little different and I’ve got a line on a couple country-western bands that could play.”
The commission also voted the go-ahead for Hanover Troop 1 Boy Scout Matthew Minihan to work on the assembling and installation of screens at a Camp Kiwanee porch as well as two barbecue pits as his Eagle Scout project.
The Scout plans to check to see if building permits are required for the work.
HANSON — On the strong advice of town counsel, the Board of Selectmen and Recreation Commission are reviewing a draft of a new use agreement between the town and producers of the Bluegrass on the Bog festival.
The festival is slated for Friday, May 20 to Sunday, May 22.
The selectmen’s office received an email from lawyer Sarah Bellino of the town counsel firm of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead at 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, in which she included a contract draft she “highly” recommended.
“I have serious concerns about the town permitting use of the camp for this event without addressing these issues and requiring [Old Town Road Productions of Hopkinton] OTP to sign the attached agreement,” Bellino wrote.
She listed public safety details, the camp’s prohibition of recreational vehicles, the need for liability insurance and sanitation concerns as points that also need to be addressed before the event.
“The town should require Hanson police detail during all three days/nights of the festival to ensure safety of attendees and to enforce compliance with the no alcohol policy of the camp,” she stated.
Police Chief Michael Miksch said he has already had a two-hour meeting with producer Michael Foster on Thursday, April 21 during which much of the counsel’s concerns were addressed.
“We went over a number of things,” Miksch said, noting the private security staff used by OTP is not adequately trained. “For lack of a better term, they’re like parking attendants. … I don’t have any real problem with them doing that in the camp.”
He and Foster agreed that “no alcohol” postings would be placed.
“He agreed that if he found anyone consuming alcohol we’d remove them,” Miksch said. “They’ve got a cabin or whatever they’ve got, that’s too bad — they can go. … Going further down the road, the Rec Committee has to address any unauthorized alcohol consumption, not only at this event, but others.”
Miksch said Hanson Police details will be on duty during the event, one on Friday (6:30 to 11:30 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) when crowds are estimated at about 250, and three officers on Saturday’s day-long program when 500-600 people are expected between 10 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. If more people are expected based on ticket sales, police presence can be increased, Miksch said. Overnight details have not yet been discussed.
“I have some concerns about hours,” Miksch said. “We didn’t have any complaints from neighbors — there’s nothing logged of complaints of noise or anything — I just felt 11 p.m. or earlier would be a better time to kind of wrap it up.”
Weekend estimated crowds are similar to a large wedding at the Needles Lodge. A traffic and parking plan has also been provided to police.
“We will have details there every day,” agreed Recreation Commission Chairman David Blauss. “They’re [OTP] rewriting their insurance policy.”
RVs are prohibited because of the slope of the land, lack of hookup provisions or dump stations for sewage waste disposal and OTP’s insurance does not cover property damage from “pollution,” including sewage waste, Bellio noted. She also said OTP’s insurance does not cover the town’s liability for attendees renting cabins, tent or RV space from the company when purchasing tickets and the policy contains no liquor liability coverage.
Bellino also said a log or register should be kept to track renters and that no “overnight guests” are allowed if not listed on the rental application. Vehicle registration information is also needed, she said.
Toilet facilities and garbage containers are insufficient at the camp, as the lodge is not being rented, unless OTP or vendors provide portable toilets and additional trash barrels, Bellino advised.
Blauss noted the cove area toilet facilities and portable toilets will be available in addition to bathhouses at the north and south ends of the camp. He also challenged the definition of RVs, noting security staff uses all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
“I think, for all intents and purposes, they probably mean the ones that have campers,” Selectman James McGahan said.
Blauss noted some of the bands travel in RVs for their accommodations and the terrain limits where they can park so they are in sight of all attendees and staff running the event.
“They put a stiff limit on how many they allow,” Blauss said. “Where these are parked, if anybody was dumping anything everybody would know. These are not isolated spots, these are right on the Kiwanee road.”
Blauss said the Board of Health has been consulted and expressed no issues with the RVs. Last year there were only five or six, but Blauss estimated there could be as many as 15 to 20.
“I don’t think we should have RVs up there,” Selectman Kenny Mitchell said. “It’s clearly in the policy. If you guys have a four-wheeler, that policy may have to be adjusted to allow that four-wheeler, but RVs, it clearly says right here they shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t think we should allow it at all.”
McGahan and Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young said the regulations would have to be modified and approved by the board for any RVs to be allowed on site.
In other business, in addition to conducting the annual Town Meeting run-through, the board welcomed new firefighters Sherylin Mullin and Robert Heffernan who were sworn in Tuesday night.
Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., said the two were the third and fourth of seven new firefighters being sworn in over the coming weeks, filling retirement vacancies.
“Although it’s difficult to see some of our older members retire, that have more experience, this is an exciting time for our department,” Thompson said. “In order for them to get to tonight, there’s a couple of things they have to accomplish — successfully completing the Mass. Firefighting Academy, a training program and their one-year probation.”
Mullin grew up in Abington, graduating high school in 2006 and working in the EMS field for eight years. Heffernan grew up in Middleboro, graduating from Bristol-Plymouth Regional in 2008 and has worked in EMS for six years.
Mullin’s badge was pinned on by her grandmother, Nancy Monahan and Heffernan’s badge was pinned by his mother Kelly after each, in turn, was sworn in by Town Clerk Beth Sloan.
New Town Administrator Michael McCue also sat in on the meeting in advance of his May 9 start on the job.
HANSON — The abrupt resignation of former interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera, who walked out in the midst of the Tuesday, April 12 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, was not immediately recognized for what it was by the board when it happened.
At the end of the meeting, Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young had expressed confidence that, when he calmed down, LaCamera would be back to work the next day. Young, too, had been so angry that he contemplated walking out of the meeting, but was convinced to stay.
It was not until members of the board found the note in the second-floor Selectmen’s office later in the evening that it was clear what LaCamera had meant when he had gathered up his files, saying, “I’ve had enough,” after the second of two contentious discussions about an audit of Camp Kiwanee.
“He did leave a message on his desk, saying that he was resigning immediately,” Young said Friday, April 15.
LaCamera’s last day had been scheduled for Friday, April 22, after he completed Town Meeting preparations. That was accomplished when selectmen voted to finalize and sign the warrants on April 12. He had submitted his 30-day notice a few weeks ago, Young said.
“He was there on a temporary basis, he served the town well and we have actually signed a contract with a new town administrator the following night (Wednesday, April 13) for a three-year contract,” Young said.
Michael McCue will begin serving as town administrator on Monday, May 9.
McCue and selectmen signed a three-year contract with an automatic one-year renewal and which returns an indemnification clause, such as the one in former Town Administrator Réne Read’s contract, during an executive session on Wednesday, April 13. Young said indemnification, required by MGL Chapter 258 Section 9, holds the town to indemnification not to exceed $1 million.
McCue has been most recently town administrator in Rochester and prior to that in Avon. He has also served as assistant to the Mendon Board of Selectmen and was himself a selectman in Mansfield.
Young declined to comment on why or why not LaCamera would suddenly resign. A request for comment from LaCamera was not responded to by presstime this week.
Immediately before his departure, LaCamera had engaged in a heated exchange with Young over the chairman’s comments concerning drinking at Camp Kiwanee as the issue was being discussed as one of the safety and security concerns surrounding the Bluegrass on the Bog festival.
Two women in the audience had just given conflicting comments about drinking during the festival.
Event organizer Michael Foster said alcohol is not permitted at the festival, but a Hanson resident said she had seen drinking when she visited the festival last year with her two children, challenging Recreation Commission Chairman David Blauss’ statement last week that it is a family event. Another resident in the audience challenged that accusation.
“There was alcohol, I’ve seen it,” said Kristine Briggs Coose.
“Just because there’s a red Solo cup, doesn’t mean there’s alcohol in it,” the second woman countered. “I understand there’s a song about it, but it doesn’t always mean that.”
Young had said “people drink everywhere,” comparing any alcohol consumption at public events with restaurants to which parents bring children where there are bars.
“What comes to mind is you’ve got a bunch of drunks up there, walking around bothering people and accosting them and forcing people off the premises,” he said of the depictions of festival behavior. “There can be people drinking, but they can be civil, I mean people drink everywhere, almost, they’re not accosting people.”
LaCamera had then pointed out that police details are required.
After the discussion concluded, LaCamera confronted Young in an exchange difficult to hear in the noisy room as the crowd filed out, but which was picked up clearly by Whitman-Hanson Community Access microphones.
“You’re out of line, Bruce,” LaCamera said as people were leaving. “You were way out of line.”
“I’m out of line?” Young replied.
“You were way out of line,” LaCamera repeated.
“How am I out of line?” Young asked.
“Come in and see me tomorrow morning, because I’m probably leaving tomorrow,” LaCamera said, jabbing a finger in Young’s direction.
“How the hell am I out of line?” Young asked. “You’d like to tell me, go. Let’s do it right now.”
“Defending them and saying that drinking is OK?” LaCamera said.
“No, I didn’t say that,” Young countered.
“Yes, you did,” LaCamera said.
“I never said that. Never in the world did I say that,” Young said.
“I can’t believe it,” LaCamera said.
“Let’s do it right now,” Young said. “Let’s do it right now.
“We’re not going to do it right now,” LaCamera said.
Selectmen Kenny Mitchell and James McGahan urged a short recess to cool the air.
“He’s not going to accuse me of … I’m taking a short recess is right,” Young said, banging the gavel.
“Yeah, goodbye,” LaCamera said. “I’ve had enough.”