HANSON — Selectmen have voted 5-0 to amend language in a warrant article on the Oct. 3 special Town Meeting warrant to fund a recreation director position for January through June 2017.
Selectman Bruce Young said a professional recreation director should be hired, as Town Meeting voted to do in 2015, under the Recreation Commission as it stands.
The original wording of the article sought to authorize selectmen to issue a request for proposals for Camp Kiwanee management.
“This other Recreation Commission is down the line if it happens, that’s a whole other ball game,” he said. “Don’t get confused by the words ‘goals and objectives.’ … We agreed to consider it. We never agreed to adopt it.”
Young said that was the cause of his reaction to seeing the article in the warrant at the Aug. 23 meeting, and he apologized for his behavior when he walked out of that meeting.
“The timing of that article could not have been worse,” Young said. “We’re addressing that concern right now.”
Young’s amendment changed the article to request that Town Meeting transfer $35,000 from Recreation retained earnings to fund the recreation director position for the remainder of fiscal 2017 under the control of the Recreation Commission.
Town Administrator Michael McCue noted the change only provides funding unless or until Selectmen or a reconstituted Recreation Commission chooses to go forward. McCue would interview applicants, forwarding a list of recommendations to a Recreation Commission for a vote on hiring.
“It puts it on the table,” said Wes Blauss, noting Kiwanee is already fully booked for weddings in 2017. “We could at least start looking to 2018, restoring some balance.”
The Tuesday, Sept. 6 vote, greeted with loud applause, was among a handful of adjustments to the warrant — including the incorporation of two groups of articles and the deletion of two school repair projects — that Selectmen Chairman James McGahan stressed is normal practice for the warrant review process.
“I get a sense that most people think these articles, as they are written, are what they are,” McGahan said. “That’s not the case. The language of these articles changes … what they are, are place-holders that hold a spot so we can modify the language as we get closer to Town Meeting.”
The Selectmen’s vote on the recreation director position followed McGahan’s PowerPoint presentation on what the Open Space and Recreation Plan’s goals might accomplish. After his presentation, questions and comments from the overflow crowd in the Selectmen’s meeting room were then taken.
“There has been much said about this and it’s taken on a life of its own,” McGahan said. “There might be some confusion toward this article with the ongoing investigation that’s going on at Camp Kiwanee. Essentially, I’ve been told that the timing is bad. That’s on me.”
McGahan initially suggested the article should be pulled. But he later agreed with Young’s suggested language change.
A former Recreation Commission member, Kevin Cameron, expressed concern that, even as a half-year salary, $35,000 might be too low.
“I come from the hospitality industry, so I know of what I speak,” he said.
During his presentation, McGahan stressed that he was assigned to work with the Open Space Committee on a plan for the town, which would allow Hanson officials to apply for grants, once that plan is filed with the state. Meetings on the goal to review the current recreational and parks committees set by a previous Board of Selectmen in 2008 were held, including public visioning sessions on June 22 and Aug. 1.
“We had a goal here and the goal has been lingering for seven years,” McGahan said. “It made sense to me.”
Beach Director Margaret Hickey said she did not understand the consideration of the new goals, as the Recreation Commission has been doing its job.
“Why add another couple of groups to the mix? I just think it would make it more complicated,” she said.
McGahan said a new director would still be hired because Town Meeting voted for it last year.
Each “town department and stakeholder organization” was invited to the visioning sessions, he said, but the Recreation Commission members said they never received that invitation. McGahan noted that the June and August visioning sessions were also advertised to the public in the Express.
Former Recreation Chairman James Hickey said he never received an invitation despite holding regular meetings with McCue.
McGahan said the invitation had gone to previous Recreation Chairman, David Blauss, adding that the Recreation Commission was responsible, as all town boards are, to inform all other departments of changes in their officer organization.
“When you went to the June meeting and didn’t see Dave Blauss or any other member of the Recreation Commission members, a simple text — you knew I would be there,” Hickey said of the selectmen and McCue he has been in contact with by phone.
Former Recreation Commission member Susan Longergan also noted that in 416 meetings she attended, Selectmen never attended one until December 2015.
“You couldn’t pick me out of a crowd and I’ve been on the board for 16 years,” she said. “I’ve never seen this plan. … We have never written a letter [about reorganizations], we have never known to write a letter, so maybe this board could have come to one of our meetings and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a letter from you, where is it?’”
Many residents speaking at the meeting expressed concern over the suggestion that a vendor be hired — as one of three possibilities, including a town hire or a contractor — to manage Camp Kiwanee.
“I think that is what makes it a scare — that it would lose its identity,” Diane Cohen of Pleasant Street said of an outside vendor’s ability to hire its own staff.
“I don’t think the people who volunteer their time are as concerned with the risk as they are with the reward,” another resident said. “You give it to an outside person, they have no connection to it. … It becomes a money-making venture no one has any ties to and then all it is, is functions.”
Questions were also asked about how a recreation director would be overseen.
“Who would do the hiring of this person and how would we be sure it would be someone who would advocate for recreation?” a resident asked.
McGahan said the Recreation Commission would do that, saying at that point he supported withdrawing the article.
“I think the timing is bad, and I didn’t see that coming,” he said.
McGahan assured residents the current Recreation Commission would be invited to be part of the new panel, but that the commission’s mass resignation of the current commission is a problem.
“We’re not talking about doing away with the Recreation Commission,” McGahan said. “We’re basically better managing cabins, functions, weddings, security and business. It changes the way we do things, but still puts control with the Recreation Commission.”
The Board of Selectmen would appoint the new commission, as in the past.
The board also approved Young’s request to change the Memorial Field Commission article to request a change, by the legislature, from elected to appointed membership in order to preserve that board instead of incorporating it into any expanded Recreation Commission.
“The Veterans’ Agent assures me that, if it moves in this direction, that there will be people willing to step forward to be appointed by the Board of Selectmen to oversee this,” McCue said. “It’s probably the best solution for this issue.”
Selectmen’s Administrative Assistant Meredith Marini explained the other article changes came at the suggestion of the town accountant in an effort to streamline the Town Meeting process. School repair articles formerly numbered 20-28 were merged into a matrix under Article 18 and two articles regarding the Middle School univents and a rooftop unit at Indian Head School were deleted until May, as they were not yet on the district’s capital improvement plan. Funding sources were also changed for articles regarding the Water Department and a septic project at Camp Kiwanee.