WHITMAN — Voters at Town Meeting May 1 will likely be asked to fund additional work at Whitman Park to meet the state’s handicapped accessibility regulations and avoid steep fines against the town.
The Board of Selectmen discussed the request Town Administrator Frank Lynam will likely seek within the special Town Meeting’s warrant before it convened a hearing concerning a dog complaint at the Tuesday, March 7 meeting. Selectman Daniel Salvucci was absent.
Lynam said he and a few other town officials met last week with the Architectural Access Board (AAB) in Boston regarding park accessibility, which has different standards than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“There were some misunderstandings and we have received direction from them and are providing feedback,” Lynam said of the AAB. “Within 30 days, we will provide mapping and and a schedule and will begin the work following appropriations at Town Meeting.”
He noted that the town has an order from the AAB that, if the work is not complete by Aug. 1 or town officials have not provided them with a request for an extension, the town will be subject to fines of $1,000 per day.
“I assured them they had our attention and that we will be taking all appropriate steps,” Lynam said. He plans to seek funding from free cash at the special Town Meeting so work can begin as soon as possible.
One of the AAB’s rules of accessibility is that all playground equipment must be accessible to wheelchairs. Lynam said the work should cost about $50,000, but if the playground requires a path entirely surrounding it, the cost could go as high as $90,000.
“We’re going to seek direction from the AAB,” he said.
Park pathways were also discussed at the AAB meeting. An AAB member has been to the park to assess the work done on the walkways and has found the pathmix used to be acceptable, Lynam reported. He said the material would, however, require more maintenance by the DPW. One-third of the park pathways still must be resurfaced in that ongoing project.
After a 40-minute hearing, presided over by Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green — who is an attorney — Selectmen voted 3-0 to accept her recommendation that a Rhodesian Ridgeback/boxer mix dog owned by Erin Curran be registered and licensed in town, but need not be declared a dangerous dog. Animal Control Officer Lisa McKay was not present at the hearing.
“I feel that both parties are at fault here, at some point, for different reasons,” said Selectman Brian Bezanson, who also owns multiple dogs. “We all need to remember that we have to keep our dogs under our control at all times. … I would like this to be a lesson to the rest of the community.”
Curran, of Boston, said her boyfriend Peter Cerino of 5 Oakdale Farm Road has been keeping the dog, named Maddie, since Curran suffered a knee injury last fall. Maddie is a 65-pound, 9-year-old dog. Cerino’s yard is not fenced in, but he said Maddie is always kept on a lead when out in his yard.
Scott and Lisa Godbout of 6 Oakdale Farm Road had filed a complaint under MGL Ch. 140 Sec. 157 and Whitman’s Dog Control Regulation XXVII Sec. XI stemming from two incidents in July and November 2016 between Maddie and the Godbout’s Schnauzer/poodle mix Tucker. The Godbout’s 8-year-old dog weighs 16 pounds.
Both parties agreed that Tucker was off-leash in Cerino’s yard during a July incident and that Maddie was off-leash during a November incident, in which the dogs tangled while Godbout was walking Tucker on a leash. Whitman’s regulation requires dogs be under an owner’s control at all times.
Where the two sides disagreed centered on the amount of supervision over the dogs in each incident.
Curran alleged no one was with Tucker when he entered Cerino’s yard in July and got in between Maddie — tied to the deck — and a neighbor’s dog as they were playing. Lisa Godbout insisted she was present when her dog and two others entered Cerino’s yard to play with Maddie, and that Maddie had attacked Tucker without provocation. The Godbouts did not raise an issue with that incident because their dog was off-leash at the time, and Curran had agreed with that decision.
“We really wanted to address this as neighbors and not litigate and I think we have resolved that, mostly,” Scott Godbout said, noting he had hoped to avoid reporting either incident. “This situation has never been a personal matter. We think it is our responsibility, as neighbors, to do our part in maintaining the safety of the neighborhood.”
Scott Godbout said he was walking Tucker on the leash when Maddie came out from between cars and pounced on his dog on Nov. 22. He was bitten trying to separate the dogs, and treated at South Shore Hospital where he received antibiotics, but no stitches.
Curran said Maddie had been frightened by a smoke alarm when food was scorched in the oven and had squeezed out of the house through a sliding glass door, opened slightly to air out the kitchen. Her dog ran toward the Godbout’s house, where Scott had testified Maddie had come out of nowhere before the dogs tangled.
Curran said her dog’s wounds from that incident appeared to be defensive and that Tucker had initiated the fight.
“As a dog owner, I take my responsibilities very seriously,” Curran said. “I’ve invested in Maddie’s training.” That training included Canine Top Performance Canine Camp in Reading.
Curran and Cerino have paid vet bills for Tucker, bought a muzzle for Maddie and a gate for their deck at the ACO’s request and that McKay had opined that her dog is not dangerous. Curran’s presentation included a packet of documentation including 12 affadvits from trainers, public safety officials and other neighbors who maintain Maddie, a therapy dog, is not a dangerous dog. She said prior to July, and since November, Maddie has had no other incidents with other dogs or people.
She also testified the Godouts “knowingly and voluntarily” signed an agreement to waive legal claims against Curran and Cerino following their payment of about $3,000 to pay the Godbout’s expenses.