While some town officials are eager to return to in-person meeting sessions of boards and commissions, others are advocating a more cautious approach.
In Whitman, Selectmen on Tuesday, July 14 voted to change the time of the annual town meeting to 6 p.m., Monday, July 27. It was originally set to begin at 7:30 p.m. on that date.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said there were two considerations behind the recommendation — it is being held outdoors and lighting is going to be an issue.
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked if the time change would make it difficult for people coming home from work to attend.
Lynam also reported that the transition process of re-opening Town Hall — by appointment only right now — is going well.
“We talked about that with the moderator,” Lynam said. “It may provide some people with a decision as to whether or not they want to leave [work] early to make Town Meeting, but the sense was people have generally been pretty available at that time of night.”
He said concerns of the health and safety of people attending the meeting. The field will be treated that morning by Plymouth County Mosquito Control and mosquito repellant will be made available at check-in tables for people to use.
There has been evidence in the general South Shore area — if not Whitman — for both Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus, which prompted the concern.
“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to let it run late into the night when that is the prime time for mosquitos,” Lynam said.
Whitman is participating in Plymouth County’s COVID program and is waiting for confirmation that $235 per student in state funding would be provided to the schools to deal with coronavirus issues.
Hanson Town Administrator John Stanbrook reported to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, July 7 that he and Health Agent Gil Amado have discussed open meetings of town boards and committees in the Selectmen’s meeting room. Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest guidance is eight people per 1,000 square feet, but deferred the decision to the local boards of health. The Selectmen’s meeting room — at about 700 square feet — could accommodate about six people, Stanbrook said.
Amado, however, said 14 people could safely meet there. Seats would be spaced six feet apart and hand wipes and sanitizer would be made available. Meetings of more than 14 people, including public hearings would be held at Hanson Middle School.
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked how a meeting, that draws an unexpectedly large audience, would pivot. Stanbrook suggested it could possibly be taken outside but he thinks most boards and committees know what issues would likely draw large crowds and can plan accordingly.
Mitchell said he was in favor of getting back to meetings in Town Hall this week, but Dyer and FitzGerald-Kemmett urged holding it at the middle school, if possible, since the Cove opening issue could draw a crowd.
“I don’t feel comfortable being in the Selectmen’s room at this point,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Even if it was just us, I’m not comfortable. I’m not going into the office. … I love you guys and love talking to you — and would love to see you all again someday soon — but I don’t want to be sitting two feet from you in a room.”
She did favor a meeting at HMS.
Town Hall is now open — by appointment only — from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The public will be expected to answer COVID-19 related questions before entering the building and must wear masks while there as well as observing social distancing and hand-sanitizing guidelines.
“If you can’t or won’t wear a mask an employee will meet you outside to conduct business,” Stanbrook said. People are still urged to conduct as much business as possible without coming into Town Hall and no cash is being accepted during the appointment-only period.
One glitch that has been discovered is that Google searches for Town Hall do not always bring up thee correct phone number, however. Residents should call 781-293-5186 for fastest service.
Lynam recommended, meanwhile, that a previous board vote to hold a season-opening parade for Whitman Youth Soccer in August be rescinded.
“After discussing with [Fire Chief Timothy] Grenno and the Health Department, they do not feel that it would be prudent to have people gathering in a parade format,” Lynam said.
Selectmen also voted to authorize requests for reimbursement from Plymouth County for COVID-related expenditures. Lynam said Whitman Fire Department has been tracking the expenses and the town accountant is reviewing all requests for appropriateness and documentation.
“What I’m now being told is that money is coming from the COVID funds that each town in Plymouth County is eligible to receive from the $90 million that was granted to Plymouth County,” Lynam said. “I don’t believe it would negatively impact us because we were never in a position to spend the apportionment that would have been available to us based on need. We’re not cutting corners, but we’re not spending just because the money’s there.”
He said he would follow up on the situation and report back to the board.
On Tuesday, July 14, the Hanson board voted to open Cranberry Cove by a 3-2 vote depending on the quality of water and adequate staffing. Selectmen Jim Hickey and Wes Blauss voted no, based on concerns over the impact it could have on the coming school year. Selectmen voted unanimously to approve opening camping at Camp Kiwanee. The Cove could be opened within 48 hours. the board was told.
The Recreation Commission had been asked to restrict access to the cove to Hanson residents, use of a non-cash payment process, strict cleaning protocols, swimming schedules, and escorts to the exits. Water testing results and the availability of adult gatekeepers would also have an effect on opening.
Stanbrook said he continues to receive emails from people asking that Cranberry Cove be opened for swimming.
“Last week we were waiting for the [reopening] plan,” Mitchell said. “We did receive the plan, but it was after our meeting ended.” He reviewed the plan on Wednesday, July 1 and still had questions about it and met at the camp with Recreation Commission Chairman Diane Cohen and Amado on Friday, July 3.
“I’m satisfied with the plan, now that I went down there, [but] there’s one small component I’m waiting for, which I should have by [July 9],” Mitchell said. If he is satisfied with the way that concern is handled, he was willing to place it on the agenda for a vote this week. [See related story].
Blauss said he recently drove to Cranberry Cove.
“It struck me that this is what dire financial straits look like,” he said. “This is visible. There’s going to be a lot of less-visible cutting going on for the public when $1.35 million disappears from our budget. … It cannot be funded adequately, if it cannot be totally supported, the town is not going to be able to afford this no matter what the social distancing guidelines are.”
He also said there would be issued surrounding masks at the Cove.
“There are people in Hanson who will not wear a mask,” Blauss said. “There are people in Hanson who are not worried about their kids and the spread of COVID, and they’re going to show up on the beach.”
It will have ramifications beyond recreation, as well.
“The beach is going to be the place where school in the Whitman-Hanson district, does not open in September, except virtually, because there’s a surge. Because we are not being careful with our kids,” Blauss said.
The Cove has not closed for 80 years, but the impact on the school opening and the town’s need to support the Recreation Budget if it can not stay solvent, are reasons to keep it closed this year.