WHITMAN – The gavel, as they say, has been passed to a new generation with the election of Randy LaMattina, on Tuesday, June 7, as Whitman’s Select Board chair – after former Chair Dr. Carl Kowalski announced his intention to step aside after 12 years.
During the Select Board’s reorganization session, Dan Salvucci was re-elected as vice chair and Justin Evans was elected clerk.
The votes were delayed by the absence of Select Board member Justin Evans on May 25, due to the birth of his first child the day before. The board strives to reorganize during meetings with full attendance.
“I have been chair, as you all know, for a long time,” Kowalski said, in beginning his nomination of LaMattina. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been an honor, it’s been a pleasure to work with the people of Whitman, but I feel it’s time for a change.”
Kowalski said the town is entering a “new phase” with a strategic plan in place for the first time.
“The bases for that strategic plan were a couple of things,” he said, including a town-wide survey and a committee that LaMattina chaired, dealing with town finances and whether an override would be needed. That work led to the Madden Report, which “looms large in the strategic plan and what we’re looking forward to,” Kowalski added, pointing to LaMattina’s work on school budget matters, as well.
“That’s obviously going to be a continuing emphasis here,” he said. “I thought it would be a good time to transition the chairmanship to Randy LaMattina.”
Select Board member Dan Salvucci seconded LaMattina’s nomination, calling it “a good choice.”
Evans, pointing to work he has also done on the school budget committee, nominated himself to provide a choice. Member Shawn Kain seconded that nomination, but cast his vote for LaMattina.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Randy and for Justin, I’ve been following both you guys for a number of years,” Kain said. “I think both of you overlap a lot with my own priorities, so I think both … could be excellent at the role.”
“Trouble is, you have to vote for one of them,” Kowalski quipped.
Kain supported LaMattina.
Salvucci said he was sorry to hear Kowalski’s decision to step aside, but understood it, adding that he felt LaMattina would be a “good fit.”
“We might as well make it unanimous, I’ll vote for Randy,” Evans said.
“I’m kind of taken aback by it, but I’ve lived in this town basically my whole life,” LaMattina said, his voice breaking as he thanked the board for the honor. “The people of this town have given me a great opportunity.”
He said it was an honor to work with former Select Board member Brian Bezanson, as well as Salvucci and “one of the longest-running” town administrators.
“But there are two Selectmen who stand out from my childhood and now – I would say the Mt. Rushmore of Selectmen – for me personally in this town,” LaMattina said about former Select Board member Dick Cole and Kowalski.
“Getting the nomination from [Kowalski] means the world to me, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “Both men were different, but their commitment to this town is the same.”
He said the way Kowalski has conducted meetings over the past 12 years is “probably unprecedented” in the amount of work he has put in to prepare for meetings and making them flow properly, is a testament to his commitment to the town.
Kowalski also placed Salvucci’s name in nomination for vice chair as someone who has been a “terrific help to me over those years,” always being there when needed, as well as being a dedicated and kind person. The nomination was uncontested.
“I thank everyone,” Salvucci said on his re-election. “We have a little bit old and a little bit new.”
Kowalski also nominated Evans for clerk, which was seconded by Salvucci.
In other business, the board discussed the process ahead for negotiating host community agreements with cannabis businesses.
“We have had interest from several folks, serious interest from a few entities,” Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said in seeking feedback from the board about how and when the town should proceed with discussions with the interested parties. “In some ways, there isn’t really a lot to negotiate, it’s really to decide who the board wants to enter negotiations with.”
The town limits the number of cannabis businesses to five, of which no more than three can be retail. Agreements are limited to five years before they can be renewed and the host community agreement and impact fees.
The board may also decide if it wants to encourage local hiring, hours of operation an lock systems, but the latter two may be more accurately with the ZBA.
LaMattina said he has reached out to some surrounding communities on their agreements.
“It seems like it’s a very litigious process and, obviously, in any negotiation, town counsel is going to have to be heavily involved, it appears,” he said. “The agreements themselves seem to be fairly cookie-cutter.”
He suggested it would be a good idea for a couple members of the board, Heineman and town counsel “sit down and see where we’re at and start the process rolling.”
Evans expressed interest in that, having already begun to look at other towns’ host agreements. Kowalski said he would be happy with Justin and Heineman meeting with town counsel. Scott Lambiase was also suggested as a potential member of the group.
Kain asked if there was a way to roll the process out slowly.
“It’s entirely up to the board,” Heineman said. “As long as the process is fair, it doesn’t need to be quick.”
“I’d prefer to be thorough and fair than quick,” Kain said.
An update on the process will be included on the June 21 agenda.
Roads and sidewalks
Heineman said he and DPW Superintendent Bruce Martin, who oversees parks and roads, have been meeting to discuss an acceleration of road and sidewalk repairs in town.
The financing of such work will focus on three approaches, Heineman said: maximizing state Chapter 90 funds, maximizing free cash through June 30 and reviewing planning board performance bonds to determine which ones may be closed to increase free cash amounts available.
He said his work with Martin is aimed at identifying and making sure the list of town roads the state has is as complete as possible to maximize both road miles in town and Chapter 90 funds. Town income level and the number of publically accepted roads are also factors in allocating that funding.
They have identified 12 roads have been accepted that need a state review of paperwork; 16 roads are not on state list, but have been accepted at town meeting; and another 17 unaccepted roads would be acceptable, according to Martin.
State DOT officials have said in writing to the town that road adoption does not necessarily have to go to town meeting, with the Select Board able to do that.
Town accountant Ken Lytle and Heineman have been reviewing old town meetings originally funded by free cash and closing them out by June 30 to return the funds to free cash so they can be certified in 2023.
There is currently $216,996 in outstanding performance bonds, which developers pay to ensure developments are finished according to Planning Board requirements. There are nine with have significant funds outstanding for at least 10 years, Heineman said. The aim is to find old documentation from the projects to determine what was required an whether it has been accomplished. If they are complete, funds can be released to developers.
“In most cases, it’s likely that these will not be completely finished in that way, but because of the time that’s elapsed, we can … go back, with a Planning Board vote [and] release these monies back to hit our free cash,” he said.
The final four projects under consideration are most recent, where developers may indeed still be working on the projects.
“Nevertheless, I predict there is at least $71,000 there and probably a little bit more … to have released by the Planning Board,” Heineman said.
Heineman also provided an update on the Strategic Plan, something that Kain urge the board keep as a regular agenda item.
“It provides an intellegent and quick way for us to get updated about something we’ve all collectively agreed upon.” Kain said, adding it would keep the town headed in the right direction.
“For a lot of us paying attention, we see that stuff happening, but I think to make it more explicit for the every day citizen so they can be that much more knowledgeable at Town Meeting, I really support that,” he said.