HANSON — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Aug. 12 took issue with a Zoning Board of Appeals vote against supplying information to interim Town Administrator Lisa Green for a grant application for Mass Housing funds.
Selectmn support the non-competitive grant application. Any community that applies, receives funding.
Green said the grant provides civil engineering services as technical assistance to municipalities going through the 40B process.
“When I approached the ZBA, the administrative assistant informed me they already had a civil engineer who was on the staff already who was overseeing all of this, so they declined going forward with the grant,” she said.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked why the ZBA would be allowed to decide whether Selectmen proceed with a grant application.
“We voted to move forward with the Mass Housing Partnership grant,” she said. “Why are we allowing the ZBA to decide whether we are going to move forward with that or not?”
Green said there was information for the application that the ZBA needed to provide. She said the ZBA felt it would only confuse things to bring on a second civil engineer.
The town pays for the ZBA engineer’s services through applicant’s fees.
“I don’t see it as competing engineering,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I see it as we’re asking for a deeper dive on environmental engineering questions. …Their engineer only takes it to a certain level and the applicant is paying for it. … With all due respect, I don’t really care what the ZBA thinks of this grant.”
As an elected board, the Selectmen have a responsibility to the town and abutters regarding environmental contamination and stormwater management through a second review by a civil engineer.
“We’re not taking orders from any board,” Selectman Jim Hickey said, noting the Mass Housing Grant is non-competitive — if the town applies, they receive the funding. “This is the board that runs the town.”
Selectman Joe Weeks agreed that the decision rests with the Selectmen.
The board also discussed improving procedures for the application and appointment procedures for filling vacancies on town committees, with an eye toward attracting more residents to getting involved.
“I’ve gotten a little bit of feedback and I’m trying to be responsive,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We always have an abundance of openings and we don’t always have people signing up for them.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she wanted to make sure there is a policy and procedure that immediately acknowledges a person’s interest and application, letting them know it will be considered by the board. They would then be invited to meet with the board and a follow up with them, if they are appointed with instructions for being sworn in and information on who the committee chairman is and how they could contact them.
“I just want to make sure that we’re hand-holding people and being super appreciative of anybody that’s stepping up to be a volunteer,” she said.
Administrative Assistant to Selectmen Greer Getzen said she always follows up with applicants, sending them a letter thanking them for their interest and a date when Selectmen would be scheduled to vote on their application to make sure they are available. She also followed up with information on being sworn in by the Town Clerk.
“During COVID, I supplied [the Town Clerk’s] information, phone number and her email, so that they could contact her to make an appointment,” Getzen said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett wondered if the Town Hall’s appointment-only phase during COVID could be where “things jumped the track a little bit.”
She also stressed it is not intended as a reflection on Getzen or Green.
“This is an inherited and historical issue,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Getzen replied that her correspondence was even more specific at that time.
“I’m glad to hear that,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, adding that the current list of vacancies could be reviewed to determine if they are, indeed, still vacant as well as whether there are vacancies not listed.
Chairman Matt Dyer suggested the town’s volunteer handbook be listed among the information offered on the town’s website.
Getzen said a link could be added for that.
More information about committee portfolios and a more straightforward assessment of time commitments required would help market the openings more effectively, FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested.
“I think when you boil it down to that, people may think, ‘I could do that. I have wanted to give back, but I didn’t know what the time commitment was,’” she said.
Curt M. Tarvis II, who was elected to the Cemetery Commission echoed the point that there is little information about committees on the website.
“If there was more information available, you may get more volunteers,” he said.
“I honestly think we are not doing ourselves any favors,” FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed. “We bemoan the fact that … we’re reading all these [vacancies], but we’re not doing anything to help the situation. … If we can get some more people on these boards, it’s more engaged citizens, and god knows, we need more engaged citizens.”
She also said it could be a path to more people running for elective office.
Getzen said that, with a dedicated IT person coming on board, there will be more information on the site.