WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Dec. 7 opted to accept most of a revised financial policy, which includes a procurement card that could be used by certain town employees to fund purchases. The procurement cards policy was tabled until language can be revised.
“I’m still not sure about having a procurement card — on the value having it,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said to open the discussion. “I think the current system — of someone pays for the stuff and then gets reimbursed — makes sense, and I think it keeps us away from some … messy business.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said, while he understood and agrees in some respects, with Kowalski, he questioned why town employees should have to expend their own money and then wait for Selectmen to reimburse them.
“I have a little trouble with that, too,” Bezanson said. “Why should you put your money down?”
He also asked whether the town should have one card for the board and town administrator and assistant to use, requiring all other town officials and employees to go through the Selectmen’s office for authorization.
Kowalski said his understanding of the proposal was that there would be a number of cards distributed, but Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said the policy proposal would only be for one card to be administered through the Selectmen and town administrator’s office.
“Then there’s less chance of any shenanigans,” Bezanson said.
Selectman Justin Evans recalled that the last time the board discussed the proposal, Heineman had just been reimbursed — via the board’s authorization — for a purchase of snacks and beverages he bought for a day-long strategic planning session in October.
“It’s the kind of process that we could streamline,” Evans said.
Selectman Dan Salvucci said people have, in the past, traveled on town business, expenses had been abused.
“When it came time for reimbursement, we had to have a talk about spending frivolously,” he said. “I think, with a credit card, if we put a max on it per purchase …”
Heineman said that, especially where travel on town business is concerned, he would never authorize an expense that was not the cheapest economy on meals and probably not at all on air travel.
He noted that Parks and Highway Superintendent Bruce Martin had recently told him that nearly every month he is faced with expenses for essential equipment or materials he has to purchase where a credit card is the only form of payment accepted.
Heineman recommended a card limit, rather than a purchase limit.
Kowalski said the wording of the proposal led him to believe that “a number of procurement cards were going to be given out to people to use when they need to buy stuff for the town.”
He saw the possibility of people going over the limit.
Heineman said the language could be changed to reflect that only one card would be used.
In other business, Heineman said the town is “experiencing a pretty significant uptick in the positivity rate” for COVID19, during his regular update on the pandemic.
The positivity rate has been climbing for six straight weeks, and particularly over the previous two weeks.
“It’s risen dramatically as compared with the previous four,” Heineman said. “The Delta variant is the primary variant that’s being transmitted now.”
The town’s vaccination rate, meanwhile, has been slowly ticking up, with Whitman’s vaccinated population now at 61 percent.
Booster clinics have been conducted for residents of the Whitman Housing Authority as well as the home-bound in the community. Another booster clinic, open to the public was held Dec. 9.
While first and second shots are also readily available at local pharmacies, the town has plans in place for those clinics, if they are needed.
“This spike was not unexpected,” Fire Chief Timothy Clancy said.
After receiving 93 applications for the post of assistant town administrator, Heineman said the subcommittee has set up eight semifinal interviews, with an eye toward three to four sending finalists to the full board for interviews on Dec. 21.
“We were going to try to avoid that night,” Kowalski said. “But someone might get a merry Christmas that night.”
Following reference and background checks the aim is to have a new assistant town administrator in place in January.
Salvucci said a Monday night television news report on Dec. 6 was the first he heard of the alleged threat situation at WHRHS that day.
“I’m out and about doing Christmas shopping and, if somebody asks me about it, I have no idea,” he said. “I think that either the School Department or somebody should have put an email out to at least this board … so we know basically what happened. We don’t need the specifics, because it’s still under investigation.”
He said Selectmen should at least know enough to reassure residents.
Selectman Randy LaMattina, who is the police liaison, said the police did reach out to him.
“Obviously, it was an issue with minors and is kind of a sensitive area,” he said. “But he did inform me there was an incident and there would be extra police presence by both towns at the high school.”
He said it was a developing situation at the time.
Kowalski agreed with Salvucci that communication has to be better.
He learned of the incident from another person who does not live in Whitman and, when he texted Police Chief Timothy Hanlon, he was told that the chief had called LaMattina and Heineman.
“I said ‘That’s great, but if I bumped into somebody at Stop & Shop, and they said, ‘Hey, what’s going on in Whitman-Hanson?’ I’d have said, ‘Duh, I don’t know,’ Kowalski said. “Communication’s got to be better.”
Kowalski said he had a good conversation with the chief, but it’s good to know some things.
“It’s not about the event, it has to do with communication to this board,” he said.