HANSON — The Board of Selectmen discussed a new policy of looking into appointment requests with more rigor in all cases at its Tuesday, June 29 meeting — stemming from discussion regarding the reappointment of ZBA member Kevin Perkins.
“I’ve had many a constituent come to me and talk about possible conflicts of interest and I’m curious if any paperwork, any conflict of interest, any disclosures were submitted along with this reappointment request,” Selectman Joe Weeks said.
Perkins was reappointed by a 3-2 vote with Weeks and Selectmen Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett voting against it, but the policy of more stringent vetting of candidates for appointment by the Board of Selectmen received a consensus of support.
Weeks had indicated he had heard of concerns of conflict of interest but Town Administrator Lisa Green said she was told there has been no record of such complaints, by the Planning Department and that past minutes provided to her showed that he has not acted in conflict of interest.
“Going forward, I very much feel that we have to get a little more rigor around making sure that the board’s aware,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “It isn’t that if somebody has disclosures we won’t appoint them, but we need to go in eyes wide open and recognize that somebody has filed a disclosure and they have let us know what potential conflicts are and that they’re well aware of them and they’re going to avoid them.”
She had suggested tabling the appointment until the Selectmen’s next meeting so they could check on the disclosures.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell strongly disagreed with such a move.
“We need to make the appointment.” Mitchell said, noting that Perkins’ term expired the next day (June 30) and there’s no reason to hold it up. “We didn’t hold up the other 40 people that we appointed two weeks ago because of nothing. There’s nothing in front of me that shows Mr. Perkins has done anything wrong.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said wrong-doing was not the issue, rather that consitutents had raised a concern she felt needed to be vetted.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer asked if there had been any formal complaints filed. Green said she has seen no evidence of that.
“I understand the concerns that may be out there,” Dyer said. “As we discussed [earlier in the meeting regarding the Spring Street project], we need to make sure that all members of all boards do their ethics training and, if they have any question regarding ethics that they call the MassEthics line and file the proper paperwork at the [Town] Clerk’s office.”
But, with pending projects before the ZBA, Dyer said the vacancy needed to be filled and, going forward, Selectmen should take a closer look at files.
“That’s what you’ve got to do with everybody,” Mitchell said.
“It has nothing to do with this individual.” Weeks said. “We don’t represent the Zoning Board, we represent all constituents. There’s no picking sides.”
He said he was responding to a question raised by constituents.
“We have to make sure that we vet everybody,” Weeks said. “There’s a huge difference between a board that we appoint as Selectmen vs. people that get in [to office] by elected means.”
A new Bylaw Committee will also be formed in town.
“The Bylaws can be considered a little bit outdated and have some of what I have found to be a lot of language issues,” said Green. She suggested reaching out to companies that codify bylaws to do a legal analysis and make recommendations for changes based on current statutes. Selectmen voted to approve the Bylaw Committee.
A reconstituted Bylaw Committee would be charged with reviewing the recommendations for the Selectmen’s review.
“This is long overdue,” FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed.
The board is looking at a five-member committee, including Green, a selectman, a member of the Planning Board and two citizens at-large.
Selectmen also voted to accept a settlement in a potential bankruptcy settlement by Purdue Pharma relating to a class-action suit against the pharmaceutical firm to which Hanson signed on as a plaintiff during the opioid crisis.
“The lawyers who are undertaking the class-action [case] negotiated a bankruptcy settlement, which did not yield a monetary distribution to municipalities, but rather, yielded contributions to opioid programs, which is helpful to combat some of the negative impacts for over-prescription of opioids,” said Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff. “The question before this board is: ‘Is this town willing to sign off on that bankruptcy?’”
She said the alternative would be to undertake individual litigation against the company. There are other companies involved in the class-action that are not part of the bankruptcy settlement, Feodoroff said.
She recommended accepting the settlement to take part in the opioid programs it funds.
Selectmen also reviewed needed upgrades to telephone lines and internet infrastructure as recommended by Ryan McGonigle, the town’s former IT director, who has since left to explore other career opportunities.
“WiFi is not always a safe route for the sensitive information that we’re dealing with,” Dyer said. “We need to upgrade our Town Hall security camera systems, we need to upgrade to a town file-sharing system and kind of move away from Dropbox to another system that is going to be more successful.”
Dyer credited McGonigle with upgrading the town’s email and inter-office connectivity.
FitzGerald-Kemmett lauded McGonigle’s efforts to enable town officials and employees to work remotely during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“That was a very new concept,” she said. “Some folks had the ability to work remotely, but not the vast majority and he really kicked it into high gear.”