HANSON – Voters at Hanson’s special Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 4, took several steps to make local government more transparent, including postponing one citizens’ petition article on residency requirements for holding office to the May Town Meeting.
An article seeking special legislation outlining the process for removal for cause of appointed board, committee or commission officials, amended to remove contradictory language about the petition signature process, was approved.
Selectman Joseph Weeks said that article’s purpose was to trigger a hearing by the appointing board.
“This article is designed to give a voice to people that, if they truly feel an appointed official that they do not have direct control over, is doing something that’s against what the wishes of Hanson are, this triggers that hearing,” he said.
An article proposed by the Board of Selectmen, requiring that all Hanson office-holders have their primary residence in Hanson was also approved, without comment.
A non-binding citizen’s petition, seeking the immediate removal of the entire membership of the Zoning Board of Appeals, by the Board of Selectmen as the ZBA’s appointing authority, was also approved. Kevin Cohen of Spring Street, and 167 co-signers, asked that the ZBA be removed at the first possible meeting after Town Meeting.
“The Hanson ZBA has recently reorganized three times,” Cohen said. “A lot of people in town were not aware of this. … There’s also been many complaints to the state ethics commission with regard to several members of the board, involving alleged self-dealing. The state Ethics Commission is looking into the personal relationships on this board. … It does warrant an investigation.”
Another article approved Monday night, revised a bylaw to require all board and committee members report to the Board of Selectmen, any potential conflicts of interest.
When the Town Meeting — held in the McEwan Performing Arts Center at WHRHS — was posted, masks for the session were optional, but since the high school is mandated to require them until Nov. 1, Moderator Sean Kealy urged residents to observe that rule, even though he was not willing to remove anyone for failure to do so.
“It is a state law, however, and the school is very concerned about it,” Kealy said. Not everyone complied.
Former School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes was honored for his service on that committee.
Before the night’s business got under way, there was $2,210,786 in free cash; $1,365,131 in the stabilization fund; $187,182 in the school stabilization fund; $1,540,002 in water surplus; $20,949 in the Recreation retained earnings; and $25,058 in the solid waste retained earnings account.
Funds for a temporary recording secretary for the Selectmen’s office and a proposed .75-percent meals tax were among the few articles rejected or passed over.
A requested $9,179 for a recording secretary in the Selectmen’s office was rejected by a 63-41 vote. The meals tax request was passed over by a vote of 56-52.
The Finance Committee did not recommend the recording secretary expense, which was intended to help catch up with a meeting minutes backlog and assist with Economic Development Committee minutes, according to Town Administrator Lisa Green. The part-time, temporary employee would have had no benefits and the requested funds were expected to cover pay for the position through July 1, 2022.
“Since we are mid-budget cycle, adding staff or hours just, for us, we prefer to see that at the beginning of the budget cycle,” said Finance Committee member Patrick Powers.
Resident Bruce Young urged voters to follow the Finance Committee’s recommendation and moved that each of the lines up for adjustment in Article 2 be voted separately. When that was approved, the motion to reject the recording secretary line was approved.
“The executive assistant to the Board of Selectmen has always handled the preparation and the transcribing of the minutes,” he said. “The minutes are as difficult as you want to make them.”
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer countered that the office is only staffed with two people and the work hasn’t been accomplished within a 40-hour work week in years.
“In the past, we’ve had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful employee — [Meredith] Merry Marini — who would stay and work 60 hours a week,” Dyer said. “She would come in during the weekends, she would do the minutes from home — she took a lot of work, and she did it on her own time.”
He said the town benefitted from Marini’s work over the years, but that over time, state mandates have increased. The office is understaffed.
“We had a global pandemic come through, and that really took a lot of our bandwidth and we got a little bit behind in our minutes and this is just to help us get caught up,” Dyer said.
The narrow vote margin to pass over an article instituting a .75-percent meals tax meant that the town continues as one of only three in the region to fail to adopt a meals tax. Opponents argued that, on the heels of the COVID pandemic, it is not the time to impose a new tax.
“My only concern is that, at this particular time, after the pandemic, I’m not sure imposing a meals tax on our restaurants in town — where we don’t have an awful lot of them and they’re struggling — I just don’t think it should be brought up at this particular time,” said resident Kathleen Marini, moving to pass over the article.
Dyer explained the sales tax is on diners, not restaurants and that the small difference the tax would make, in an effort to fund municipal and school costs, would not affect business. He said a $100 tab and Venus III, for example, would only bring a 75-cent meals tax.
Discussion of two pond management articles, for treatment and preventive measures and establishing a budget line item, was also the focus of much of the evening’s discussion.
Woodbine Avenue resident Joe Campbell asked if the $25,000 from free cash sought for Article 12 included litigation costs against surrounding towns that are violating waterways.
Conservation Commission Chairman Phil Clemons said Article 11 doesn’t provide funding, but rather a mechanism for possible future funding.
“They don’t dictate what we do and don’t spend the money on, it’s just that, at the moment, the town doesn’t have a mechanism for spending any money to fund anything regarding any pond,” Clemons said. “This is simply a way to begin paying that attention. … This will enable us to start doing something.”
For one Lakeside Avenue resident said that it appeared to her that Pembroke officials play a role in clearing up the algae.
“I’ve lived there over 40 years and the ponds are getting worse,” she said, noting she has joined a Pembroke watershed group, but now finds Hanson is not treating its side of the pond. “I don’t know how that works out, because I’ve got all this green algae growing everywhere.”
Powers again pointed to the Finance Committee’s preference that the proposal wait for a full budget year to seek funding. Kealy added that while Article 11 puts the budget line in place, Article 12 puts some money into it until the May Town Meeting, but that the fiscal 2023 budget cycle really begins to get going in November.
Resident Frank Milisi expressed concern over bladderwort, which contain small, hollow sacs that digest tiny animals such as insect larvae and water fleas, would be a plant at the Cranberry Cove beach that Recreation officials want to get rid of by the time swimming starts. May would be too late for that.
“I appreciate that Finance has to do their job and go through and make recommendations at the May Town Meeting, but we really need to start getting a handle on at least the Cranberry Cove bladderwort issue,” he said, describing the situation as dangerous to have children learning how to swim there until the plants are eradicated.
Former Finance Committee member Pepper Santalucia, while he greatly respects the work that they do, said that the October Town Meeting is to meet needs and address issues that have come up since the May Town Meeting and may need to be addressed before the spring.
“It strikes me that it’s a good policy to be cautious about what expenditures you might recommend or approve at the October Town Meeting, but to make a blanket assertion that, because it’s coming up as a need in October, it’s not worthy of consideration … I’m asking for some clarification,” he said.
Powers said the Finance Committee did not recommend Article 11 at this time because it adds and establishes a budget line, which is procedurally done in May.
Both articles were approved, with Milisi’s request to add an additional $10,000 for what Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said would fund not only a study, but plans to do something to address the ponds.
Union ratified contracts for public employees were also funded, including the police union — which received public funds in support of their education through the Quinn Bill and base raises (2 percent for the first year and 2 ¼ for the last two) added over the course of three years, a tenure step increase, and an increase for a sergeant to differentiate his rank from the top patrolman, Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff said.
All unions received Juneteenth as a contractual holiday. Juneteenth for nonunion personnel was approved in a later article recognizing it as a local holiday, as well as on the state and federal designations.
The fire department’s union personnel agreement contained the same base raises as the police contract, a 10-year step, an increased for the paramedic certification stipend and EMT basic stipend.
The administrative professionals’ union settled for a flat 2-percent raise over three years, some library positions — children’s, youth and reference librarians —were added to the union, assistants in the collector, treasurer and clerk’s offices will receive a $1,000 stipend for certifications they have attained and a $350 stipend to maintain a certification for the conservation clerk and eye glasses reimbursements up to $500 every three years.
The Highway Department contract carried no further appropriation for the fiscal year.