HANSON — Selectmen and Bluegrass on the Bogs producer Michael Foster came to some agreement on the need to negotiate insurance and police detail coverage for the annual festival during a second discussion on the event in as many weeks on Tuesday, April 12.
But also for the second time, tempers flared over concerns centering on Camp Kiwanee contracts and what parts of the conversation could have posed an Open Meeting Law violation, this time prompting interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera to lose patience with some comments made during the discussion and to leave the meeting early.
“I’ve had enough,” LaCamera said after the discussion had concluded, as he gathered his files and left.
The Board of Selectmen had also met with the Recreation Commission and its Administrative Assistant Nicole Campbell during the Tuesday, April 5 Selectmen’s meeting to discuss a departmental audit, contracts and procurement policies.
Prior to that at-times heated session, Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young read a statement into the record admonishing that the purpose of the discussion was to “address going forward, as soon as possible” issues highlighted so far by the town’s annual audit.
Last week LaCamera had also sited liability concerns he had about Bluegrass on the Bogs, stemming from lack of insurance and alcohol consumption, the permitting of RVs onsite in violation of camp rules, trash disposal, septic demands, staffing shortages and a failure to arrange for police security details.
Those issues were discussed Tuesday night, with Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr. and Police Chief Michael Miksch asked to attend. LaCamera had also discussed the festival concerns with the Board of Health earlier in the evening April 12.
Recreation Commission member James Hickey said he had spoken with both chiefs Thursday, April 7, and reported they had found no incidents recorded in the logs during the festival weekends over the last three years.
“With any event up there, the Fire Department’s concern is access,” Thompson said. “Some things have arisen about this event, but they were quickly taken care of as far as any permits for tenting or storage for propane.”
He said he does an inspection the Friday before an event and a few times during the course of it.
“I’ve had no issues any time I’ve gone up there prior to the start of the event — or any event — and had any code issues or anything I wanted corrected,” he said.
Miksch said he does have some concerns, not only about access and parking for the festival, but indicated there have been issues with other events at Camp Kiwanee. His biggest concern about the bluegrass festival centered on it’s rapid growth over the last three years from about 300-600 over two days to an estimated 1,000 expected this year.
“The way, from a police standpoint, that I have to look at things is what is the venue, what is the audience and what are the factors, such as alcohol, that are involved,” he said. “That really changes things.”
Foster replied he can help control the issues of concern Miksch cited. This year, the festival will feature 22 bands from the six New England states and New York City.
“I’m the perpetrator of this event,” he quipped. “I have complete control over the number of people that come. I pre-sell tickets online and I can shut things down at any point, which is what I did last year.”
Foster said alcohol is not permitted at the festival, but a Hanson resident said she had seen drinking when she visited the festival with her two children, challenging Recreation Commission Chairman David Blauss’ statement last week that it is a family event. Another resident in the audience challenged that accusation.
“There was alcohol, I’ve seen it,” the first woman said.
“Just because there’s a red Solo cup, doesn’t mean there’s alcohol in it,” the second woman countered. “I understand there’s a song about it, but it doesn’t always mean that.”
Miksch said he had not seen incidents during events with an alcohol license, unlike after-event drinking.
“You’re putting a liability on the taxpayers,” he said. “You can’t have it. We have rules that say you can’t have it.”
If alcohol is permitted, detail officers would be required, Miksch said, and Foster agreed.
The town’s insurance agency is reviewing the festival’s insurance policy at LaCamera’s request to determine where it needs to be supplemented for alcohol consumption on grounds, cabin rentals, possible assaults or sexual abuse and indemnification to hold the town harmless.
He suggested that earlier planning next year might help.
“It’s gone so smooth for so many years, that nobody’s really brought up many concerns so we haven’t had the urgency before,” Blauss agreed.
The discussion that set tempers flaring this week began after Selectman James McGahan asked for LaCamera’s clarification on concerns he had expressed April 5 about the responsibility for signing rental contracts at Camp Kiwanee. McGahan did not see where the Town Administrator Act came into play on the issue.
“I thought we were supposed to be talking solely about Bluegrass on the Bog,” Hickey said of discussion on by-laws governing that point.
“We’re talking about bluegrass,” McGahan said. “This function’s coming up, we’ve got to get it resolved this time. You’re [LaCamera] talking about changing it because you’re going to add the indemnification into it, and I see nothing in writing, specific in terms of who’s supposed to sign it.”
LaCamera, Blauss and other Recreation Commission members had entered a back-and-forth debate on the bluegrass festival issue at the April 5 meeting until McGahan objected the range of discussion was in danger of violating the statement of intent Young read at the start — and perhaps the Open Meeting Law, as the festival had not been specifically mentioned on last week’s agenda.
That was when it was decided to place the festival discussion on this week’s agenda.
“I’ve looked at Chapter 30B up and down and I can’t find where it says whose supposed to sign contracts,” McGahan said this week. He asked for clarification on that point while the insurance policy is being reviewed. “I think it’s so vague that we’ve been doing it this way so that’s why we’ve been doing it this way.”
LaCamera said that is not the case and that every contract concluded by the town should go through the town administrator and selectmen.
“One of the problems is the by-laws are out of date,” he said, adding they are out of synch with state statutes. “They need to be completely rewritten and I was not going to undertake that while I was here.”
Young sought accurate information about where contracts go after rentals are signed. He said a check with a restrictive endorsement stamp should be stapled to a signed copy contract and forwarded to Town Hall where the rate should be cross-checked to flag any inconsistencies.
“If all that had been in place, a lot of stuff we’re talking about now never would have happened,” Young said. “It would have eliminated half the things in this audit report.”
LaCamera said last week that over three years, instead of being charged $4,500 to lease Camp Kiwanee, the production company has been charged $1,000 — and was charged $2,500 this year.
“There’s a number of concerns that I have, that I know the police chief has, the Board of Health has about this festival,” LaCamera said. “This is not a nonprofit organization, this is a company that is looking to make money.”
A former Recreation Commission member argued its purpose is not to make money, but that it does through rentals and that it should be used to subsidize recreation. LaCamera argued between salaries and expenses, “it’s pretty much break-even.”
The town’s auditor — Lynch, Malloy, Marini LLP — has made some suggestions and comments concerning documentation of employee work hours, integration of the Camp Kiwanee computer system into the town’s system, adherence to the fee schedule for rental facilities, improved tracking of receipts, the need for an inventory log and a better process for issuing beach passes.
LaCamera was also taking a “closer look at some of those issues” at the auditor’s recommendation. Those issues, Young noted, were not up for discussion last week.
Computer integration with the town system has already been addressed. A time clock, as is already used at the beach area and other town departments, is required by federal and state law and will be installed at the Camp, LaCamera said.
Auditors also noted “multiple instances” in which groups paid a reduced cost to rent camp facilities without authorization “in accordance with established policies and procedures,” and recommended a secondary review of all contracts. Gaps were also noted in the numbered sequence of receipts, prompting auditors to recommend an investigation.