Select boards in both Whitman and Hanson came to independent agreement on the number of members they wished to see — and whom to appoint — to the next Regional Agreement Subcommittee during their respective meetings on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
The School Committee was scheduled to discuss the matter again Wednesday, Oct. 12, and perhaps finalize the panel. The School Committee’s preference was for six voting members — two of their members (School Committee Chair Christopher Howard and Vice Chair Christopher Scriven), two selectmen and the two town administrators.
The original non-voting contingent was two citizens at-large, two finance committee members, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools.
“We wanted to keep it nimble,” Howard said, noting that dialog and consensus are also the aims.
“We’re trying to move this forward, and I think a smaller committee does that,” Whitman Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina said.
The towns preferred four voting members, with the administrators serving in a non-voting capacity.
“That makes sense to me,” said Whitman Selectman Dr. Carl Kowalski of the four-person panel representing the two towns and their regional schools. “That’s sort of equal representation and it’s a smaller group.”
Hanson Selectmen did not want to include town administrators as voting members, largely because they are town employees.
The Whitman board said they could accept the administrators serving as non-voting members, as they are analogous to the position of superintendent of school. The towns also agreed to send one member to the subcommittee, although Hanson expressed a preference for two.
Hanson voted to appoint Jim Hickey to the subcommittee, and Whitman voted to name Justin Evans to it. Hanson Select Board member Joe Weeks had also indicated a willingness to serve, but said his schedule limits his availability to Mondays.
“I find it a little odd to have the town administrators as a voting member since they are employees,” Hanson Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I definitely could see them being an advisory member — they definitely have to be part of the conversation.”
She preferred the smaller, more streamlined, four voting members approach.
Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam agreed.
“From my perspecitive, the town administrator represents the interests of the Board of Selectmen,” he said. “With a member of the Board of Selectmen there, I think it becomes less important for the TA to have a vote because the decisions that are made are going to be made after they’re presented to the individual boards.”
As long as it does not affect the ability of the group to move and for administrators to be heard over their concerns, it wouldn’t matter to him if it was a voting or non-voting role.
Whitman Selectmen Vice Chair Dan Salvucci argued that one member from each select board should be enough, because they would be able to report back to their boards.
Select Board members from both towns said residents would be encouraged to attend meetings and let their opinions be known.
School Committee Chair Christopher Howard attended both board’s meetings Tuesday night to get a sense of their preferences after his committee formed the regional agreement panel last month.
“I wanted to get a little more feedback before we go fully forward and talk about timing,” Howard told the Hanson board.
Hickey said he thought the Hanson board had expressed their preference for two Selectmen on the committee. Select Board member Ann Rein expressed concern that Green was a Pembroke resident — saying that all parties should be residents of either town. She withdrew her concern when it was pointed out that Green is a Whitman resident.
Green said that as a Hanson town employee living in Whitman, she would most likely recuse herself from any votes because of that conflict.
“We took feedback from both boards and we tried to get … a fairly small contingent of voting members,” Howard said, noting any decisions must be approved by DESE, then back to the select boards and both town meetings. “I’d rather kind of all be on the same page before we start.”
Howard said he would favor removing the citizen at-large non-voting member.
“I would encourage anyone that’s a resident of Hanson or Whitman that wants to participate, to come to the meeting,” he said. “There’s no difference to me between a posted, public meeting where anyone can participate or having a non-voting citizen at-large member.”
He also wants to get the work started and was concerned the selection of citizen at-large members could slow things down.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also asked if a mediator was considered in case disagreements surfaced and to help avoid tie votes some board members were concerned about.
“I think it’s hard because of some of the lines that have been drawn and past actions for people to be able to get to that place on our own,” she said.
“I think it’s going to be more difficult than people think, and there are some issues that really are contentious,” Whitman Select Board member Shawn Kain said, arguing for two select board members from each town. Having two members could help determine a middle ground where agreements might be reached, he said.
Evans noted that monetary issues were a main sticking point that the last regional agreement panel worked out, and this committee could move on to other issues.