WHITMAN — Resets seemed to be the order of things on Monday, Jan. 31 as officials, unable to achieve a required quorum — checking in only 127 of the needed 150 — were unable to take action on about half the seven-article warrant at the special Town Meeting.
Selectmen, meeting both in open and executive session before the Town Meeting, were forced to table next steps in the assistant town administrator search after contract negotiations with designate Rogeria Medeiros-Kowalczykowski proved fruitless.
The special Town Meeting warrants not acted on Monday will likely have to be delayed until the annual Town Meeting in May, according to Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman on Tuesday, Feb.1.
Selectmen will take up the assistant town administrator situation at an upcoming meeting.
Medeiros-Kowalczykowski, currently the assistant to the town manager in Stoughton, had impressed the board both on paper and in her interviews.
The search attracted some 90 applicants, of which the search subcommittee of Kowalski, Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman and Selectman Justin Evans interviewed eight semi-finalists to narrow the field to the three interviewed by the entire board on Jan. 11.
“I’d say we have three really strong candidates, and they all have their own strengths and, perhaps, weaknesses or errors of opportunity,” Heineman said. “I think, in many ways, [Medeiros-Kowalczykowski’s] skill set and past match – quite precisely, in many ways – the job description that we identified.”
Heineman said after the meeting that the town was not able to come to an agreement with Medeiros-Kowalczykowski.
When it came to the main business of the night — the special Town Meeting — the lack of a quorum meant that the wait of more than half an hour past the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start, was longer than the meeting which clocked in at about 16:30 minutes. With only 127 voters attending, only three of seven warrant articles could be acted on.
Heineman said Tuesday that falling 14 short of a quorum was disappointing.
“Unfortunately, on the warrant, there are several articles that we cannot act on … but there are a couple that we can,” said Moderator Michael Seele. “So if the meeting is going to be OK with that, I think that we can. The rest of it will have to be considered at a later time.”
Of the three articles that were acted on, two calling for approval of land donations to the town took up the bulk of discussion.
Article 1, calling for authorization for the town to appropriate from sewer-water retained earnings, $352.50 to pay a professional engineering services invoice from fiscal 2021. A 9/10 vote was required. The Town Meeting voted to approve the article.
Discussion centered on Article 5 a gift of land at Little Comfort Circle on Assessors map 23D, block 23D, lot 46 and — after that was approved, Article 6 concerning land on Hogg Memorial Drive shown on Assessors map 22A, block 8, lot 124 was also passed quickly.
A Harvard Street resident asked to know exactly how much tax money the town would be losing by accepting the land.
Heineman said the Little Comfort land, offered as a donation by the landowner was billed $5,484.75 in fiscal 2022.
“So, by accepting this land donation, that means that this town loses $5,484.75 in taxes?” she asked.
“The town would no longer be collecting those taxes,” he replied. “Correct. Beginning in fiscal year 2023.”
She also asked if the land is buildable.
“I cannot speak to that directly,” Heineman said.
Developer Steve Egan, who made the offer to donate both parcels of property in Articles 5 and 6, spoke in favor of the gift.
“One of the arguments that we always get, when we’re doing any type of project is about open space,” he said. “Where is area for the animals and some conservation areas.”
He noted that people don’t want to see all the trees come down and every available space developed.
“As part of most of our projects now, we try to incorporate areas of open space and conservation, whether it be in Whitman or other towns that we work in,” Egan said. Both parcels being donated are in the same area off Auburn Street.
The Planning Board approved plans that allowed for smaller lots on both sites, which left the company the ability to donate a couple of large sections of open space, with plans to donate them to the town when the projects were completed. One of the plots in the Hogg Memorial site is a 19-acre section of land abutting the Whitman Middle School. Another section of the donation abuts another 4.5 acres of town property to the south of their land, giving the town a contiguous area of about 58 acres.
At the Little Comfort development, a 15-acre piece was left as an open space area, abutting a 48-acre piece in East Bridgewater — more than 60 acres of land bridging both towns.
“I think it’s important that we develop responsibly, trying to create come open space area,” Egan said. “These two projects did both.”
He said both properties had been vacant, bringing Whitman under $10,000 in taxes. Meanwhile, the Little Comfort development added $400,000 to town coffers in property taxes. Another $250,000 in taxes was brought in via the Heritage Park/Hogg Memorial Drive project.
“I don’t think the town is losing by accepting some open space,” he said. There is both wetland and upland — or buildable — areas in the donated land.
Finance Chairman Richard Anderson said the reason his board voted against recommending the article because not enough information was available when they voted.
Selectman Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci had opened Town Meeting by asking that articles 1,2,3,4 and 7 be passed over because there was a failure to draw a quorum.
Frank Lynam, the retired town administrator, pointed out that Article 1 was an unpaid bill.
“It doesn’t fall under the limitations for $25,000, so we can act on Article 1,” Lynam said. “I would like to exclude that from the motion.”
Salvucci agreed to remove Article 1 from his motion.
Updating the COVID-19 situation prior to adjourning to Town Meeting, Heineman said legal opinions had been sought from town counsel about the mask policy at the session.
“After much discussion, getting some opinion from town counsel and much discussion with Selectmen Chairman [Dr. Carl] Kowalski and Town Moderator [Seele], regarding what to do if a voter wants to come in to Town Meeting and refuses to wear a mask … in the first instance, myself [or other Town Hall personnel] would ask them to please wear a mask,” he said. If a person still refused, they would be asked to sit in a roped-off section to the left-rear of the hall. No one had to be seated there during Town Meeting.
Two COVID test kits (containing two tests per box) were also handed out to everyone attending — from 5,310 given to Whitman out of the supply purchased by the county. Vaccination rate in town is now at 66 percent, and another Moderna booster clinic is scheduled for 3 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 9 at the Knights of Columbus on Bedford Street. Appointment slots are still available.