WHITMAN — The Select Board on Tuesday, Sept. 13 appointed the six members to a search committee for a new town administrator and discussed the process of appointing an interim treasurer-collector, effective Nov. 1.
“I take pleasure in announcing that Beth Stafford, a former selectman and a School Committee member, has reached out and volunteered to serve on that group,” Interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to bring new and old experiences together to focus on hopefully moving quickly to identify candidates.”
“That’s a constant theme, isn’t it,” Select Board member Dr. Carl Kowalski said.
Chair Randy LaMattina said Stafford is “definitely more than qualified to serve in that capacity
“We’ve always tried to have a diverse selection of [people] on our hiring groups, and I think that keeps in line with that,” he said.
Members of the group will be Stafford, Lynam, Kowalski, Fire Chief Timothy Clancy, Finance Committee Chair Rick Anderson and resident John Galvin.
Lynam said the board had explored engaging other persons to assist as treasurer/collector on a temporary basis, but that did not work out for various reasons. MaryBeth Carter had worked as Whitman’s treasurer/collector since 2006.
“What I failed to notice in the process was we have a home-grown candidate, who has worked for us for close to five years in the capacity of town accountant and he is prepared to take on that new responsibility,” Lynam said of Town Accountant Kenneth Lytle. “As you know, the position is an elected one. We can appoint a treasurer/collector until the next election.”
He reminded the board they have spoken about his recommendation to bring the proposal to change the treasurer/collector position to an appointed one and argued for doing so at a November Town Meeting.
“I’m asking that the board consider appointing Ken as of Nov. 1 to the position of acting treasurer/collector, to be paid at the base rate of the former treasurer/collector,” Lynam said. He noted that Carter has offered to provide some assistance during the transition and he has spoken with the auditors to clarify the process — Lytle will stay in his current role until the end of October to close out work on the fiscal year.
“It is a specific legal requirement that a town accountant not be a treasurer/collector of the community as well, because those are checks and balances,” Lynam said.
“I think we knew when we hired Ken, he’s world-class,” LaMattina said, saying it was a logical choice. “His work performance is fantastic.”
Lynam said the treasurer/collector is one of the most responsible positions the town has, entrusted with the handling and investing of more than $43 million in taxpayer money.
“It requires a skill set that not just anybody can do,” he said. “Ken has a background as an accountant … and has demonstrated his knowledge.”
In other business, the board reviewed its marijuana business host agreement and related social equity policies and procedures with town counsel attorney Peter Sumners and voted to approve the social equity policy, while postponing a vote in the host agreement itself.
The May Town Meeting approved a bylaw allowing cannabis business zoning in the town.
“That bylaw is still currently at the attorney general’s office Municipal Law Unit awaiting approval,” Sumners said. “They sought an extension from town counsel’s office [and] Michelle McNulty granted the extension through Oct. 5, so we should know [by then] whether that’s approved or not.”
Sumners said he has spoken with the attorney general’s office and reported “no major issues” to be worried about, and forecast that it should largely be approved.
“There’s just a couple of unique provisions that they’re taking a look at, but that won’t have an effect on the rest of the bylaw if they have any issues,” he said.
In the meantime, the state has also passed new legislation that “pretty drastically” changes some provisions of the cannabis statutes — especially concerning community impact fees.
“That required a substantial revision to a form of host community agreement that we were working with,” Sumners said. A team from the town counsel’s office has reached out to some interested applicants over the summer, identifying locations and trying to move forward with licensing, but they have to enter into a host community agreement first.
“While the town can’t enter into one of those until you have your zoning bylaw in place, we have been able to speak with them and keep things moving forward to get things ready in anticipation of that bylaw being approved,” he said.
The legislation change also requires a town to adopt social equity policies and procedures to address impact on people “disparately impacted by marijuana prohibition in the past,” before a host community agreement can be entered into. The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is charged with issuing model policies and procedures, but has not done so yet.
He provided a policy to the board that he expects would meet any minimum standards the CCC might issue.
“We anticipate that whatever we come up with, in terms of a host community agreement, is going to be used for every marijuana business,” Sumners said, noting his office has received a lot of positive feedback from potential businesses.
Board Vice Chair Dan Salvucci noted that business would be responsible for financial impact of any need for increased public safety activity or wear and tear on town infrastructure. He asked if it could be increased if a cost, such as the number of police officers, increased.
“If the impact on the town is more than 3 percent of a business’ gross sales, it is still capped at 3 percent,” Sumners said. “The big change over the summer, is we now have to send them documentation of what the impacts on the town are first … and they can last eight years.”
Select Board member Justin Evans said he and Select Board member Shawn Kain have been working with Sumners on the issue and noted that Kain had a suggestion to include the cost of substance use and abuse prevention and education programs in the impact fee.
“It’s something that I think is a responsibility on us as a community to do,” Kain said.
Kain also suggested the formation of a small budget working group to plan for the fiscal 2024 town budget.
“It’s just something to keep in the forefront of where we want to get to when budget season starts, so that we can use it then,” he said. “I think it’s a really important tool that will really help us with some big decisions.”