Select Board Meeting: Town Makes History and SB Revives Issues of Conservation Restriction, Long-Term Financial Planning Committee


Image of small pond at Hale Reservation by Alvin Kho from Flickr.

The highlights of Select Board’s meeting on Monday, May 23, 2022, include:

  • An opportunity for public input regarding Hale Education's proposed conservation restriction in Westwood;
  • Unanimous agreement to reconstitute the Long Range Financial Planning Committee; and 
  • Announcement of three new staff promotions to Westwood’s public protection departments, including that of Detective Kindia Roman, who has become Westwood Police Department's first detective of color and second woman detective, ever.

Public input opportunity on Hale Education’s proposed conservation restriction

Westwood’s Hale Task Force is holding a virtual Public Meeting on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at 6:00 p.m. during which the public is encouraged to provide comments on Hale Education’s (Hale's) proposal that Westwood purchase a conservation restriction. 

The proposed conservation restriction would affect about 550 acres of its land located in Westwood. A conservation restriction would largely preserve the property in its natural condition and bar residential and commercial development, at a cost of $10 million. Along with opportunity for public input, the meeting will include an overview by representatives of both the Hale Task Force and Hale Education.

Three years ago, as part of Hale’s (then-Hale Reservation's) strategic plan to ensure its long-term financial stability and to permanently protect its land from development, Hale proposed a conservation restriction to the towns of Westwood and Dover where its property sits. This proposal was the impetus to the creation of a Hale Task Force tasked with the job of evaluating Hale's proposal. 

In 2019, task force members were appointed by Town Administrator Christopher Coleman. Members included former Select Board Clerk John Hickey, Planning Board Chair Chris Pfaff, Ms. Marianne LeBlanc Cummings (who now sits on Select Board as its newest member) and about eight other community members. Additionally, ex officio members included Hale’s Executive Director Eric Arnold and Town of Westwood staff. 

In January 2022, the task force submitted a memo of findings and recommendations to Select Board. In the memo, the task force stated its strong support for preserving Hale Education property in Westwood.

Select Board has given Mr. Coleman the authority to negotiate the terms of an agreement regarding a conservation restriction with Hale. Mr. Coleman noted having a conversation with Hale’s Executive Director Eric Arnold last week. While it is unclear whether the conversation constituted a negotiation and specific negotiation terms have not been detailed, the price tag will likely be an issue in any negotiation for Westwood’s purchase of a conservation restriction. 

Additionally, Mr. has Coleman noted that there are different levels to conservation restrictions. Therefore, the type and extent of conservation restriction could also potentially be an issue. 

Additional items of potential negotiation in the context of a conservation restriction from Hale could include uses of Hale property that abuts Westwood. In January this year, former Select Board clerk John Hickey indicated interest in the town acquiring Hale property to build a Westwood recycling facility, to address an “outdated” Department of Public Works, and for “micro-housing for employees of the town.”

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Reconstituting a Long-Range Financial Planning Committee

With the retirement of Assistant Town Administrator and Finance Director Pam Dukeman this year, the three members of Select Board unanimously agreed to reconstitute the Long-Range Financial Planning Committee. Select Board Chair Robert Gotti noted that committee existed from 2003 until 2019 when it was dissolved. By bringing it back now, Select Board hopes to take advantage of Ms. Dukeman’s expertise to revise the town’s financial policies before her retirement. After Ms. Dukeman’s retirement, such a committee could give some fiscal direction to the town and add visibility to the competition among town concerns for taxpayers’ dollars.

According to Mr. Gotti, the Long-Range Financial Planning Committee originally had a long-term focus on financial issues such as discussing five-year projection plans of revenue and expenditures, reserve accounts, capital budget, debt management, health insurance and employee benefit costs, financial policies, and the impact to residential and commercial tax rates.

Members of the former committee included representatives from the town’s boards and committees: Select Board, School Committee, the Office of Economic and Development, Planning Board, Assessors, the Finance and Warrant Commission, Tax Collector, Town Treasurer, Town Administration, School Administration, and two at-large community representatives.

Said Mr. Walsh, “I think it’s a great idea. We’re going through some transitions in town with Pam retiring and human resources retiring. It’s also a good time to get everybody at the table to discuss where we see our town moving in the next couple of years and where the financial resources should be diverted.”

Select Board Member Marianne LeBlanc Cummings agreed. “I’m absolutely in favor of this. I think that we need to have that conversation as a community in terms of the priorities," she said. Ms. Cummings also stated her hope that the town’s financial policies, which she noted were last updated in 2014, could be reviewed with Ms. Dukeman before she retires.

Although in agreement to proceed with the committee, Select Board took no immediate action on this issue. Mr. Gotti noted that Select Board would revisit the topic of the Long-Range Planning Board with some “community conversation” and with an eye on how to best reconstitute it.

Staff Promotions, and One that Makes Town History

Select Board recognized several staff promotions. Westwood Police Officer Kindia Roman has been promoted to detective and court prosecutor, taking the position of Police Sergeant Mark Hedberg who was also promoted. Police Chief Jeffrey Silva noted that Ms. Roman, who is bilingual in Spanish and English, is the very first detective of color and the second female detective in the history of the Westwood Police Department.

Westwood Fire Department also has a new second-in-command. Former Fire Captain Steven Lund has been promoted to the newly created position of Assistant Fire Chief.

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