Select Board Meeting: July 15th Possibly Last Time Town Government Meets Remotely, Dottie Powers Recognized, Holiday Observances Modified
Whether remote meetings of town government can continue after July 14, 2022, was a topic of discussion at Westwood Select Board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. During the pandemic, Governor Charlie Baker had allowed waiver of portions of the state’s Open Meeting Law, by allowing remote or hybrid meetings of town government. When that waiver was set to expire, Governor Baker extended it to July 15, 2022. The new expiration date in July is coming up, and without another extension, Select Board’s next upcoming meeting on July 11, 2022 at 6:00 p.m., could be its last held remotely.
Town Administrator Christopher Coleman noted his understanding that, without further extension, the allowance for remote meetings of town government ends at 11:59:59 p.m. on July 14, 2022.
Select Board Clerk Michael Walsh, who serves as president of the Massachusetts Select Board Association, noted that a bill is pending to allow further extension of remote meetings, but that it has not yet been signed due to a “power play on Beacon Hill.” He described the organization's expectation that if an extension happens, it will not be effective until around August 15, 2022, leaving a “gap” of about a month from July 15, 2022. Mr. Walsh remarked that some have suggested that municipalities should avoid holding meetings during this gap period.
In answer to a question from Mr. Gotti regarding the degree of support for an extension to allow remote meetings, Mr. Walsh confirmed that a majority of members of the Massachusetts Select Board Association is in favor of the extension. They believe that remote meetings have an ability to increase public access and participation. A minority are against it, preferring in-person meetings. He added that the Massachusetts Municipal Association also strongly favors an extension of the remote meeting allowance.
Select Board Member Marianne LeBlanc Cummings voiced her hope that even if Select Board must meet in-person, that an opportunity for residents to participate remotely may continue. She noted that for people with young children, it can be especially hard to participate in these meetings. Select Board Chair Robert Gotti indicated his full support for this idea, as well. Mr. Coleman offered his understanding that even a hybrid meeting would require an extension of Governor Baker’s remote meeting allowance.
To this, Mr. Walsh added, “Call your legislator.”
Strong Turnout for Hale Task Force's First Public Meeting, an Online Event
The first public meeting of Westwood's Hale Task Force, held on June 14, 2022, was discussed in broad strokes. Mr. Coleman reiterated the purpose and identity of the presenters of the meeting to discuss Hale Education's (Hale's) proposed conservation restriction and his authorization to negotiate with Hale. He mentioned that he has an upcoming meeting with Hale in July. Mr. Coleman also noted that the task force will attend a future Select Board meeting.
Ms. Cummings, who is Select Board’s liaison to the task force, commented that it was an “excellent forum” of very engaged attendees who asked good questions about public access and the impact of development. She noted that there was “a lot of support expressed” for a conservation restriction.
Ms. Cummings and Mr. Coleman estimated attendance at the online meeting to be in the range of 70 to 82 people.
Westwood's Holiday Schedule Amended
Select Board unanimously voted to officially recognize Juneteenth and to modify the town's schedule of holiday observances. Westwood's practice will now diverge from the state's practice of how holidays are observed on weekends. In Westwood, holidays falling on Sunday will be observed on the following Monday and holidays falling on Saturday will be observed on the preceding Friday.
Town Clerk Dottie Powers Receives Award
Earlier this month, Town Clerk Dottie Powers was presented with the Clerk of the Year award by the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association. Select Board Chair Robert Gotti noted that Ms. Powers has served as Westwood’s Town Clerk for the past fifteen years, and has been involved in many aspects of Town Government.
Mr. Gotti added, “But her commitment to professionalism in her position goes well beyond that. She consistently goes above and beyond her roles by making herself available during non-office hours to provide services to our residents.” He noted Ms. Powers is active as a member of Westwood’s Charter Review Committee, serves on the Memorial Day Committee, and liaison to Westwood Community Chest and South Shore Habitat for Humanity, and described many other roles she holds in the community.
Ms. Powers responded, “At the end of the day [ ] we’re in a good community. We have great people to work with. My staff is wonderful. Without a great staff- Brooke Congdon, Pam Cumings -- I couldn’t be successful. . . . town administrator, everybody, the whole team. It’s a whole team effort and I do again appreciate the accolades and I’m very humbled to receive this award."
Renegotiated Contracts for Town Administrator, Union; New Assistant Town Administrator
A substantial portion of Select Board’s meeting concerned announcements and decisions related to staff, boards and committees.
- With the upcoming retirements of Westwood’s Human Resources Director Joan Courtney Murray and Assistant Town Administrator and Financial Director Pam Dukeman, Westwood has offered the position of Assistant Town Administrator and Director of Human Resources to Molly Kean. Ms. Kean is currently Human Resources Director for the Town of Norwood. She will start in her new position for Westwood in mid-July.
- Select Board unanimously approved a renegotiated contract with Town Administrator Christopher Coleman, whose current contract is soon set to expire. The contract term is for the next three years, beginning July 1, 2022, and running through June 30, 2022. Mr. Gotti noted that he hopes that Mr. Coleman will help put a good team in place, alluding to a need to fill vacancies in key staff positions for the town.
- Early in its meeting, Select Board moved into Executive Session to discuss strategy related to (1) collective bargaining for union personnel and (2) contract negotiations for non-union personnel. After a brief discussion lasting a little more than 10 minutes, the board returned to Open Session.
- Select Board unanimously approved a contract between the Town of Westwood and SEIU Local 888 union for FY 2022 and FY 2023. The agreement memorializes the cost-of-living increases approved at May’s Town Meeting. Following this approval, the town will begin negotiating for a successor contract for a three-year period.
Boards/Committee Members Appointed
Special discussion was held regarding the Westwood Environmental Action Committee (WEAC). Mr. Coleman noted that openings on this committee have been posted to the town’s website, and possibly a link to social media, but that no one has expressed interest. In such a situation, he noted that individuals who have served on WEAC can be reappointed to another term.
Ms. Cummings noted that because not many people may see the posting on the Town’s website, she suggested future efforts to “push it out as much as we can on social media” and “the Westwood Minute has been great covering our meetings. The more we can get the word out that we have these vacancies, that we’re looking for folks to engage, the better.”
The Select Board unanimously approved the slate of appointments and reappointments that were listed before it, but for the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Only Mr. Gotti and Ms. Cummings approved appointments to the ZBA. Mr. Walsh recused himself due to his involvement in a case pending before that body.
Candidates for appointment or reappointment to the following bodies and positions were unanimously approved by Select Board:
- American Disabilities Act Coordinator
- Audit Commission
- Board of Health
- Building Survey Board
- Cemetery Commission
- Chief Procurement Officer
- Commission on Disability
- Compensation Agent
- Conservation Commission
- Election officers
- Fair Housing Director
- Historical Commission
- Housing Partnership and Fair Housing Committee
- Lien Process Board
- MAPC Representative
- MBTA Advisory Board
- Municipal Hearings Officer
- Neponset River Watershed Association Advisory Board
- Parking Clerk
- Recreation Commission
- Regional Transportation Advisory Council
- Registrar of Voters
- Three Rivers Intercouncil Select Board
- Town Perambulator
- Westwood Cultural Council
- Westwood Environmental Action Committee
- Youth and Family Services