AYER -- While discussing warrant articles, employee recognition programs and a zoning bylaw for posted signs, the Board of Selectmen mentioned communication with one another and department heads, referring to an alleged email violation by Chairman Pauline Conley.
Selectman James Fay first amended the meeting agenda by adding in a topic of "reorganization of the board" regarding an email violation by Conley.
Conley was said to have sent an email to Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand from her personal email account that was copied to department heads, Police Chief William Murray and DPW Superintendent Mark Wetzel regarding a crosswalk that was previously turned down by the board.
The email was dated Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 7:50 a.m. It stated that Conley had witnessed a woman heading west on Park Street who was almost hit by a tractor-trailer truck as she crossed the street. Conley asked the department heads why they are unable to put in a temporary crosswalk if they will not put in a permanent one.
The proposed crosswalk, at the Park Street location near the Law Office of Thomas A. Gibbons, had been denied by the board until a highway study was performed by the DPW and the state.
Fay expressed concern for Conley's placement on the board as chairman.
"I question your wisdom as chair based on that particular email." Fay said. "I would like to discuss with the board if you are fit to be chair. This is pretty much a breaking of trust.
Conley justified the email by saying that since this was a safety issue and she only had her personal email available at the time, she thought sending an email to Pontbriand would not be in violation of BOS provisions.
"I would think that given the multitude of emails that you send to Robert, I would think the board would get some, too. I would think some of them would be important enough to get to the board," Vice Chairman Gary Luca said.
Pontbriand suggested a new policy as to how the board addresses emails to one another.
"The issue is, how does the board want to proceed in terms of how emails (that I receive) are dealt with. Do I forward each email to the entire board, or do I print all the emails from the week and put them in your mailboxes?" Pontbriand said. Open government emails must be public record, he said, and each email must be available to all members of the board in one way or another.
The rest of the board agreed that each of them has contacted elected officials on their own. But this particular email was interpreted as going against the will of the board, especially since they have discussed crosswalks in town.
"I, too, thought (the email) was very disturbing, it did come across wrong, " said Selectman Janice Livingston. "The idea that we are trying to remove some crosswalks is a concern and the idea of spending money on a temporary basis is disturbing when we have all agreed to wait and see the study."
After discussing the issue for 45 minutes, Selectman Christopher Hillman expressed his desire to move on with the meeting, questioning how removing Conley as the chairman would change any practice of the board.
"We have wasted over 30 minutes talking about emails," Hillman said. "What is going to change if Selectman Conley is not chair? I just don't see how this helps the town. I just don't get it. We have so much to do, and so much to work on.
"At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if this in the best interest of the town," Hillman said of frequent disputes across the board. "I know it's hard to do and I understand, but... if we aren't getting stuff done then all of us should be replaced and I don't think that should happen because I think there are a lot of smart people at this table."
Pontbriand suggested, and was given approval for, a consultant to give the board some suggestions on how to get along and work together professionally. The meeting will be open and it is suggested that a member from all town committees and boards be present.
Warrant articles due
Also discussed was the warrant draft that will go to Fall Town Meeting. All article are due by Friday, Sept. 13. The final review of the warrant is scheduled for Sept. 17 in order to be ready for the Oct. 28 Town Meeting.
Fay proposed an employee recognition program and Pontbriand has since created guidelines for a quarterly program for "outstanding dedication and service to the town of Ayer."
Town employees may be nominated by a department head, board/commission/committee, another town employee, and/or another Ayer resident.
Recognition will include a certificate from selectmen at a public meeting, a designated parking spot and recognition on the town's website and social media.
Boston Post Cane
Fay mentioned the Boston Post Cane Award application, which may be filled out by anyone nominating someone over the age of 90 who has lived in Ayer for over 20 years.
In 1909, the Boston Post, the most influential New England newspaper at the time, gave an ornate gold cane to cities and towns for awarding to the oldest living resident.
Nomination forms may be found in the Town Clerk's office or at the town website.
Signs, where and for how long
A zoning bylaw, as discussed in past meetings, is set to be decided this month to designate the areas that signs may be put up and for how long.
Though the discussion began by referring to political signs only, Hillman and Vice-Chairman Gary Luca suggested opening the discussion to speak to all signs, political or otherwise.
Livingston said, "The only thing I would recommend is that we be a little bit careful because we want the town to know what's going on," Livingston said. "We just want to make sure that some signs are left alone for a couple of days."
Hillman said the bylaw would establish guidelines to ensure that businesses are not able to place unlimited numbers of signs in unsafe areas, like the rotary, for example.
The next selectmen's meeting is set for Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m.
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