PEPPERELL — Six days after the resignation of the sole remaining Board of Health member, after a town meeting refusal to let Pepperell join the regional Nashoba Associated Boards of Health (NABH), selectmen refilled the three-member board from a field of four candidates.
John Marriner, Scott Butcher and Virginia Malouin were appointed this week to serve on the board until the April town election. At that time, voters will be asked to elect one member to a new three-year term and two members to fill unexpired terms.
The fourth candidate, Lynda Pozerski, with 10 years experience as a member and as board secretary, was not selected after she announced she could not work with Malouin, the former board chairman who lost a re-election bid to attorney Mark Walsh by a 16-vote margin.
The action by selectmen ends a rather bizarre set of circumstances for any elective board.
Walsh resigned shortly before town meeting. Pepperell joining the NABH would have terminated Walsh’s mother-in-law’s employment as town nurse.
Then-chairman Myra Cacace resigned the day after town meeting, following a flare-up with housing inspector Robert Lambert that led to charges filed against her for alleged assault and battery. Board member Peter Cronin resigned on Oct. 29 after a board meeting had to be canceled for lack of a quorum.
In addition, the board’s part-time secretary has refused to work in the Town Hall annex, saying she is allergic to mold supposedly found in the converted mobile home.
In his 60 years in town, Marriner said he has served two terms on the health board, 14 terms on the Board of Fire Engineers including some of them as chief, on five building committees, and has some experience as a construction and sewer system inspector.
“I know a little bit about the job. Not all,” he said.
Malouin said she resubmitted her withdrawn application for appointment at the request of several people. A registered nurse, she is also a certified food management inspector.
“I’d like to be part of the solution. The town has responsibilities. It will take a joint effort of the Board of Health and selectmen with the financial direction,” she said.
Butcher, a former Personnel Board chairman, selectman and health board member, said there is a lot he can bring to the table thanks to his business and management experience.
“I want to ensure we come together quickly,” Butcher said. “The town is open to liability. I want to enforce the law.”
Selectman Joseph Sergi, concerned about finances and the role of the health board, said, “I want to be sure whoever is appointed wants to work together collaboratively. There’s no way voters (could have made) a decision (about Nashoba Associated Boards of Health) with the emotional charge,” Sergi said. “I don’t want that kind of dynamic.”
Marriner answered, “You’ve got to work behind the scenes. Get consensus. It takes a lot of work before you carry out your duty. You must get good people and let ’em go, have the courage to make a mistake. If that happens again, shame on you. It takes time, but I’ve learned how.”
Pozerski said behind-the-scenes work is fine “but everything should be done at a meeting, not before or beside it. One of our problems was that people came to meetings with their mind made up. That’s against the law.
“I feel I can be part of the solution,” she said. “Ten years ago (the board) was in a similar situation to now. I built the board from a disaster to a functioning board. Since I left it’s gone downhill.”
Pozerski said a health agent must be hired and be properly paid. Former agent Edward Wirtanen, she said, was underpaid for a very necessary job.
Sergi saw validity in maintaining the “model of the past” but next year’s $1.7 million deficit could add $600 to tax bills if the model is kept.
“The BOH can charge fees because of its position. That goes above and beyond,” Pozerski said.
“Subject to appropriation (of town meeting),” town administrator Robert Hanson reminded.
“After town meeting, you’d think people would want what was,” Pozerksi continued.
Buthcer said “transparency” is the key, doing business in the public eye which both informs and educates residents.
Malouin agreed, saying “It’s OK for a board member to disagree philosophically, but you need to work with the board. Meetings should be amicable.”
Selectman Patrick McNabb was concerned about reports of a “total breakdown” in communications between the board and employees. “Comments?” he asked.
Butcher said use the same principles as those in the private sector, sitting down with colleagues then setting expectations.
“It is important for employees to report back to the board. Performance reviews are important, as is good (record keeping) in tough financial times,” he said.
McNabb asked Pozerski how she sees the board functioning if the old times were to return.
“You’d have one full-time health agent. The agent worked well, but you have to pay for experience,” Pozerski replied.
She said a part time health agent without benefits “isn’t going to happen,” and neither will acquisition of college educated candidates working without benefits. The job is complicated and multi-faceted, she said, and includes advision the board on the law.
“The nurse we’ve got is doing a great job,” Marriner said. “I’d let her go without supervision. I’ve done Title 5 so I can somewhat supervise. I’ve installed septic systems and know some of the shortcuts. Some of them are OK, some not.
“As for the (BOH) budget, it’s a low-cost department after fees are applied,” he said. “I see no huge money here.”
Marriner said he’d need to do more study before agreeing to a full-time health agent.
Butcher said town meeting “gave us their opinion — it’s too early to visit sharing resources. If we can’t justify a full-time person we may have to hire one anyway.” He also could not make a recommendation without first sitting down with colleagues.
“Maybe we can reopen regional or shared resources. There’s some work to be done, but quickly,” he said.
Malouin said the health board is bound by the current budget until June 30, but it must sit down and make adjustments immediately.
When Pozerski asked if the secretary would be moved out of the Town Hall annex, Selectmen Chairman Lyndon Johnson halted any response with a quick, “We don’t need to go there.”
“I won’t be able to work well with Ms. Malouin, I can tell you that,” Pozerski said.
“I can work with Lynda. We have to work together,” Malouin said.
“So you’re making your appointment conditional?” Sergi asked Pozerski.
“You’ll have to pick one or the other,” Pozerski said.
“Unfortunate, but honest,” Sergi responded.
“I’d rather find out now,” Johnson added.
“That’s a surprising comment,” McNabb said. “We don’t agree at times. You can have disagreements but you have to discuss things.”
“You have to work together, but you can’t do that?” Sergi asked.
“Not with some of the history,” Pozerski stated.
Malouin said she could cover food inspections for a short time, if needed. Lambert assured the board all inspections are caught up until next April.
All four names were put into nomination on a motion from Sergi. Selectmen were unanimous in their votes.
As the new board filed out, Hanson cautioned, “Do not go to look at the trailer (Town Hall annex) because that constitutes a meeting and there has not been 48 hours notice.”