Open Meeting Law complaints still unresolved in Townsend

Open Meeting Law complaints still unresolved in Townsend
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TOWNSEND – Selectmen tackled a lengthy agenda in their Zoom-enabled session Tuesday night,with 19 remote participants, including a resident whose Open Meeting Law complaint came up aboutmidway through the meeting.

Joan Savoy said she’d hand-delivered the complaint to Town Clerk Kathy Spofford on Oct. 22, thedate noted in her letter, which was addressed to the board and to Town Administrator James Kreidler.The complaint centers on meeting minutes that Savoy had requested – nine regular and two executivesessions dating back to July – that had not yet been released but should have been, per the law.

The procedure spelled out in the law calls for the board to review, approve and release its minutes in atimely manner, unless there’s a valid reason, or “privilege” cited for holding them, such as executivesessions in which union negotiations were discussed that are still ongoing.

There were “holds” on some of the minutes in question, Kreidler said, but the grace period has expiredand the backlog – July to October – must be addressed.

“We do need to be aggressive … get those minutes out in 30 days,” Kreidler said.

Some communities he knows of have sought relief from their deadlines due to the pandemic, he added, but he doesn’t think this board needs to do that.

Chairman Wayne Miller agreed. “We can’t keep letting these (minutes) pile up,” he said. “I want themdone,” if not by the next meeting on Nov. 30 then by the next one on Dec. 2.

In other business, the board heard a densely packed pitch from NFP Insurance consultant Kevin Paicos,who rolled out a laundry list of perks the town could access by joining a multicommunity alliance forbuying employee health insurance, called a regional joint health-insurance purchase agreement, or JIA.

Simply drafting a JIA agreement, thus signaling intent to make the move, could earn points from the town’s current insurer, which would likely offer a lower rate to keep the town on board, Paicos said.

Kreidler said that kind of game can’t go on forever.

“You can only ‘chicken little’ so many times,” he said.

Paicos conceded that point but said the clout a JIA would bring to the table is the best bet going forward,in his view, and he hopes the board will consider it.

“We’re confident we can save the town money and provide employees with better options,” he said, citing an “intense” marketplace.

Asked if he’d made the same pitch to other potential JIA members that might partner with Townsend,Paicos said yes, with positive results. One of them, Dunstable, is “full on board,” he said.

Kell asked about cost. NFP charges an annual service fee but nothing for preliminary work necessary tobroker a deal, Paicos said, including preparing a draft JIA and sending out a request for proposals, orRFP, which would be the next step in the process.

For now, he advised sticking with the current insurer for another year, “then we can go out to bid,” hesaid.

Miller said the idea seemed like a “slam dunk” to him, but Kell wasn’t so sure.

“We’re already your client. … Why this now?” she asked.

“You’ve had good rates” to date, “due in part to our work,” Paicos answered.

But now, the town can’t count on continued success without a partnership. Besides, he said, other managers in the towns his firm represents have expressed interest in the concept.

“They’ve asked us to take a look at this,” he said.

His suggestion would be to have him draft an agreement the board could review next time.

Kell wasn’t eager to rush into it. She wants time to think it over, compare prices and plan designs, getinput from town employees, she said, although, in the end, the decision rests with the board.

Paicos, however, said that without a JIA in hand, his firm can’t access that data, and he cautioned thatother towns lined up to partner with Townsend wouldn’t wait past December.

Paicos said there’s no downside to worry about. Kreidler backed that assertion.

“This gives us a lot of input,” Kreidler said. “We retain local control.”

The board agreed to take up the matter at the next meeting.

“We can look at the draft agreement,” Kell said.

The board also discussed an item Kell had added to the agenda: what, if anything, the town should dowith a property at 97 Main St., acquired via foreclosure on a tax lien in 2016. Noting that Land Court ruled in January and the 90-day appeals period had expired in March, Kell said the town should have a policy in place that determines how to proceed, not only with this property but others in the tax-lien pipeline.

Among other things, she favors forming a “brownfields redevelopment team” to look at unresolvedcontamination issues and decide whether and how a property can be reused, Kell said.

The town has a fund for that, Kreidler said, with about $35,000 to $50,000 to pay for that kind of work,including well-testing.

“I didn’t know where you wanted to go with this agenda item” he said to Kell.

Resident Joseph Shank weighed in, citing “firsthand knowledge” that 2,000 gallons of gas had leaked intothe ground at the 97 Main St. site, which he once tried to buy. Nearby homes had been “100%contaminated” by the gas as well, he said, and if the town owns the property, it would be responsible forcleaning up those properties, too. He also noted other potentially pricey drawbacks, such as a failed septic system and derelict building that he said is collapsing.

The board also briefly discussed a potential gift to the town of a parcel of land on South Row Road, which the Conservation Commission apparently isn’t keen to acquire. Kell said she wants to know if the land is still available and if the offer to donate it still stands. Kreidler agreed to find out, and the board agreed to take up the matter at a later date.