Meeting Notes: EDC tomorrow; Schools guarding zoom sessions; Planning on public participation; and Capital Committee on oversight responsibility

by beth on April 14, 2020

I have a few updates on Town committees and boards. There isn’t anything that warrants a full post. So, I’m rounding them up as “Meeting Notes”.

Economic Development Committee

Following my “The week in government” post yesterday, an agenda was posted for an EDC meeting. The meeting will take place tomorrow – Wednesday, April 15th at noon. 

The EDC Agenda’s only notable item is “Request Town/Special Counsel for DBVD Zoning Article”. There may be additional topics tackled under the headings of Unfinished Business or New Business.

The meeting will allow public comment via zoom. (Click here for those details.)

Speaking of zoom. . .

Southborough School Committee

The district’s Director of Instructional Technology & Digital Learning addressed how Southborough (and Northborough) schools are guarding against zoombombing*. According to Julie Doyle, before students can enter zoom sessions run by their teachers, they are directed to a “waiting room”. Students must enter their full name. Teachers will only accept recognized students as participants. They do have the ability to boot someone out of calls if necessary.

The information was shared during last week’s meeting of the Southborough School Committee. Last Wednesday’s zoom meeting was recorded by Southborough Access Media, but not available for the public to see until Friday afternoon. Making future meetings more accessible was one of the topics covered during the meeting.

Superintendent Gregory Martineau said he followed up with the Town after learning that the Board of Selectmen held meetings that allowed live public comment. If the virtual meetings continue, he hopes to include the live public participation option for future School Committee meetings.

Speaking of public participation. . .

Planning Board

The Planning Board isn’t planning to include the public in discussions at its upcoming meetings. Instead, the board unanimously agreed to push off hearing items that require participation.

Board members were concerned about the limitations of virtual participation. Referring to deliberations on applications, Chair Don Morris said that they normally require a lot of questions and public participation. 

For now the board plans to stick to continuing its open hearings to future dates and not opening new hearings or discussions of ANR applications, etc.

The decision was based on the impression that there are currently no pressing items. Members were open to reconsidering the option if the status changes. Town Planner Karina Quinn was instructed to notify them if someone pushes that a project is time sensitive.

In other business, Quinn and Morris will work together to review the Planning Board and Dept’s current fiscal year budget. Quinn explained that Town Administrator Mark Purple has instructed departments to avoid discretionary spending. 

The Town Planner said that every year there is money here and there that didn’t get used up. She wanted to go over with Morris what spending they could avoid this spring in order to help the Town, while still maintaining operations.

Speaking of financial oversight. . .

Capital Planning Committee

The new committee may be responsible for overseeing some of the capital projects it recommends. 

That was one of the topics discussed during the second meeting of the Capital committee last night. (I can’t abbreviate it as CPC, since that’s already the common reference for the Community Preservation Committee.)

Chair Jason Malinowski explained that the oversight portion of the committee’s partially came from his experience on the Public Safety Building Committee. He said that most of the money saved in that project was due to the committee’s close oversight. He opined that you can’t pitch an idea to voters “then have it go belly up”.

The committee isn’t expected to oversee every capital project. Before Town Meetings, the Town Administrator would recommend to the Board of Selectmen which items require oversight beyond department heads and who the appropriate committee(s) would be. For some small projects, no additional oversight would be expected. For a new building project, it’s likely that a dedicated committee would be formed.

During the meeting, Treasurer Brian Ballantine said that he is working on a new capital project list for the committee to review. He is also working on a revised 5 year outlook with levy capacity. He said that changes to this year’s revenue trickle down to tip FY24 and FY26 into the red by a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

(As I’ve previously posted, Ballantine will ask selectmen to reconsider some decisions on the FY21 budget at their April 21st meeting.)

*For those of you unfamiliar, the media covered “zoombombing” incidents where zoom sessions held for students or work meetings were targeted by internet trolls who displayed disturbing graphic content.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 OPEN LETTER TO BOS April 15, 2020 at 5:51 AM

Now is not the time to be holding meetings unless they are absolutely vital, meaning COVID related or other essential functions.

It is highly disconcerting that the public could and will likely be left out of these meetings, some with no computer access and most without the time to focus on anything but working and feeding family under these life and death times. This reduces ability to “attend” a meeting, not enhances it.

EDC, your appointees, in particular, should absolutely not be meeting, unless it is in a public meeting and being videotaped. What are they doing meeting at noon, the middle of a workday (and pandemic!), and in times of particular urgent duress? This scofflaw committee already has been a source of major controversy in violating the public trust, representing developers’ voices and interests over the taxpaying public. Look at their scanty, inadequate agenda: they are looking for money to hire attorneys. There are families in this town who won’t be able to pay their taxes or feed their families in coming weeks. Are we deaf, dumb, and blind?

This pandemic is far from over and should be taking every bit of attention to defeat it. Case numbers are increasing, not decreasing. Teachers, nurses, police, first responders, young, middle aged, elderly are all dying. New York is burying its dead in mass graves. Massachusetts is warning that we are just entering a surge, with field hospitals going up all over the state. And this EDC feels compelled that it has to meet at this time? This is beyond wrong, it is immoral. All non-vital functions can and should be easily suspended for the next 60 days or so. The EDC advancing its agenda (poorly written, with inadequate detail — as usual — begging the question of Open Meeting Law violation itself) at this time is unnecessary and unconscionable. Asking for taxpayer money (?!!) to hire attorneys is a simply unbelievable disregard and disrespect for the taxpayers of Southborough (especially the elderly, those fighting COVID 19, and family caregivers just attending to life–all of whom cannot attend this meeting) and these life and death times. This is exclusion of the public.
See:
https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/10/831875297/burials-on-new-york-island-are-not-new-but-are-increasing-during-pandemic

Lastly, while ZOOM may be a last resort medium, it is a high standout item in the press, including today’s headline, ” Thousands of ZOOM Accounts Are For Sale on the Dark Web.” . . .”with the unintended consequence of having login information sold on the dark web. . .”
http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/thousands-of-zoom-accounts-are-for-sale-on-the-dark-web/ar-BB12DaTA?li=BBnbfcL&OCID=AVRES007
Here are other recently published excerpts on other security breaching concerns:
In March 2020, Zoom was sued in U.S. Federal Court for illegally and secretly disclosing personal data to third parties including Facebook, which was not disclosed in its privacy policy. The complaint alleged that the company’s “wholly inadequate program design and security measures have resulted, and will continue to result, in unauthorized disclosure of its users’ personal information”.[79]

In April 2020, a data-mining feature on Zoom automatically sent user names and email addresses to LinkedIn via a tool meant to match user profiles, allowing some participants to surreptitiously access LinkedIn profile data about other users.[80] Zoom and LinkedIn disabled their integration.[81]
Zoom’s data security and privacy practices have been scrutinized.[62] In March 2020, New York State Attorney General Letitia James launched an inquiry into Zoom’s privacy and security practices.
ZOOM is banned by a number of governments and local agencies.

The voting, taxpaying public should be able to freely attend meetings; however during a pandemic, when thousands are dying per day, is not the time to be holding non-essential meetings. Thank you.

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2 Reality April 15, 2020 at 4:35 PM

How many people are showing up to the meetings when they are in a public meeting space?

To my knowledge the meeting was recorded and placed on Youtube, so your concern there is addressed. Did you watch it to see what happened?

I noticed plenty of other boards doing work on Zoom this week and what not.

The “hacking” of Zoom is no more than dialing random numbers up to see if someone picks up. Credit cards and passwords are sold everyday for all things online.

Someone “hacking” into this meeting would disrupt it, but not change anything about the facts talked about or what not.

These posts are predictable when anything about the EDC is mentioned, thanks!

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3 OPEN LETTER TO BOS April 16, 2020 at 7:53 AM

Reality check: this committee very inappropriately and likely illegally pitched a fit when a BOS member requested videotaping. This sketchy behavior was before the pandemic. Crazily, the then chair stated they might consider taping, which is not their call and against state law. State law allows taping. Missing the point: this is a life and death pandemic. This is not the time to further exclude the public by meeting on nonessential business. Also, the point is to follow state law and for members (and former members) to not be teeing up their firms, partners, developer cronies next fee. Now this committee has its hand out for money? The then chair, Julie Connolly, has never responded to the question: Where in the EDC minutes is the EDC Committee vote authorizing former member Attorney Dave McCay to request Special Municipal Employee status, thereby lowering ethics requirements? The reality is that the working public relies on adequate public information including tapes, and sufficient details on agendas and minutes. Here is what is entirely predictable: No response to the important, legitimate business questions and crummy timing during a pandemic. The ultimate irony is asking the taxpayers to foot the bill for a development campaign that benefits private developers and fee based professionals (attorneys, brokers, engineers, etc). During a pandemic? Get real. This committee can do better.

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4 beth April 16, 2020 at 8:32 AM

What’s puzzling about your complaint is the fact that online format requires that the meetings be recorded and shared on the internet. The meetings are streamed live (though I believe with a slight delay) and saved to YouTube for later viewing. So, even if you don’t want to sign into zoom, anyone with internet access can see what is going on. It would seem that solves a big part of your complaint about their alleged behavior.

Since you prefer anonymity, it doesn’t appear that if the meetings were postponed until they could meet in a physical location that you would attend and raise your concerns in person.

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5 OPEN LETTER TO BOS April 16, 2020 at 4:11 PM

Sorry — don’t understand what is puzzling about expressing legitimate concerns about a committee who is known for its cloudy agendas and insufficient, inadequate minutes — as well as virtually zero videos of its meetings — and a BOS member finally requesting that their meetings be videotaped — and EDC’s ridiculous, disrespectful pushback to its own overseeing Board via that requesting member.

Also, the taping alone is NOT the point. The point is plowing ahead at a time when a pandemic is going on and thousands are dying daily. This is meeting at a time when the public at large likely cannot meet and taking advantage of that. It’s all about having the ability for the public to participate, discuss concerns, and possibly raise objections in real time. Who do you know can leave work mid-day, never mind during a pandemic, to attend an EDC virtually or not?

Also, a key point is that this committee is asking for the public to pay for an attorney(s) to participate in their re-do of downtown. What if stakeholders, abutters, any citizens object and are not on board? This scofflaw committee gets to lay claim to the argument, “well, you paid for the lawyer, legal services, so you must be on board for the zoning change?” No and not convinced. And definitely not on board to have the taxpayers (including those worrying about feeding their families and pay their tax bills) use their hard earned dollars to benefit private developers. Just saying no!

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6 beth April 16, 2020 at 4:52 PM

If you are referring to yesterday’s vote, it was to hire an attorney for technical planning and zoning assistance with the Downtown Business Village Article. The financial request was to use the grant given by the state to the Town for the downtown initiative work. (Click here for those details.) And before you respond that Southborough residents pay state taxes, I understand that. I just want to make sure it’s clear that the request wasn’t to use money from Town taxes.

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7 OPEN LETTER TO BOS April 17, 2020 at 1:56 AM

Who legally authorized payment of the “consultant” (former EDC member) to go get the grant? How was that person paid? And how much? From what funds exactly? And how much?

Now that the scofflaw EDC has finally figured out they actually need to ask permission to hire a lawyer, yes, taxpayers have the right to object to having any taxpayer funds (regardless of source) to agree or object to how that money is spent. Importantly, why on earth would taxpayers (and BOS on behalf of taxpayers) agree to allowing this non-elected, pro-developer group to go hire special counsel to further their re-do downtown development campaign when BOS would NOT allow an ELECTED Planning Board to hire special counsel for straightforward objective, NECESSARY legal advice on the highly controversial Park Central project? BOS left a board, elected by the citizens of this town, hanging and exposed to risk, with no proper needed legal counsel. And town counsel, who ironically hires special counsel, has been sitting next to developer counsel in court on that one, benefiting the developer with two attorneys effectively. In weighing pro-developer interests over taxpayers, who on earth wants to use public monies so private developers can benefit? No thanks.

8 Reality April 16, 2020 at 5:45 PM

Were you at the meeting where that request was made and pushed back from the EDC? Did you witness it first hand?

By your own comments, this meeting was more “visible” than their other ones. Yet, you complain they are trying to hide something or plowing through stuff.

Their meetings normally are on Friday mornings, did I miss your complaints about work then?

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9 Reality April 16, 2020 at 12:01 PM

Shouldn’t your issue be with the BOS for the approval of the Special Municipal Employee status? Since they were the ones who granted it for the EDC?

Listening to the presentation of what that designation means when it was being up for discussion with the BOS, didn’t lead me to conclude no reporting was required. That the town and tax payers would still be covered. People who have industry knowledge and skills are needed to fill these roles. Someone with no related skills isn’t really useful.

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10 OPEN LETTER TO BOS April 16, 2020 at 4:28 PM

BOS understands exactly well what the issues are. Granting SME status to a committee that never asked for it. And the individual, a lawyer, who did ask for it on his own firm’s letterhead, walked. And after the requesting party walked, the person who supposedly needed it, BOS never re-reviewed the need or rescinded it. Go figure. BOS should rescind the privilege, as it was never actually requested by the Committee and the requester left.

It was completely odd that this privilege was granted with no actual vote or request by the committee. So what does BOS do? It has BOS member, Mr. Healy (an attorney), create a policy, which same policy proceeds to be broken the same night at the same BOS meeting! The policy calls for a committee to request the SME status (consistent with State law), which never happened. So in a 3 to 2 vote, BOS grants the privilege. Two selectmen voted against it for the very reason that the policy was being violated.

The town and the taxpayers are not covered at all. There is real potential (if not in fact already happened) of fostering conflicts of interest — nondisclosures and self-interested profiteering of members, cronies, or partners. All not ok.
Agree with the statement that industry knowledge and skills are useful in those roles — but committees can function perfectly fine without those who have appearances of conflict or conflicts. Clean government is a must. If individuals have conflicts or appearances of conflicts, they need to take a walk — not line their pockets or their partners pockets — or their client or cronies pockets.

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11 Reality April 16, 2020 at 9:12 PM

You know why people don’t want to volunteer for things in town? It’s statements like that where people blindLy accuse people of wrong doing. That statement “If not already happened” is dishonest and misleading at best.

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12 Interested April 17, 2020 at 9:15 AM

It is an untrue that there is a lack of volunteerism in the town of Southborough. There are hundreds of ways for one to volunteer time and effort in our town and there are hundreds of residents who do so. To perpetuate the untruth that there is a lack of volunteer work done in Southborough is to also perpetuate disrespect and ungratefulness toward those many who do serve our town for no other reward.

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13 Realty April 17, 2020 at 7:49 PM

Ok, so I wasn’t clear when I said volunteering. I was talking about board seats. Currently, listed there is over 50 seats that are empty,

http://southboroughmaboards.vt-s.net/vt.php

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14 beth April 20, 2020 at 9:30 AM

Some of those vacancies aren’t seats that officials actually want to fill. The real number of vacancies where volunteers are desired is much lower, but to your point – there are vacancies on multiple committees that want volunteers. Still, it’s also worth noting that there are far more people serving in board seats than there are vacancies.

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15 Al Hamilton April 18, 2020 at 2:25 PM

Interested

You may be right about overall volunteerism in our community but there is a particular dearth of volunteers who want to sign up for various town government committees. By my count there are 51 unfilled positions as of today. You can check here:

http://southboroughmaboards.vt-s.net/vt.php

If you choose to volunteer as a coach or scout leader, help the food pantry, or are active in your church no one will come on these pages and criticize you. You will not be excoriated here if you bring meals to seniors, or tutor kids.

But, serving in local government comes with a lot of bureaucratic baggage. From record keeping to mandatory training to limits on who and you can discuss certain subjects with there is a lot of bureaucracy associated with serving your community as part of government. Add to that having to endure occasional brickbats on these pages and it is no surprise that those inclined towards public service chose to take their talents elsewhere.

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