Last night, the Board of Selectmen reassured volunteers that they are still prioritizing a Public Safety Building project. Chair John Rooney said it was unacceptable for our emergency personnel to “live in squalor”.
Rooney told the Public Safety Study Committee they are still in negotiations with St. Mark’s School for land acquisition. They hope to be finished within 2-3 weeks. The Town will be seeking to put borrowing and/or acquisition on the Presidential election ballot. First, they’ll need to get approval at a Special Town Meeting.
Selectmen and the committee addressed the challenge they’ll face to get approval by 2/3 of Town Meeting voters.
All were in agreement that a concerted effort would be needed to educate the public on the project needs and costs. Selectman Dan Kolenda remarked that he’d be shocked if residents didn’t show up “to support the people who support them every day.”
As part of selectmen’s effort, Rooney agreed that it makes sense to vet out opponents on Town Committees when reappointments are made this June. The statement was made towards the end of the discussion, in response to a suggestion by the committee Chair Al Hamilton.
Earlier in the discussion, Hamilton reiterated the worries he wrote about in a recent letter on this blog. He was concerned by the failure of two articles at Town Meeting earlier this month: Main Street Reconstruction and disposition of Town owned properties.
Selectmen and Hamilton perceived that the Main Street project was supported by the majority of residents. Member Paul Cimino said they need to learn how to better deal with a vocal minority.**
Nodding at the other article, Rooney said the public needs to know that the current police station “has no future” as a police station or other Town owned building. He said he didn’t want people to claim to be blindsided.
That was an apparent reference to Town Meeting opposition to disposing of the run-down but historic Fayville Hall. Opposition wasn’t made officially by any committees. But comments by two committee Chairs added to the opposition on Town Meeting floor.
Chair of the Historical Commission, former firefighter Joe Hubley, said his commission hadn’t been consulted about the building’s fate. He asked for them to have a seat a the table. Community Preservation Commission Chair Freddie Gillespie wondered if alternatives had been looked at for other potential uses. She suggested looking into it for the Buffalo Soldier Museum which selectmen had sought a home for in the past.
The police station is site of the former Peter’s School annex. Preservation of the annex was a roadblock to a past effort to replace the police station. At the time the Historical Commission recommended renovating and expanding the building. One outspoken member, Kate Matison, was even inspired to launch a preservation blog covering the building’s architectural significance.
Hubley, Matison’s and Gillespie’s terms all expire this June. Reappointments will be decided by selectmen.
Last summer, Kolenda pushed the board to hold off on reappointing members of the Historical Commission despite a continuing vacancy on the board. He urged instead promoting the openings to recruit a “larger pool of candidates from which to choose”.
At the time, Rooney and other board members disagreed.
Last night, Hamilton counseled selectmen to communicate Town policy to boards they appoint. He reasoned that voters elected selectmen by wider margins than the recent Town Meeting headcounts.
Hamilton said that his committee follows the board’s instructions even when he disagrees with them.*
Rooney accepted the point. After confirming that reappointments are the second week of June, he stated, “I do think certain vetting procedures need to be in place, especially with regards to this particular project.”
No other selectmen commented on the issue. (And selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf was absent.)
For now the committee’s work remains on hold. Selectmen hope to reach an Agreement in Principle with St. Mark’s soon. Once the committee learns what land is available, they can resume working with their consultant.
Hamilton told the board that they will need some “modest additional sums” to finish the site plan. Town Administrator Mark Purple confirmed that $15-20K should be available in engineering budgets.
*[Editor’s Note: I think it’s worth pointing out – The Public Safety Study Committee is an ad hoc committee created by the Board of Selectmen last year and can be dismissed by it. In contrast, many committees whose members are appointed by selectmen were created through acts adopted by Town Meeting. It may be reasonable for their members to perceive that they have an obligation to Town Meeting voters.]
**Updated (4/27/16 7:35 am): My original story didn’t clarify the order of the comments in the discussion. By first mentioning Mr. Rooney’s remark about vetting, it may have seemed that Mr. Cimino’s remark about a small minority referred to committee members. But his statement about a minority preceded discussion of committees and vetting.
While clarifying that, I thought it made sense to make sure readers understood that only Mr. Rooney made the statement. And the Chair did not specify what vetting would mean. Nor did he put targets on the backs of the committees or members I mentioned. But given the context of discussion, and the fact that those three members will be up for re-appointment this June, I believed it was worth examining.