Selectmen goal discussion: Regional public safety dispatch, diversity/inclusion program, increasing training for boards/committees, and more

Above: The Board of Selectmen will again meet in the Public Safety Building to further discuss goals. Two weeks ago, the discussion included looking into leveraging the new building to host a regionalized dispatch center. (photo by Beth Melo)

Tonight, the Board of Selectmen will continue to discuss their goals for this fiscal year.

The discussion began two weeks ago with the board going through two of the five board members’ lists. Among the many goals discussed was looking into hosting a regional dispatch for police and fire departments. Board members also agreed to discuss a community program for diversity and inclusion at tonight’s meeting. The board will continue to discuss other board members’ goal recommendations this evening.

Once the board agrees on a list of goals for the year, they plan to include a list in future agenda packets. The list will include subtasks that get checked off as progress is made. The board also committed to holding a quarterly update on goals to make sure they stay on track. 

July 21 2020 BOS meeting cropped from YouTubeFollowing the tradition of holding an annual “retreat” to discuss the goals, selectmen met (and are meeting again) in-person. The board is making use of the Public Safety Building’s meeting room to meet at a safe distance. The public is unable to attend in person, but able to view the meetings remotely.

Public Safety Dispatch regionalization discussion

The regionalization of public safety dispatch was raised by Selectman Chelsea Malinowski as part of her list of recommendations. She stressed that the idea was to host, not outsource the dispatch services. She pitched that it could reduce public safety expenses by sharing them with other towns.

The recommendation was supported by Chair Marty Healey. He noted that in the fall, he raised regionalization as an issue with Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus. In asking for increase staffing for the Southborough Police Department, Paulhus pointed to a 20 year old Public Safety Review recommending increased staffing levels. Healey pointed out the “second very big part of that report” calling for regionalization, “and that’s kind of gotten lost.”

Malinowski noted that a partnering Town doesn’t have to be right next to us. She also opined that cutting down on dispatch to dispatch would increase efficiency in mutual aid. She noted that she’s not an expert, but felt it was worth looking into. 

The former Advisory Member said she discussed the concept with both chiefs in the past and would be willing to speak with them again. Stivers noted that it was discussed by Advisory 7-8 years ago. Healey recommended her relying heavily on the chiefs. He said it wasn’t just for their expertise, but that he’d “like to think they’d buy into heavily the idea of doing that.”

Malinowski said that if another Town or community is looking to build a new public safety facility, they may be looking to save expense by reducing square footage.

That may seem ironic to some who questioned the need for the size of Southborough’s new Public Safety Building. So, why wasn’t it a serious consideration to outsource dispatch before our Town built it’s facility? Some of the downsides were raised by Town Administrator Mark Purple during the July 21st discussion. 

Purple mentioned that regionalization is simpler when just talking about dispatch. But he opined that every chief is interested, if they’re hosting. For those on the other side, the biggest issue is “what is your face time with the person standing at the window who needs help”. Would you have someone in need talking to a video monitor or would you staff the window?

The TA also noted that lot of the dispatch staff is responsible for monitoring jail cells. If you eliminate that staff, you could then be paying a police officer at overtime rates to do that. He said that for the Town thinking of outsourcing the department there’s a lot to consider.

Malinowski said she believed that Nashoba has regional dispatch. Stivers followed that “it does work out there”. He suggested looking at ones that work and finding out how they handle issues. Healey said that in other parts of the country they’re baffled by each town having their own public safety departments. Purple said the services are provided county wide.

Other goals discussed

The above goal was just one of many raised by the two female members of the board, Lisa Braccio and Malinowski. They included requiring more training for boards and committees, assigning liaisons to work with boards, committees, and departments, budget oversight, volunteer outreach, and a policy handbook. They also recommended a closer look at staff reporting directly to the board, including updated job descriptions and board involvement in the employee review process.

The importance of leveraging the Capital Committee’s work was raised. Healey said that the reinstating of that committee as the best financial decision they made last year. He noted that at some point the Town will need to discuss the possibility of consolidating K-8 schools from 4 buildings to 3. He also raised that interest in a future community center could tie in with that or with the private schools. (He didn’t elaborate on that last reference.) 

You can find more details on those items and more here. The document is a highlight list I compiled from watching the discussion and cribbing excerpts from the posted draft minutes

Special Town Meeting may not be held

Toward the end of the discussion, Healey said he was highly skeptical they can hold a Special Town Meeting in the fall. He asked Purple to reach out to proponents of Articles that were postponed. He wanted to hear back how important a fall vote is to them.

The board will discuss the situation again at their September 18th meeting. At that point they’ll have a better idea about the Covid-19 situation, what the impact is on the Planning Board, and how Citizen Petitioners feel.

Tonight’s discussion

The board plans to begin their goal discussion tonight with Selectman Sam Stivers’ list. Healey’s list is also included in the packet. No list was posted for Selectman Brian Shea, but it is possible they will tackle his as well.

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