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Town meeting discussion continues in Ashland


January 13, 2021
ASHLAND — The Ashland selectmen met in the early afternoon of Jan. 6 to take up the issue of what type of town meeting to hold. They also voted on the proposed warrant articles.

Chairman Eli Badger began the meeting by noting that he had received some criticism from those who felt that he had exceeded his authority when he contacted Municipal Resources Inc., a firm that has helped the town in the past by recruiting town administrators or providing temporary administrators. He explained that he was just

seeking information on how they might help in the transition to a new Town Manager. (Town Manager Charlie Smith is leaving for a new job in February.) The other four selectmen all supported Badger's actions, noting that they needed to act soon to fill the position

The selectmen had delayed action on the alternative forms of town meetings allowed during this pandemic year, to see if the School Board would allow the use of the school gym for an in person deliberative session and an in-person election. The evening before this meeting, the School Board did vote to allow the Town to use the gym for both. The selectmen again considered the alternative, which would replace the in person deliberative session with two virtual sessions. At the first session, the warrant articles would be explained. During the following week, voters could send in comments on the articles and suggest changes. At the second session, the selectmen would discuss the comments received and vote on amending the articles. This version would be safer, but it would leave all decisions on amendments to the five selectmen, not the voters. No decision was made because the legislature was considering a bill that would allow towns to postpone the town meeting, deliberative session and election, to as late as

July. The state Senate was to vote on that bill on the day the selectmen were meeting. So, the selectmen decided to meet again on Friday, Jan. 8, to see if the legislation, if it passed, would provide a better alternative.

The selectmen did review the warrant articles proposed by the Town Manager and department heads, and voted on them one by one, ultimately supporting all of them. These included $27,142 for the fourth payment on the lease-purchase of the Public Works loader and the usual contributions to capital reserve funds, $125,000 to the Road

Improvements CRF, $20,000 to the Police Department CRF, $10,000 to the Building Maintenance and Repair CRF, and $25,000 each to the Fire Department CRF, the Public Works Department CRF and the Library Building fund. Another article would change the purpose of the Road Improvement CRF to include bridges. Town Manager Smith explained that the Winter Street bridge needs repairs, estimated at $154,000, which will save the bridge from deteriorating to the point where it has to be replaced at a much larger cost. Four articles would use money from the undesignated fund balance at the end of the fiscal year, $25,000 for a contingency fund, $30,000 for a defibrillator for the Fire Department, $22,000 for computer equipment in the police cruisers, and

$9100 for body cameras for police officers. Housekeeping articles would allow the Selectmen to expend funds from the ambulance fees collected by the Fire Department and placed in the Fire Department Apparatus and Equipment Fund, and to accept grants and gifts, and to allow the Library to keep the fees from the use of its copier and fax machine. Another article would abolish the separate Scribner Memorial Fund and Trustees and transfer the money left by Emma Scribner for the maintenance of the building and grounds she bequeathed to the Town to a new fund that will be invested by the Town Trustees of Trust Funds and spent by the Library Trustees on the building and grounds. The selectmen also reviewed the five petitioned warrant articles that had so far been received. They voted to recommend four articles for contributions to local service agencies, Pemi Baker Community Health, Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, Lakes Region Mental Health Center, and Voices Against Violence. They voted to not recommend an article to discontinue Parkway, a short street between Depot and Mill Streets, in part because they had legal questions about the article, which will be sent to the Town Attorney for further review.

On the afternoon of Jan. 8, the selectmen met again and discussed the same issues, the deliberative session and warrant articles. In the interim, the legislation that would allow the postponement of the deliberative session had passed the state Senate

but had failed in the house of representatives. So, the options remained just the virtual sessions and the in-person session. Also, the School Board had decided in the interim to hold the school deliberative session in-person in the gym on Feb. 2. To provide

for those who cannot wear masks, the school will set up an alternative space in a locker room, which would be accessed by the building's rear entrance. Those in the locker room will be provided with a monitor to view the session and microphones to participate in the discussion. Public Works Director Craig Moore also suggested a new layout of the tables for the Town officials at the meeting. Instead of setting them up at the far end of the main room, the tables would be spread along one long side of the room providing plenty of space for the selectmen and budget committee. Chairs for the audience would be set up at least six feet apart. Moore felt that a large number of people could be accommodated. Additional safety measures proposed included face shields for the Town officials, and the use of the large plexiglass shields that were used at the election to protect the election workers. Moore said that the Town did have some face shields that were provided by the state, but not used at the elections. Town Manager Smith offered to buy more protective equipment as needed. Selectman Fran Newton was

still concerned that a long meeting, lasting two to three hours, raised the potential for the spreading of the Covid virus, if anyone brought it to the meeting. The selectmen did vote four to one, with Newton dissenting, to proceed with an in person deliberative session.

Selectman Kathleen DeWolfe also had concerns about two petitioned warrant articles. She felt that there were still unanswered questions about the wording of the warrant article for the discontinuance of Parkway, including the classification of the road as a Class Vi highway, the road dimensions stated in the article and the ownership of the land under the road, and even the proper name of the road. The Town manager said that he had sent most of those questions to the Town Attorney for his opinion. She was also concerned about the just received petitioned warrant article asking the voters to donate $2,000 to the Ashland Historical Society for maintenance and repairs to the Whipple House, which is owned by the Town, but leased to the Historical Society. She noted that the lease required the Historical Society to pay for all repairs. Historical Society President David Ruell explained that a portion of the Whipple House roof needs

reshingling and the estimates are running in the $10,000 to $12,000 range. The Society's Board is looking for the money for that work, so they decided to ask the voters for some help. DeWolfe felt that the Society should have discussed the situation with the Selectmen before doing the petitioned article. The selectmen ended their meeting with a non-public session.

Martin Lord Osman
Town of Brookfield
Town of Brookfield
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