Mary Macedo, Neighb News Correspondent
At its meeting on Monday, 11/21, the Fairhaven Selectboard had an in-depth discussion about their concerns regarding remote participation.
The topic has been discussed among the Selectboard over the past year due to Board of Public Works member Kathy Sturtevant, who goes to Florida for four months every year, requesting to vote remotely. The BPW has continuously discussed remote participation at their meetings and brought the issue to the Selectboard to make the decision on whether all the boards/committees in Fairhaven should allow it.
Before the Selectboard opened the remote vote discussion, Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy read a letter of resignation from Ms. Sturtevant dated 11/18/16.
In the letter she thanked Public Works Superintendent Vincent Furtado and BPW Chairperson Michael Ristuccia.
Ms. Sturtevant also expressed her love for working for the town.
Ms. Sturtevant attended the Selectboard meeting, so Mr. Murphy thanked her in person for her service and dedication to the town.
Selectboard member Robert Espindola expressed his appreciation for all the time Ms. Sturtevant has spent working for the town, as well as volunteering.
“I am sad to see her go,” Selectboard member Dan Freitas said. “The town is indebted to her.”
Mr. Murphy explained that with Ms. Sturtevant leaving there would be a vacancy on the BPW that will need to be filled until the next election.
BPW member Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, who also attended the Selectboard meeting, voiced his concern with filling the vacancy.
“What’s the sense of putting someone in there for three to four months,” Mr. Hobson asked.
Mr. Murphy explained that they are required to fill the vacancy within 30 days.
“The big point was if I was away they would be short one person,” Ms. Sturtevant said. “They need that fifth person.”
Mr. Murphy explained that December 5 will be Ms. Sturtevant’s last BPW meeting and the BPW will then accept her resignation. After that they will accept letters of interest from the public.
Mr. Murphy transitioned the discussion to remote participation. At a previous Selectboard meeting the board had asked Town Administrator, Mark Rees to research remote voting in other towns.
Mr. Rees explained that he surveyed 200 other communities and 59 responded. Twenty-seven of those communities did not have any form of remote voting, nine communities had remote voting, and 23 communities had some form of remote voting with various rules and regulations.
Mr. Espindola told the board that he decided to conduct a little informal survey on Facebook about remote voting. He asked people to take the survey only if they were a registered voter in Fairhaven; 45 people responded to his survey.
Mr. Espindola explained what questions he included on the survey, as well as the results. One question asked if the person felt the town needed remote voting at this time. The results were around 86% against and 13% in favor.
Another question asked if remote voting should be allowed for convenience, such as a vacation. The results were around 93% against and 6% in favor. The last question asked if the person felt like other problems may be caused by using remote voting. The results were around 86% agreeing and 13% disagreeing.
“There is not a real need in this town to do this [remote voting],” Mr. Espindola said. “Maybe the town should conduct an official survey.”
Mr. Espindola explained if 85-95% of people say “no,” then remote voting is not needed. He also explained that if some committees have members that do not show up to meetings, the committee should tell those people to resign.
Mr. Espindola also said the issue could not be solved that night. He said that one person from the Selectboard should sit with Mr. Rees and come up with a remote vote policy if they think it is necessary.
Mr. Freitas said he believed there should be a policy, so if someone needs to miss a meeting; they have the option to vote remotely.
“It’s a good tool to have in the tool box,” Mr. Freitas said.
Mr. Espindola reiterated that he did not feel that there was a need for remote participation at this time. He said there are more pressing things they could be working on.
Mr. Hobson restated his well known position that he was totally against remote voting. He said he thought it was something that should be discussed at town meeting.
When the BPW used remote participation (but not voting) for Ms. Sturtevant last year, it was disruptive and it did not work, said Mr. Hobson.
Mr. Freitas, who was on the BPW last year during that time, explained that the remote vote issue was brought to the Selectboard.
“We didn’t seek it,” Mr. Freitas said, adding that if they did not act on it, remote voting issues could pop up again in the future.
“[The remote vote issue] was brought to you by a person who resigned tonight,” Mr. Hobson said.
Mr. Espindola suggested that whoever is most in favor of remote participation should sit with Mr. Rees and help draft the policy, to give Mr. Rees some direction.
“It’s not productive to sit here and debate,” Mr. Espindola said.
He explained that one of the Selectboard members should take the lead. He said that he would not do it because he does not agree with remote voting.
“I will gladly work with Mr. Rees,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that the three Selectboard members should each write a draft of what they think should be in the policy.
BPW Chairperson Mike Ristuccia explained that in June 2015, he had a double knee replacement, which was on a Monday. Mr. Ristuccia missed the BPW meeting that Monday. Two weeks later there was another BPW meeting and Mr. Ristuccia said he “hobbled to the meeting.”
“I made it because I wanted to be involved,” Mr. Ristuccia said, adding that at the time when he got his knees replaced he did not know remote participation was an option.
Knowing about remote participation now, Mr. Ristuccia said: “I still would have gone [to the meeting.]”
“Skype and Facetime, it’s ok,” Mr. Ristuccia said, but you cannot look directly into someone’s eyes and feel what they are feeling in the moment. “You miss a lot of meaning behind the words.”
He asked the Selectboard if an individual board would be able to opt-out.
Mr. Murphy said any board or committee can decide to opt-out, as long as it is agreed upon by the Selectboard.
“I think there is a place for remote voting,” Mr. Ristuccia said “With the right guidelines, it could be ok, but I don’t know what the right guidelines are.”
Mr. Murphy explained that he does not think remote participation is a priority at this time. He explained that the BPW is the only board that has mentioned it. As long as no other board or committee wants it, then he does not think remote participation is necessary.
“If other boards come to us, then we will revisit it again,” said Mr. Murphy, adding that he felt they should pass over it at this time.
“I hope it doesn’t come up in the future,” Mr. Freitas said.
BPW member Brian Wotton suggested to the Selectboard that even though remote participation is not an issue now, maybe they should start to come up with a plan, so if it is brought up again they are prepared.
Mr. Murphy agreed that it was a good time to plan out the policy, so the town will be ready if it comes up again. He said, although remote participation is not necessary at this time, they can work on a policy for the future.
In another matter the Selectboard discussed the public’s use of the Town Hall auditorium. The board unanimously agreed to allow the ONE Theater Group to rent the Town Hall auditorium for their show on December 15th-18th.
Mr. Espindola explained that the ONE Theater group is a great non-profit that donates to charities, such as Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
After the board agreed to allow the group to rent the auditorium, the board discussed the Town Hall Use Policy.
Mr. Rees explained that to avoid liability when a group rents the Town Hall and sells alcohol to raise money they should have to get a one day liquor license. If a private party rents Town Hall and has alcohol present at the party, they should require some sort of insurance policy, so the town is not liable if any incidents occur.
Mr. Rees said he would re-draft the policy rules and regulations and bring them back to the Selectboard, but Mr. Rees said he would like their guidance.
The hearing for Auto Diagnostics did not take place because no representative of the business attended. The town will send a letter warning that it will suspend the business’s license if it does not respond and comply to the site plan requirements.
In another matter the Selectboard appointed William Levasseur to the Cultural Council. He is a grade 7 teacher in Taunton, but has lived in Fairhaven most of his life. He has also been an actor, singer, and dancer for 20 years and would love to promote art in Fairhaven.
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