By Pattie Pacella, Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet Selectboard met remotely on Tuesday, 5/4/20, with the meeting once again closed to the public, as the board continues to struggle with how to host the public remotely.
Town Administrator Julie Hebert reported that there was guidance from the state regarding Town Meeting. She said towns can lower their quorum to not less than 10% of their current threshold, change locations or do a remote Town Meeting. She said the bill was in the House of Representatives and once she got the final information, she would forward to the Selectboard.
Ms. Hebert also engaged the Selectboard in a discussion about rolling over vacation for town employees. She stated that normally, employees can request up to a one week transfer of vacation to be used in the following year, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic many employees are not taking vacations, whether it’s because they are home during this time or actually working at the office.
She said she wanted to discuss how the board would like to move forward with allowing employees to rollover vacation weeks.
Board member Kevin Gaspar said he understood there is a pandemic, however, he said he felt that things could not continue to be “pushed out.”
“If you have under two week’s vacation there is no reason to not use before the end of the year,” he said. “Use it or lose it.”
He said he felt that if you an employee has more than two weeks of vacation remaining, they could carry over one week and use it within a certain time frame, perhaps 30 days.
Board member David Desroches stated he did not know what the town has done in the past, but felt there should be a no-adjustment policy. He said he was aware the contracts for employees states they are allowed to ask the Town Administrator for a one-week rollover and he felt that was sufficient at this time.
Selectboard chairperson Roger Cabral said he did not object to allowing the one week rollover, however he felt it may be on a case to case basis with some employees.
“By no means am I allowing a two-week or three-week rollover,” Mr. Gaspar stated.
“We’re not saying that Mr. Gaspar,” said Mr. Cabral.
Ms. Hebert reiterated that there are certain union contracts that allow the one week rollover and if employees needed, because of special circumstances to roll over more than one week, perhaps no more than two weeks with a time limit, she would be open to that.
Mr. Cabral asked Ms. Hebert to produce a list of “special circumstance” employees who may have to request more than a one-week rollover and they could discuss it at their next meeting.
Administrative Assistant to the Selectboard, Lisa Leonard, who was participating remotely stated that she has been working at the office during the pandemic, because the Selectboard wanted the office open.
“The other person in the office has been home since March, and I’ve been working every day,” said Ms. Leonard. “What would you like me to do with my two weeks’ vacation?”
“Use it or lose it,” Mr. Gaspar stated.
“Okay, I’ll just close the office then,” replied Ms. Leonard.
Mr. Cabral stated he agreed with Ms. Leonard who was working in the office daily because it is what they asked of her, now they can not just say, “use it or lose it.”
“Reward the behavior, not punish it,” Mr. Cabral said.
Ms. Hebert will get the list together of employees with special circumstances for the next meeting.
Mr. Desroches agreed that he did not want Ms. Leonard to close the office for two weeks to take her vacation. He said there are many variables in this unique situation and for right now they should keep it the way it is, the ability to roll over one week’s vacation, but he would be open to consider other options.
Mr. Cabral asked Mr. Gaspar if he was open to that and he stated: “It doesn’t matter what I say because you and Mr. Desroches are open to it, and it takes two, so I don’t really have a choice.”
In another matter, the board, yet again, discussed the opening of the Golf Course.
“This is a Board of Health issue,” stated Mr. Desroches.
Ms. Hebert stated that Governor Baker has specifically said that golf courses clearly fall under the non essential businesses open.
Mr. Gaspar stated that he had increasing concerns about not opening the golf course. He said they have been on lockdown now for nearly 50 days and they continue to “kick this down the road.” He said he had concerns that they are continuing to lose money by having the golf course closed.
“The pandemic is not all about money, but it is,” Mr. Gaspar stated. “I’m just frustrated with all the crap we’re hearing, and businesses are going under.”
In other business, board members aired their frustration and concerns about the Bulky Item Pick up day being cancelled three days before the event.
Mr. Gaspar said he was embarrassed that the day got cancelled. He said that the Board of Health and the Recycling Center were very much aware of the date months.
Mr. Desroches said that he understood the Board of Health concerns, however he too felt frustrated that there were a lot of misunderstandings and communication regarding the event.
Mr. Cabral stated that although both entities knew of the date, they should have communicated their concerns, and that never took place. He said he was very disappointed that the event was cancelled three days prior.
Mr. Cabral also stated he believed it was a complete conflict of interest between Board of Health and the Department of Public Works that drove the decision to cancel the event, and certainly something that the Selectboard needs to look into.
Mr. Gaspar extended a sincere apology to Kathy Silva who had put a lot of work into creating the event. He also apologized to the residents for the last-minute cancellation.
Mr. Desroches stated that a reverse 911 call was sent to residents advising them of the cancellation with a postponement date in October. He said he was not even sure that was going to happen.
The Selectboard will meet again Tuesday, 5/12 to discuss FY21 budget proposals as well the vacation rollover.
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