By Beth David, Editor
In a three+ hour long meeting, the first since the COVID-delayed election on 6/8, newcomer Keith Silvia showed his supporters what he meant by change when he nominated Daniel Freitas for chairperson, instead of Bob Espindola. Traditionally, the person in the third year of his term is voted in as chair. For a three-person board, it allows all members to have their spot with the gavel after they have had a couple of years under their belt. Mr. Freitas has been in town government for years, so he is not a newcomer, but the move showed that Mr. Silvia and Mr. Freitas will be a voting bloc.
“I ran my campaign on change,” said Mr. Silvia, adding that the time to start was “right now.”
Mr. Espindola self-nominated, and made his case for the chair, saying he has been on the board for eight years and was chairperson twice.
“I do feel historically it’s been kind of a tradition,” said Mr. Espindola.
He said he felt he had done a good job as the chairperson and was “very fair in allowing anything and everything that the board wished,” on the agenda.
“I don’t see this as being the necessary change,” said Mr. Espindola.
Mr. Silvia and Mr. Freitas both voted for Mr. Freitas, and Mr. Espindola opposed. Mr. Espindola was voted as vice chair, and Mr. Silvia as clerk.
During Committee Liaison reports, Mr. Espindola updated the board on the new waterways regulations the Marine Resources Committee has been working on. He said the document was almost ready to be sent to the Selectboard for approval.
The board also reassigned members to their committees. Each board has a Selectboard member as a liaison/representative.
When they got to the Marine Resources Committee, Mr. Silvia said he wanted that board.
Mr. Espindola said he wanted to stay on the MRC because they had finally gotten to the point with the previously mentioned document for it to be finalized.
Mr. Silvia was appointed to MRC, replacing Mr. Espindola. Mr. Silvia will also be on the Dog Park Committee, the Rogers Reuse Committee, and will be the Fair Housing Coordinator.
Mr. Espindola will remain on the Broadband Committee and SRPEDD.
Mr. Freitas will be the liaison for the Fire Apparatus Committee, Historic Commission and Library Trustees.
The board tabled the appointments for boards and committees. Mr. Espindola made a case for appointing those on the list and adding others as necessary, saying everything has already been delayed due to COVID-19.
Mr. Silvia suggested that everyone, even those who already expressed an interest, be required to submit a letter.
Mr. Freitas said he wanted to see if anyone else was interested in the boards.
The board voted to table the item until the next meeting (see page 5 for list of boards with available seats).
Mr. Freitas said he wanted each person who sends a letter of interest to meet with the board, although it was unclear if he meant new people or people re-applying to be on a board, too.
Ann Richard, who joined the meeting via Zoom, and has served on several committees, elected and appointed, said she wondered about upcoming meetings. She is on the Sustainability committee currently. She said members are generally re-appointed.
Mr. Freitas told her that it was just an extension and all current members may still vote on their committees. He said he just wanted the public to know about openings to give people a chance to apply.
Ms. Richard said most of the committees seem to have vacancies, and she would “love to see” other people show an interest.
Mr. Espindola said if this is going to be a new way of doing things, then they should notify people a couple of months ahead of time.
“We know we make appointments in April,” said Mr. Espindola.
“I don’t see the harm in waiting two weeks,” said Mr. Freitas.
The item was tabled, along with requests to be added to the Economic Development Committee and the Bikeway Committee.
In another matter, the board amended the liquor licenses of several restaurants to allow for outdoor seating. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants have been limited to take-out only. Mass. Governor Charlie Baker allowed restaurants to open with outdoor seating and allowed municipalities to relax requirements for outdoor dining. They will have to observe social distancing protocols and specific disinfecting regimens.
The Pasta House was approved for 80 seats outdoors, including 40 under a tent and the rest around the building. The Bayside Lounge, Ice House, 99 Restaurant, Frontera, and Elizabeth’s were also approved for outdoor dining.
During the COVID-19 update, Mr. Rees told the board they had a “soft re-opening” of public facilities, including town hall, starting on 6/11. Walk-in traffic is now allowed for a number of departments, including the Town Clerk and Tax Collector. Social distancing guidelines are in place, plexiglass has been installed at all public counters, and signs have been placed throughout the building. Masks are required while inside, and hand sanitizer is available.
Mr. Rees said they did not make a public announcement because they wanted to see how it would go first.
Costs of the preparations will be reimbursed with money from the Federal government. Mr. Rees said the town submitted $218,000. He is hoping to get $77,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and $140,000 from the CARES Act.
In a COVID related matter, the board discussed at length what to do about yard sales, since they inherently hold more risk for spreading the virus due to strangers coming together and everyone touching the items.
Health Agent Mary Freire-Kellogg said she did not think they were a good thing to have in town because it brings people “directly to your door.”
She said if people do have yard sales, she encourages them to have everyone wear masks and keep their distance from each other.
Mr. Espindola noted they do not typically regulate yards sales, so he could not think of how they would do it now. He said even if they made a declaration banning them, someone would have to enforce it by chasing them down by looking at signs, etc.
Mr. Rees suggested that an “educational campaign” might be better than banning them.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said that other communities are either banning them altogether or they are not making comment. She said the state has decided not to make comment because yard sales are at private residences.
The board took no action and said they might discuss it in the future.
The board also approved the hanging of the gay pride flag at town hall until 6/29, albeit after a long discussion that seemed to be going in the other direction.
Mr. Freitas said he was afraid it was a “slippery slope,” that could allow other, less favorable, groups to be able to hang a flag.
School Committee member Kyle Bueno, an outspoken gay man who grew up in Fairhaven, made an impassioned plea to the board, citing statistics on depression and suicide among gay youth, and the history of the rainbow flag.
In the end, the vote was unanimous.
The board also had a lengthy discussion about the electric aggregation contract and a survey requested by a local group. The town has joined a group of more than 20 communities to buy electricity in bulk, saving money for residents.
The contract also allows for renewable energy to be part of the mix. The group, Climate Reality has asked that the contract be changed to default to 10% renewables, which could result in an increase of about $2 per month for the average residence.
Mr. Espindola, who has been working on the aggregation contract, said he supported the idea of the survey, but was against changing the contract. He said the contract allows people to opt in for renewables. He said the change would cost residents more.
Mr. Espindola said he also spoke with Fairhaven Housing Authority Director Krisanne Sheedy who said she was very concerned about the possible increase.
“So there are a lot of things to think about here,” said Mr. Espindola, but noted he was in favor of the survey.
He said if the board did decide to go with the change that would result in an increase, that he did not want to be the person who answers the phone when residents called, because obviously it would be a 2-1 vote.
“I think it would be an amazing thing for Fairhaven to be a leader on the SouthCoast on this,” said Climate Reality co-chair Laura Gardner, adding that she did not think $2 per residence was a “significant increase, especially considering the future cost of climate change.”
The board voted to support the survey.
The town moderator also met with the board and decided to postpone the annual Town Meeting to July 25, to give the town time to figure out the logistics of holding a virtual TM. Fairhaven has a representative TM with more than 400 elected members. They will all have to be able to participate remotely and be able to vote, as the town does not have a venue large enough to accommodate the 200+ members who routinely attend. The board also has the option to reduce the quorum temporarily due to the COVID-19 crisis.
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