By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard put off a vote on remote participation by town officials at its meeting on 10/17.
Kathy Sturtevant, a member of the Board of Public Works has pushed the issue so that she may vote while she spends four months in the winter at her home in Florida.
By state law, the Selectboard must approve the measure. In December of 2015, the board voted against the it, 2-1. Since then, Dan Freitas, who was a BPW member at the time and in support of remote voting, was elected to the Selectboard, replacing one of the “no” votes.
Ms. Sturtevant has been participating by phone or tablet, but not voting, while she was in Florida.
All the BPW members attended the meeting on 10/17 to discuss the issue. They did not, by any means, present a unified front.
BPW chairperson Michael Ristuccia said that the BPW decided that the Selectboard should decide the issue. He also asked, however, that the BPW be allowed to put the rules and regulations in place.
Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, a BPW member who has been very vocal against the idea, said he actually made the motion and voted to have the Selectboard decide, one way or the other. He said he was “sick of hearing about it” at BPW meetings over and over again.
He said when Ms. Sturtevant has participated remotely in the past he found it “very disruptive.”
“You shouldn’t even consider allowing something like this,” said Mr. Hobson.
If someone wants to live in Florida for four or five months, “I don’t think they should be running for election on any board,” said Mr. Hobson.
He said it was the “American way” to attend board meetings, and members should be able to attend 90% of the time.
BPW member Brian Wotton said he wanted the option for medical reasons that might arise, such as a car accident. He said they would set up rules and regulations, but the BPW should be able to set them up for themselves.
“We’re a separate board, we’re independent,” said Mr. Wotton.
Frank Coelho, who is chairperson of the Marine Resources Committee, suggested that the Selectboard let Town Meeting decide.
“I’m not denying that you have the authority,” said Mr. Coelho, but argued it should be turned back to voters. He said Ms. Sturtevant got it voted on last year, and should not keep coming back every year.
BPW member Jarrod Lussier agreed, but said it should go to a town-wide vote.
Selectboard member Dan Freitas disagreed, saying that board members were voted in to lead, not to bounce everything back to voters.
“At some point, you’re elected to lead,” he said.
Planning Board Chairperson Wayne Hayward spoke against the measure, saying it simply would not work for his board. He said board members need to be in the room, especially when looking at plans.
“There is a human element here,” said Mr. Hayward, saying it is important to see people, read body language and engage in back-and-forth discussions.
He recited a litany of problems with remote voting, including a problem with the logistics of it. Who would provide the equipment? What kind of equipment?
“We’re not even allowed to whisper,” during a meeting, said Mr. Hayward, adding that no one will know what is going on at the other end.
He said just because technology is advancing, does not mean they all have to jump at the chance. It is not like ordering food at McDonald’s.
“This is the wave of the future? Not my future,” said Mr. Hayward.
What if he is driving or just does not feel like going to a meeting one day, so he decides to call in form his car instead?
“You’ve [got to] clarify all that for me,” said Mr. Hayward.
Town Administrator Mark Rees said the board could limit the number of members who can call in at any time, and define the circumstances where it would be allowed. The rules would apply to all boards, which was another point of contention for Mr. Hayward.
He said all boards are not the same, so a one-size-fits-all solution would not work.
Mr. Ristuccia said he was very uncomfortable with the idea that his board would not be able to set the rules for itself.
Ms. Sturtevant was largely silent, letting her fellow board members take the floor most of the time. But she did say that she is now using Skype, so board members can see her and see that she is paying attention.
Jim Leal, a former member of the Fairhaven Housing Authority spoke against the idea. He said the FHA tried it and it did not work too well.
He said that when he went to Florida, he would fly back for meetings.
Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy, the lone vote supporting the measure in December, is also the chairperson of the Commission on Disability. That board has always had an exemption, and has used remote participation in the past. Those boards have always been able to use remote voting because some members have physical difficulty getting to meetings.
“Let’s understand why,” said Mr. Hayward. “It makes sense.”
What he did not understand, he said, is how the BPW will draft regulations for all the boards.
“I think you’re opening up a Pandora’s Box,” said Mr. Hayward.
Mr. Ristuccia said that members of the public seemed “pretty concerned about it,” so he recommended letting it go to a town meeting vote.
He said they serve on boards for the citizens.
“So, let the citizens decide, he said.
“The people of the town are the only ones who can tell us what’s best for them,” said Mr. Ristuccia.
“My stance hasn’t changed,” said Mr. Freitas.
He said he has been at meetings at his job when people were on screen instead of in the room.
“I’m all for it,” said Mr. Freitas. “The voters will have the ultimate say in this,” by voting for, or against, people who are participating remotely.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said that he is familiar with remote participation because of his job. He said he did not feel the town should put time and energy into something they do not really need.
“It’s not just about a vacation,” said Mr. Wotton.
“How often does this come up,” asked Mr. Espindola. “I just don’t see it.”
He said he would like input from all boards and committees. The previous wisdom that prevailed was that the decision applied to all boards, but that was disputed at the meeting. He also wondered about how executive session would be handled by the person on the remote end. Executive session is not open to the public.
In the end, the board decided to have Mr. Rees look into the practices of other communities that use remote participation. He will also ask Town Counsel for an opinion on whether or not the decision applies to all boards, and what kinds of rules and regulations the town can impose on individual boards.
It will probably be on the agenda for the 11/7 meeting.
Mr. Ristuccia made a plea to the public to contact the Selectboard and to write letters to the editor to let officials know how they feel.
In another matter, the board met with Carol and Nicole Dussault about the new site plan for the Spring Street Garage.
The Selectboard has required all service stations and used car lots to submit engineering plans that show where cars will be parked. After a series of contentious meetings between the board and the Dussaults over their property the past two years, the Dussaults said there was an error in the number of cars they are allowed.
The board had ordered that no cars could be repaired in front of the building.
The new license seemed to say that no cars could be parked in front.
After some wrangling over the details of how many cars in front and on which sides of the building, the board agreed that the Spring Street Garage was not ordered to lose those 10 spots.
They will still not be allowed to repair cars in front of the building.
Click to download the entire 10/27/16 issue: 10-27-16-hauntedacademy