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Board of Selectmen Minutes 4/6/11
Members present:        Mark Karlberg, George Fuller, William Cavanaugh

Others Present: Craig Kleman, David Jenkins-Town Counsel, Colleen O’Connor, Barbara Stuhlmann, Rob Gorden, Geraldine Galliher, Jim Kupernik, Mark White, John & Shirley Vachula, Victor Breen, Dick Lindsay-Berkshire Eagle, Patricia Portieri, Paula Cianfarani, Meredyth Babcock, Justin Elovirta, Madelaine Elovirta, William Elovirta, Attorney Jeremiah Pollard, David Bonney, Bruce Garlow, Sue & John Deacon, Richard Cromwell, Thomas Koelle, Brenda Dean, Mike Ozner, Kris McDonough, Sharon & Lucky Pease, Charlene & Don Murray, Ron Daigle, Madeleine Swindlehurst, Sandy Sayward, Robert & Kathy Johnson, Mercedes Gallagher, Julia Maynard, Jeanne Morano and others

7:04 PM Meeting opened.

George Fuller asked if anyone from the audience was recording this meeting.  Colleen O’Connor advised that she was audio taping the meeting.

Selectmen’s Comments and Announcements: Bill advised that he read an article in The Springfield Republican regarding a “Waste to Energy Program”.  He has spoken at a few meetings on the issue with septic systems.  He feels that you can only put so much septic waste into the ground before it creates problems.  There is a system that some towns are using that produces energy from waste.  Instead of taking trash to the transfer station, they add it to this system and it turns it into energy.  He feels we should be looking to the future for solutions to these kinds of issues.  He would like to form a committee to research these kinds of systems.  George advised that after the Board met with BRPC regarding the septic and water survey in North Becket, he found that it would be more important for the town to create a water system in North Becket than a sewer system.

Bill motioned to accept the minutes of the March 16, 2011 meeting as presented, Mark seconded.  All in favor.  Bill motioned to accept the minutes of the March 23, 2011 meeting as presented, Mark seconded.  All in favor.

Public Input: Zina Jayne, the Director of the Becket Athenaeum, submitted a letter to the Selectmen regarding the minutes to a previous meeting.  Rita Furlong came before the Selectmen to say that the Becket Athenaeum could not store the archives any longer and asked the Selectmen to think about having the archives stored at the Mullen House.  Zina wanted the Selectmen to know that it is not the wishes of the Becket Athenaeum to have the archive materials stored in another building.  The Athenaeum does not have the staffing to manage the archives or be as responsive to people’s requests for genealogical research but are not specifically aiming to get them out of the library.  She would love to see an active Historical Society take charge of the archives, however the Athenaeum is quite able to house them.  Bill advised that he has heard nothing but great things about the Athenaeum and feels they are doing a great job.

Catherine Hoak addressed the Board regarding her issue of not being able to get high speed internet at her house.  She was hoping the she and the town could work together to try to get this issue resolved.  Bill advised that the town is currently involved in the Wired West Group that is working to get high speed internet to all underserved areas.

The Selectmen reviewed the Agreement for Paramedic Intercept Services between County Ambulance and the Town of Becket Ambulance Service.  Bill motioned to sign the Agreement for Paramedic Intercept Services between County Ambulance and Town of Becket Ambulance Service, Mark seconded.  All in favor.  Someone asked what would happen if County Ambulance was not available.  Jim Kupernik advised that County Ambulance would be responsible for getting a paramedic crew available for the town.

George asked Bill Elovirta if he wanted to go into Executive Session to discuss the issue of retirement as police chief.  Bill declined going into Executive Session and wished to conduct this issue in open session.  Bill advised that his attorney was present and introduced Attorney Jeremiah Pollard.  Mark read a letter sent to Attorney General, Martha Coakley, by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission asking her assistance in mandating compliance with the provisions of G.L. c. 32, §1 so that PERAC can properly perform its statutory duties with regard to Mr. Elovirta.  David Jenkins, the Town’s legal counsel, advised that the town could start a petition to have an article placed on the Annual Town Meeting warrant that would authorize the Selectmen to file special legislation at the Statehouse that would allow the police chief to continue working past the age of 65.  He also advised that if this passes at the Annual Town Meeting, the Selectmen would need to vote to approve it and send it to the Statehouse where the Senate and House of Representatives would vote to approve it and then it would need to be signed by the Governor.  Bill Cavanaugh asked what would be the status of the police chief while this is pending.  David advised that the police chief in the absence of special legislation should retire by age of 65.  Bill asked if we kept Bill E. in the position of Police Chief would we be in violation of the law.  David advised that the town would be in a liable situation should Bill get injured while on the job or if a member of the public was injured because Bill was not able to perform his duties.  He also advised that in both letters from PERAC it states that if Bill remains in the position of Police Chief it could potentially expose Becket and/or its citizens to harm or damages.  Bill asked if the town votes to keep Bill as police chief for another year and exempts him from the law, would the town still be in the position of insurance liability.  David advised that if the town adopts this special legislation then it would insulate the town from liability for that type of claim.  David opined that until the special legislation comes into effect the town would be liable if Bill was injured or if a member of the public was injured.  Attorney Jeremiah Pollard gave the Selectmen a letter that he sent to Martha Coakley stating that he does not believe that PERAC has the authority or jurisdiction with respect to the Town’s part-time employees who are not contributing to the retirement system, and it should not be advising towns to terminate employment in this regard, much less doing so on the basis of age.  He does not feel that PERAC can tell a town to terminate someone who is not even a member of the retirement system.  He is surprised that all of a sudden this is a liability issue when there are so many towns that have police chiefs that are over 65 years old and there has not been any liability issue before.  David advised that he spoke with two attorneys at PERAC and the letter from Mr. Connarton was probably written by an attorney.  He also advised that the State decided that the age of 65 was the cut-off for any occupation that deals with high stress and physical demands such as a member of a paid fire department and uniformed police officers.  Mr. Pollard feels that it is up to the town to decide if a member of a fire department or police department is not physically able to handle their positions.  Mr. Jenkins advised that the General Laws do not have a mechanism for keeping a police chief after the age of 65.  If a town votes to adopt special legislation then it allows a police chief to stay on after he is 65 years old.  He also advised that in his experience the special legislation would be adopted before the police chief turned 65.  Bill Elovirta explained that when he retired from the highway department in 2007, he was told by the Berkshire County Retirement System that he could still continue as police chief and there would be no problem as long as he did not work more than a specific amount of hours.  If they had told him back then that he could not work past the age of 65, he would have petitioned the town for special legislation.  Bill Cavanaugh explained that he was not even sure if the law exists and if it does exist, then he feels that the State should send every town in Massachusetts a letter stating that they could not keep a police chief after the age of 65 unless it petitions for special legislation.  Mark advised that he spoke with Senator Downing about changing this law but was told that it would take too much time to change it and it is easier if the towns petition the legislature for special legislation.  Robert Johnson asked why this has become an issue.  He asked if Bill Elovirta has ever done anything that would make the Selectmen feel that he would sue the town.  George advised that he asked the attorney back in November if the police chief could work past the age of 65 and was told that he could not work past the age of 65.  Richard Cromwell asked why the Selectmen would not allow public input back when John Hall was fired but now they are allowing public input for the police chief.  George advised that the Selectmen have the right to allow public input or not.  Colleen O’Connor advised that she read the law and feels that it is quite clear that the police chief needs to retire at age 65 and feels that there is a precedent that the Selectmen are setting if they allow Bill to stay after the age of 65.  Meredyth Babcock asked what the cost would be and what the timeframe would be if the town votes to petition the legislature for special legislation.  She also would like the Selectmen, in the future, to act before the person reaches age 65 if they wish to continue working past that age.  Mr. Jenkins was not sure how long it would take the State to act on this special legislation.  He did advise that for the towns that voted to petition the State for special legislation, the State did pass the legislation.  Madeleine Swindlehurst feels that the law exists but she does not feel that it applies to Bill Elovirta.  She feels that the town should get a legal interpretation before it acts.  She feels that the town should not ask for special legislation if the law does not apply and she feels that it should be determined through court or a magistrate.  Colleen O’Connor asked what the cut-off age was.  Jeremiah Pollard advised that if a person works past the age of 70 years then the town would need to get special insurance to cover them.  Rob Gorden suggested that they wait to hear from Martha Coakley and if her office says we are in violation then the town could take it from there.  Bill asked Bill Elovirta if he plans on retiring when he reaches 70.  Bill said that he turns 70 in May of 2012 but was asking to stay until the end of June of 2012 but he could leave when he turns 70.  Bill said he was afraid that if the town petitions for special legislation, it may not get done until he turns 70.  Mr. Jenkins asked Mr. Pollard if Bill was injured on the job, what statute would he be covered under.  He was not sure.  Mr. Jenkins advised that this is one of the gray areas that may come before the town and no one seems to know the answer.  Eva Birkette asked why the Selectmen were not listening to what Mr. Jenkins has been saying.  The town is paying for his advice and he gave it but the Selectmen are not taking his advice.  Mark motioned to wait to take further action on this until they hear from Martha Coakley, no one seconded this motion.  George motioned to have Bill Elovirta step down from the police department until the town gets a decision from Martha Coakley’s office, no one seconded this motion.  David Jenkins suggested that they keep Bill Elovirta as police chief until June 30, 2011 in the administration capacity and that he maintains the status of a non-uniformed member of the police department and that would give the town some time to see if it gets an answer from the Attorney General’s Office.  He advised that they could always reverse the action if something came up.  Bill Elovirta said he does not have a problem with that but he is an elected constable for the town and he would need to wear a uniform in performing as the constable.  David said he would be happy to discuss this with Bill’s attorney after the meeting.  George motioned to remove Bill Elovirta as police chief after June 30, 2011 and that in the meantime the chief shall be restricted to administrative duty only and that he maintains the status of a non-uniformed member of the police department, Mark seconded.  All in favor.

8:40 PM The meeting recessed for 5 minutes.

Mercedes Gallagher addressed the Board regarding the Westfield River Wild & Scenic Advisory Committee.  She gave the Selectmen a brochure that shows a map of the Westfield River and she showed the Selectmen what parts of the river that have been designated wild and scenic.  She advised that the Westfield River was the first river in Massachusetts to have parts of it designated wild and scenic.  She advised that Meredyth Babcock is the coordinator of the volunteer work that is being done.  She gave them a synopsis of what has been done this past year.  She advised that part of the CDBG is to do some drainage work by lower Main Street.  The WRW&SAC has pledged $12,000 as a match to the CDBG to have this work completed.  She would like to meet with Craig and Lenny once they find out whether the town was awarded this grant to discuss this project.  Briefly discussed the Invasive Plants and Road Maintenance training session that will be taking place.

Bruce Garlow addressed the Board regarding the Neighbor to Neighbor Program administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.  He is asking the Selectmen to support this program.  The Central Berkshire Fund is offering a second challenge grant to Becket.  If the Town of Becket raises $2,750, the CBF will contribute $13,750 for a total of $16,500 for emergency assistance for local residents who are in economical distress.  He advised that last year the town raised $5948.50 and the CBF contributed $14,000.00 for a total of $19,948.50 that was available to the local residents.  He gave some examples of how this program helped residents.  Bruce is asking that the Selectmen vote to support this program, make the information available on the town’s website and to send this information through the town’s email system.  Bill motioned to support the Central Berkshire Fund’s Neighbor to Neighbor Program and to post it on the website and to receive the donations at town hall, Mark seconded.  All in favor.

Nina explained that the US Census was completed and because the Town of Becket has less than 6,200 inhabitants, the State wants the Selectmen to vote to remain one precinct.  Bill motioned to remain one precinct, Mark seconded.  All in favor.

The Selectmen reviewed letter from Meredyth Babcock regarding facts and particulars of the situation with police chief.  George stated that she was here and knows all about the situation with the police chief so they do not need to do anything.

The Selectmen reviewed the Becket Ambulance Department Request for Write-Off Report.  Mark motioned to send both of the items on the report to the collection agency, Bill seconded.  All in favor.

The Selectmen reviewed the monthly reports of the Animal Control Officer, Building Inspector and the Police Department.

Any other business: Craig advised that the bid for the Fire Station Energy Retrofit came in higher than they thought but Richard Furlong thinks there should be enough money available to complete the job.  He advised that he will be asking the finance committee if they would approve adding free cash to this project at tomorrow night’s meeting.

The Selectmen agree to have town counsel in attendance at the Annual Town Meeting.

Mercedes Gallagher advised that she received a letter from the tax collector stating that she owes $.46 on her taxes.  She feels that it is not cost effective to send out a letter for $.46 when postage is $.44.  George asked Craig to check with Kathy Hayn about this.

Reviewed correspondence.

9:30 PM Mark motioned to adjourn, Bill seconded.  All in favor.

Reviewed payroll/expense warrants.

Respectfully submitted,                                                         _______________________________
Nina Weiler, Secretary                                                          George Fuller, Chairman