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Good Coffee and Conversation with Selectmen

by Nancy Farrell
January 12, 2015

It was a lively and in-depth discussion at Coffee Haven on Saturday morning that included the possible acquisition of tasers for the Police Department, the development of the Andrews School, the Green Community program, Town Administrator vs. Town Manager, OPEB contributions vs. the schools' every day operations.

Quite a few people came out to talk to the Selectmen on Saturday morning. They'll need a bigger table and more chairs next time. Here are some of the issues that came up.

Martin Sawzin talked to the Selectmen about the police department's request to purchase tasers. In earlier discussions, the idea that the tasers would serve as an intermediary "tool" when on calls involving mental illness had come up. Sawzin wanted to begin a discussion with the Board about alternatives to tasers and the importance of police training in dealing with these situations. He described some non-confrontational ways to deal with escalating situations, and stressed the need to understand and make an assessment about a mentally ill person's view of the situation. Sawzin recommended that a policy regarding the use of tasers should include the opportunity to talk down, de-escalate the situation. Jay Marsden said that any police officer will tell you that the best tool an officer brings to a call is a brain. Jay Leary said that the safety of the officers and of others at the scene is a consideration in adding tasers to a police offiicer's belt. Kevin Conley reported a story of tasers being used as a deterrent in an escalating situation in Medway. Jay Leary said it's a tool like anything else.  Sawzin will address his concerns directly to Chief Moore. The Selectmen acknowledged that it was an ongoing discussion.

Danielle Mottor came to talk about the Andrews School. Jay Marsden said there was an interested party for the property. Neighborhood will play an important role in how the property is developed.  Mottor expressed concern for the congestion that might be caused by having housing for families with children.  Imagining what kind of development would work well at the Andrews, Jay Marsden suggested a few possibilities: 10 or so condominiums at market rate with some set asides for low income and Holliston residents or housing for people ages 55 and up. Ellen George suggested the possibility of putting the senior center there. Kevin Conley said that there is not enough parking on the site. The suggestion of putting a recreation center at the old school brought up the $8.2mil proposal for the Flagg School development. The discussion moved on to getting the Andrews School property ready to put on the market -- assessing salvagability and making it safe for interested buyers to view.

Ellen George asked about the application for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Green Community program that was voted for at May Town Meeting. The October application deadline was missed, leaving a year until the next deadline. George wanted to make sure that the Selectmen's office was on track for the application. The Green Community program offers a grant of $150,000. to the Town for implementing the energy efficient policies, and as Jay Marsden pointed out, it sets a baseline to move forward with other conservation policies.  The Selectmen assured George that the application would go out before Paul LeBeau leaves.

Next up was whether the Board, in light of the opportunity presented by Paul LeBeau's departure, was considering a change in the structure of town governance to a town manager model. Joan Sousa advocated for a shift citing opportuniities for changes in the work chart that would benefit efficiency. Jay Marsden said that the change is in consideration, but that it is a long process through Town and State legislature that certainly was not going to happen before Paul LeBeau leaves in less than six months. Marsden related some of the issues involved in such a shift gleaned from discussions at the regional board he sits on that other towns are facing regarding this shift in governance. The short story is that the shift brings up a lot of interesting ideas about who's in charge. Marsden had clearly done a lot of thinking about this. His suggestion is to hire a Town Administrator whose first assignment is to explore the Town's change to a Town Manager. Marsden's regional perspective on this brings a lot to the table. As part of this topic, Kevin Conley talked about an idea that had come up about the lack of candidates for elected town positions -- the possibility of changing some elected positions to appointed positions.  

Joan Sousa talked with the Selectmen about the disparity in Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) Fund contributions from Holliston and from other towns. She says that Holliston's contribution to ten times higher than other towns and she says that high a commitment is making it so that the schools cannot afford every day operations. The 1.5% increase creates an unsustainable model. Sousa compared the current policies to a homeowner paying down the mortgage instead of doing the needed repairs to the electrical system. Sousa's message was clear -- reduce the OPEB contribution, support the schools, the town's golden goose, the house is burning. The Board's support of OPEB is firm. Sousa offered to bring parents to Town Meeting to support the reduction of the OPEB contribution. Jay Marsden suggested that, as they begin reviewing next year's budgets, the discussions on school budget for FY16 be timely and transparent.

Many thanks to the Selectmen for taking the time between Saturday errands and soccer practice to engage the community in these critical discussions.  


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