By Beth David, Editor
At another meeting that had some eyebrow-raising moments, the Board of Health met on 6/18/20 and ordered all health department employees to be in the office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
But then, BOH member Mike Ristuccia added that anyone who is medically compromised would not, of course, be forced to be in the office.
Health Agent Mary Freire-Kellogg explained that the office has been open all along during the pandemic. She said Administrative Assistant Amanda Blais has been in the office every day except for lunch breaks, and she has been leaving at 4 p.m. instead of 4:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday to go to college classes.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg also said that part-time health inspector Dan Shea had been asked to fill in when Ms. Blais could not be there, as requested by Mr. Ristuccia, but Mr. Shea had not responded yet.
“I think the office should reopen with all folks who work in the health area reporting to work all mornings at 8:30 and working normal days, and normal hours,” said Mr. Ristuccia. “If there’s somebody that’s compromised I fully understand that and I support it. So I’m not trying to make somebody do something they don’t want to do, if there’s anybody that falls in that category.”
He said anyone who did have a medical issue needed to have a letter in the office by 10 a.m. the next day.
Joining remotely, Health Agent Mary Freire-Kellogg addressed chairperson Peter DeTerra directly.
“If you open the drawer right where you’re sitting you’ll find a letter in there from me,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
“But you still gotta email me and send it by 10 o’clock tomorrow,” said Mr. DeTerra.
“I’m giving it to you right now, but I’m happy to email it you as well,” responded Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
In a follow-up phone interview, Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she has been going into the office very day, but very early to avoid people. She said she has a medical condition resulting in a compromised immune system.
She has been available by phone, email and in person when necessary. She has just tried to avoid situations with a lot of people.
The Neighb News also discovered that Ms. Blais has not been at work at all for about a week for an unknown reason. Town Administrator Mark Rees confirmed that she has missed several days of work, but said he could not say why.
The board also discussed the use of Town Counsel by the department, out of town travel for employees, voted for themselves to get keys to the office and everything in it, ordered the creation of a hardcover log book for complaints, and discussed the department’s town-issued car and its use. Selectboard member Daniel Freitas joined the meeting remotely to talk about the car and also to speak to the board about the call log, demanding to see six months’ worth of call logs.
In another matter, Ms. Freire-Kellogg updated the board on the COVID-19 crisis. She said the town has a total of 280 cases, with six cases being followed.
She also said her department is getting a supply of stickers and signs for local businesses to remind people to wash hands, use hand sanitizer when touching high touch areas.
The board voted to restrict the use of Town Counsel by the department.
Mr, Ristuccia said that the budgets were “running low” and in an effort to save money, he suggested that no health department member or board member call Town Counsel without going before the board, giving a reason, and getting permission by a vote.
“That’ll save a lot of money to the town,” said Mr. DeTerra.
The board also voted to ban travel by health department employees.
Mr. Ristuccia said we were in “probably the biggest health crisis in this country in the last 100 years,” and so no one should be traveling.
He said any travel plans should be canceled, and all employees should be in town in case the taxpayers need them.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg told the board that all travel for the whole town had already been canceled since March or April.
Mr. Ristuccia responded by saying he wanted to make a motion to cancel travel. He said maybe the town will allow it to come back, “but the Board of Health is saying we are canceling travel for members in the health department.”
“For health reasons,” chimed in Mr. DeTerra.
“For health reasons,” said Mr. Ristuccia, adding, until further notice.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg also noted that some grants the town has already received require some travel.
“You’ve got to ask permission from the board,” said Mr. DeTerra.
“It’s already been approved,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
“You’ve got to ask permission from the board,” said Mr. DeTerra again. “Thank you,.”
In another matter, Mr. Ristuccia asked that the department get a hardcover log book that the board members can look at during meetings to find out what kinds of complaints that residents are making to the department. He said he wanted all calls logged in with date, time who took the call, who called in, the purpose of the call and the outcome.
Mr. DeTerra agreed it would be good to “track people.”
Mr. Ristuccia said the book should stay in the office except to go to BOH meetings. He said board members will get a “good feel” of what’s going on in the community without having to go into the office.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg told the board that the office already keeps a log. She said the state allows for it be an online log and to be kept on the computer.
“Because books are antiquated, they say,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
She also noted that there was an issue with complaints because they were being taken by Mr. DeTerra and not being sent to the health department.
She said she asked if they wanted her to create a form so there would be a standardized procedure for complaints that did not get called into the health department office.
“But I haven’t heard back,” she said.
“I want to have a hard book,” said Mr. Ristuccia. “If you want to keep it in the computer, that’s fine, if it’s easier for you to do it that way.”
He said a “hard book” would be more comfortable for him to look at and understand.
“I realize it might be antiquated,” said Mr. Ristuccia. “I’m 73 years old and I might be a little antiquated the way I think. But I think that what I want to have is the hard cover book.”
The board voted to get a hard cover book for logs.
The board also discussed, but did not vote on, the department’s use of a town car. A controversy about the BOH car arose in Selectboard meetings with member Daniel Freitas brining up the issue several times and complaining about why the car was not being used.
Mr. Ristuccia asked if he was correct that there is a car for the health agent.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said there is a car and back in February she provided a physician’s note and asked for a “reasonable accommodation” because she is unable to drive the car.
Mr. Ristuccia said if the department has the right to a car, he wanted to get one that she needs.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg explained that the car is used by two people, the health agent and the inspector.
“Two people can’t drive the same car at one time,” she said.
When the inspector used the car and she had an out of town meeting, she would put in for mileage, which is in the budget.
“And what is the reason you can’t drive the car,” asked Mr. Ristuccia. “That’s all I want to know. I want to help.”
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she had a medical condition.
“Is it that the car is too, too, too what, to big?” asked Mr. Ristuccia.
“I’m really uncomfortable speaking, I mean this has happened to me more than once,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg. “Where somebody from the town has asked me to discuss my personal medical conditions in an open meeting. I have no problem discussing it with you in private, but I really don’t think this is proper.”
“Excuse me. I’m asking a question as to why you can’t drive the car that the town wants to give you,” said Mr. Ristuccia. “All you have to do is tell me the reason that you don’t want to drive it, so that I know.”
“it’s not that I don’t want to,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg. “I can’t drive it and I’m more than happy to discuss that with you not in an open town meeting.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” said Mr. Ristuccia and asked for it to be emailed to him.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said it was a copy there, but she would email it.
Mr. Ristuccia said he wanted to get her a car and sincerely wanted to “resolve this car situation for you.”
Mr. Freitas joined the meeting remotely and said he wanted to address a couple things. He said he spoke with Town Counsel and the day-to-day supervision of the BOH employees was Ms. Freire-Kellogg’s responsibility as the supervisor, but the scheduling was the Board of Health.
Mr. Freitas then explained that the reason the BOH car came up at the selectboard meeting was because residents had asked him about it. He said it had fallen into disrepair in the senior center parking lot so he started to look into it.
He also said that he received a complaint that was for the BOH and he emailed it.
The two went back and forth about the car and about the complaints.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she was never asked about the car by the Selectboard.
Mr. Freitas kept hammering at her about the complaint he sent and wanted to know if it was written down, where it was, and said that if it was not written down then it was a violation of law.
“Did you write it down? I think it’s a simple question,” asked Mr. Freitas.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she moved it to the proper channel to be logged, but she was not sure which complaint he was talking about.
“I would ask the chair to be there first thing in the morning to find out if that’s been done,” said Mr. Freitas. “If not, then obviously someone’s been breaking the law.”
At some point Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she responded by email to Mr. Rees, instead of directly to Mr. Freitas, “because you asked me not to contact you,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
“I think you know why I asked you not to contact me,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Freitas asked that the chairperson find out if the complaint got logged in, adding that he did not accuse anyone of anything and only wants the truth to be said.
“That’s all I’m asking for,” said Mr. Freitas.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg agreed and said she also did not accuse anyone of anything. She added that statements were made that “these things are factual” but no one asked her.
“That’s not necessarily fair on my part, either,” she said, adding that maybe he just got the wrong information and it was a system they needed to work on.
Mr. Freitas fumbled with his words a bit and then said: “I’d like to get the last six months complaint log from the Board of Health. I’d like to see that. Because, again, I didn’t appreciate the way it was put as if I’m stirring the pot.”
“Who said that,” asked Ms. Freire-Kellogg. “Where are you even getting that from?”
Mr. DeTerra interjected and told Ms. Freire-Kellogg to send him the last six months of complaint lots,
Ms. Freire-Kellogg asked if they were going to create a written process for receiving complaints.
“Because there are a lot of complaints that come from other places,” she said, including the fire department and building department.
She said it be useful to have a form for them to fill out.
Mr. Freitas chimed in again saying it was not necessary. He said it if is a state law, as stated in the email they all got, and it was brought to their attention, then it should have been done already, although it was unclear exactly what he was referring to.
“If they knew it was the law then they were breaking the law in order not to do it,” said Mr. Freitas. “And I’ll leave it at that.”
In the end the board tabled the car item.
The board also voted to give themselves keys and necessary codes to town hall and the board of health office, including all cabinets.
Mr. Ristuccia said they might need them in case of emergency.
Mr. DeTerra said he had keys to the old office, but when the office got moved, he never got keys.
The board has only two members, as Mike Silvia resigned on 6/16/20.
In other business, the board approved a tobacco permit for Bridge Gas & Convenience, 277 Bridge Street (corner of Route 240). The board also approved a food permit for Traveler’s Alehouse, 111 Huttleston Ave., the former site of Cleary’s Pub. The new business is hoping to open for take-out, and possibly outdoor dining in July.
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