Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
Interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves will continue to serve in her role beyond the 180-day maximum period after Town Counsel Tom Crotty opined in an email that the 180-day maximum for an interim TA contained within the Town Administrators Act of the Town Bylaws is only “’suggestive,” meaning that it directs the board as to how it should treat the appointment.”
The 6/17 email between Mr. Crotty and Ms. Graves was discussed during the Fairhaven Select Board’s June 21 meeting roughly two weeks before the 180 days is up.
Select Board member Keith Silvia recused himself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest, leaving Chairperson Daniel Freitas and board member Bob Espindola to decide on whether Ms. Graves should remain as interim TA.
As Mr. Freitas took up the matter, Mr. Espindola asked if Mr. Freitas would now participate in the TA discussion after he announced weeks ago that he would no longer participate in the TA hiring process. Mr. Freitas’s refusal to participate essentially stops the board from moving forward with the process of hiring a temporary TA since, without a quorum, the board cannot proceed.
Mr. Freitas advocated for Ms. Graves continuing as acting TA and said he assumed that Mr. Espindola would not second the motion. Mr. Espindola confirmed that he would not second that motion and said that, as Mr. Crotty stated in his email, taking no action would maintain the status quo with Ms. Graves continuing as interim TA.
In his email, Mr. Crotty further wrote that “there is no provision (in the act) for circumstances where the appointment runs past the 180 days. So if someone brought the issue to court, a judge would not be able to fashion a remedy.”
The Town Administrator Act, approved by Town Meeting and the state legislature, states that the Select Board “shall … designate a qualified person as acting town administrator to perform the duties of the office during any vacancy exceeding 30 days…provided, that the appointment… shall be for a period not to exceed 180 days.”
Still, contrary to Mr. Crotty’s opinion, Section 6 of the Act states, “The town of Fairhaven shall be governed by this act. To the extent that this act modified or repeals existing General Laws and special acts or the by-laws of the Town of Fairhaven, this act shall govern.”
Also during the meeting, the board accepted Town Clerk Carolyn Hurley’s intent to retire early from the elected position effective June 30. It appointed Assistant Town Clerk Linda Fredette to the position.
Mr. Freitas stated that Mr. Crotty was consulted on a potential conflict of interest for Mr. Freitas to participate in the discussion and vote, given that he had recently announced his intent to contest signatures on the recall petition that Ms. Hurley certified back in May.
“And it turns out that I can,” said Mr. Freitas.
“She’s done a great job,” said Ms. Graves. “She’s all caught up to speed, she’s been trained, and she’s up for the challenge.”
In other business, in a 2-1 vote, with Mr. Espindola dissenting, the board rescinded its Flag Policy and will instead refuse all requests to fly any flag at Town Hall.
The move comes as Mr. Freitas said posts on Facebook have unfairly labeled him a “bigot,” and he explicitly named School Committee member Kyle Bueno, the one who requested that the pride flag be flown at Town Hall, for Facebook comments Mr. Freitas deemed were “not nice.”
Mr. Freitas insisted that Mr. Crotty “was absolutely against it” when Mr. Bueno presented his first request to fly the pride flag two years ago. Mr. Freitas said Mr. Crotty suggested that once the Town started approving flag requests, all other flag requests, regardless of what they represented, would have to be flown as well.
Besides, Pride Month is in June, added Mr. Freitas, not August, although, he continued, “I have no problem with the [pride] flag.”
Adopting what he said was “town counsel’s advice,” Mr. Freitas continued, “We should not be in the business of flying any flags as far as I’m concerned…. Call me a bigot; call me what you want.”
No one flies the pride flag in August, he said.
“Not me,” said Mr. Espindola, and he then refuted Mr. Freitas’s version of the flag policy’s history.
“Before we say town counsel was against this, we should check back into the record,” said Mr. Espindola.
He clarified that Mr. Crotty was against flying any flags “without a flag policy in place.”
He then read from the town’s flag policy, drafted by Mr. Crotty, that would prevent any other such flags that Mr. Freitas and Mr. Silvia claimed would have had to be flown.
“Town counsel did not say he was against flying the flag,” said Mr. Espindola.
“I had people approach me for it and against it, which doesn’t matter to me,” said Mr. Silvia. “I just feel that it’s a no-win situation. Call me a bigot, whatever. The stars and stripe represent everybody, so it’s covered here.”
Mr. Freitas motioned to rescind the flag policy, and Mr. Silvia seconded.
Ms. Graves asked for clarification that the Town’s policy was now “no flag flying.”
“It stops all this nonsense that’s been going on,” said Mr. Freitas.
In other matters, Health Inspector Dave Flaherty provided his input on the state of the 1950s wing of the Rogers School.
In a letter he provided the board, Mr. Flaherty stated that he observed “extensive water damage” on the ceiling and “puddling” beneath the skylights. Although he could not confirm the presence of “mold” without taking samples for testing, he wrote that “while this project is fairly extensive, it is not impossible; the cost of remediation would be the limiting factor.”
During the meeting, Mr. Flaherty did state that he observed “mold” but added that he was not sure what type.
Mr. Freitas expressed anger over comments at Town Meeting alleging that SMEC would be placing its students in an unsafe environment in the building, which he said merited an apology to SMEC. He turned to Mr. Espindola and accused him and his “group of people” of the outcome at Town Meeting: the failure of the article to lease the 1950s addition to SMEC.
He said Mr. Espindola voiced support for the project and then undermined its progress with “roadblocks.”
Mr. Espindola denied Mr. Freitas’s accusations and said that the failure resulted not only from the condition of the building but also New England Preservation & Development’s lawsuit against the town.
“You and so many people from your group can meet and figure something out (for the future of the building),” said Mr. Freitas. The town put a lot of work into sealing the deal with SMEC, Mr. Freitas said. “Then it gets submarined, so….”
“We have done a lot of work on this, and now they (SMEC) probably don’t want to (continue to work with the town) … because they were embarrassed,” said Ms. Graves.
In another matter, Fairhaven could soon receive the Purple Heart Town designation. Resident Kathy Lopes said some time ago while in Taunton, a sign caught her eye acknowledging Taunton as a Purple Heart city. Ms. Lopes said she knows someone in Fairhaven that earned a Purple Heart, so she researched the designation further during the pandemic when she had some spare time, and a committee, which included Mr. Espindola, Ms. Lopes, and Veterans Agent Bradford Fish, met via Zoom.
“I want Fairhaven to demonstrate our appreciation to our Purple Heart veterans and families,” said Ms. Lopes.
Mr. Fish said the Mass Department of Transportation would provide signs to post at the main entrances to the town. The board read a proclamation and approved the request.
Doug Brady from the Rogers School Re-Use Committee asked the board for a letter of support to accompany the group’s application to place Rogers School on the National Historic Register. It approved the letter of support and acknowledged that the board would have the opportunity to approve adding the school to the register before it is finalized.
As of June 22, masks will no longer be required inside Town Hall. Plexiglass barriers will remain in place in offices where the public interacts with Town Hall employees.
The board voted 2-0 to hold a Select Board meeting on July 28 to make up for the one canceled due to the July 26 special election to recall Mr. Freitas. Mr. Freitas abstained from the vote.
Click here to download the entire 6/24/21 issue: 06-24-21 EarlyAmerican
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