By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
After realizing that not one woman had been appointed to the town administrator search screening committee, the Fairhaven Selectboard on 11/19 appointed a female Town Hall employee as the seventh and final member.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he had received feedback earlier in the day that the committee had turned into an all-male assembly and acknowledged that neither he nor Selectboard member Keith Silvia had chosen a woman to help find Fairhaven’s next town administrator.
“Where none have been chosen, I do think it is important that we do choose a woman for this to have some diversity on the board,” Mr. Espindola said, and then motioned to appoint Town Accountant Anne Carreiro. “I feel like she would be an excellent choice.”
Mr. Silvia quickly seconded the motion, saying that Ms. Carreiro was the woman he was going to suggest.
“I have zero problems (with the motion),” said Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas.
The consultant’s recommendation was for each Selectboard member to choose one member from the public at large, and for certain committees to have a representative. Mr. Freitas chose himself as his representative on the committee back on 11/10, which Mr. Silvia supported, and Mr. Espindola opposed.
On 11/16, Mr. Silvia appointed Dr. Brian Bowcock, a former Selectboard member, and Mr. Espindola appointed Northeast Maritime Institute President Eric Dawicki.
Mr. Espindola defended his chosen male appointee, saying, “In my consideration for … Mr. Dawicki, I did take into account his own [board of directors at the institute] and the diversity they have on their board.”
According to Mr. Espindola, four out of 12 members of that board of directors are women, and two people of color sit on the board.
“He will represent that aspect of it on the [screening] committee as well,” said Mr. Espindola.
The only issue with Ms. Carreiro’s appointment was that Mr. Espindola had not yet spoken with her about it. The motion he made was to appoint her subject to her willingness to serve. Mr. Espindola said he would reach out to Ms. Carreiro the following morning.
In other business, the town employee Wellness Committee was disbanded in a 2-1 vote, with Mr. Espindola opposing.
The topic of making changes to the Wellness Committee mission, structure, and membership had appeared on the meeting agenda a couple of times over the past few months. However, no action had been taken up until now because Mr. Silvia and Mr. Freitas wanted Mr. Espindola to produce documentation of the tangible benefits of keeping the committee active.
According to Mr. Espindola, the town’s health insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, recommends a wellness committee to enhance employee health by promoting physical and mental health and providing resources for healthy lifestyle choices.
Mr. Espindola advocated for the Wellness Committee’s formation years ago until its inception and continued to advocate for its perpetuation.
“I certainly believe in it,” he said. “But, honestly, [other] workplaces invest far more than we do…. It has to be supported from the top down in order to be effective.
“I believe in it. The question is: Do you both believe in it?” asked Mr. Espindola.
If so, he said, it would require some funding and a diverse composition of the Wellness Committee representing town departments across the board. When the Wellness Committee last met months ago, there was no representation of volunteers from the Department of Public Works or either of the public safety departments. The committee was, though, well representative of the Town Hall departments and School department, said Mr. Espindola.
There are some vacancies on the committee after various employees either left their positions or resigned due to demanding schedules, but without a vote of confidence from the Selectboard, there would be no point in moving forward.
“Yeah, I read through this,” said Mr. Silvia. “But it doesn’t seem like we have a following … [and] interest has dropped. I can’t say that I would be pushing for it because I think that if a person wants to get, help they have to do it on their own.”
Mr. Espindola tried to convince Mr. Silvia that the interest is there and so are the incentives, saying, “If you show support, you show that you believe in it, and you provide the incentives. It does work.”
He mentioned grant opportunities from the state and BCBS, as well as participation in the Employee Assistance Program — a mental health counseling service offered to employees.
“Mr. Freitas, your brother is one of the people that advocated for that to come back on board … and the Wellness Committee pushed for that,” said Mr. Espindola, but it was to no avail.
For Mr. Freitas, he rejected the idea that committee members are volunteers because they receive compensation time for attending meetings. Furthermore, he said, “I haven’t seen anybody charging at us…. I haven’t heard from anybody.
“I never saw any kind of savings from this. Year after year, we came in here and we still had to talk about how we could try to keep the insurance (costs) low,” Mr. Freitas continued.
Perhaps the committee could start again in the future, he said, “But right now I’m not seeing any interest from any of the employees…. This has to be employee-driven, not selectmen-driven. I have enough to do without having to throw myself at someone else…. My vote right now would be to let it go.”
“I think like I voiced earlier in the beginning, I just think the interest in it is dead right now,” said Mr. Silvia.
He mentioned that during his campaign for Selectboard he voiced his opposition to offering comp time to employees that serve on the Wellness Committee
“I just can’t see going any further.”
Mr. Silvia motioned to disband the committee, seconded by Mr. Freitas. After his “nay,” Mr. Espindola stated: “I’m definitely opposed to eliminating the Wellness Committee.”
Also during the meeting, the board voted to make the Selectboard’s meeting agenda packet available to the public at least 24 hours ahead of every scheduled meeting beginning with its next meeting on December 7.
Mr. Rees recommended posting the meeting packets to the town website to better educate the public and further transparency. Other municipalities have already adopted the practice, Mr. Rees said, either by posting the packet electronically or having printed copies available during in-person meetings.
The information included in the packets is public information, except for materials related to executive session, which will be excluded when posted for public viewing.
The board also set its meeting schedule for the first half of 2021, and approved a budget/town meeting schedule for fiscal year 2022.
The board also voted to authorize the chairperson to sign the revised electricity supply agreement for the Community Electricity Aggregation Program.
Following the meeting, the board remained for an executive session to discuss litigation related to New England Preservation development, LLC, regarding the town’s voiding of the Roger’s School property; and West Island Reality for a petition for certificate of title regarding “Ristuccia tax taking.”
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