The Rochester Police Department has struggled with its communication system in some areas of Town for some time, according to Chief Paul Magee, and now a microwave dish will be added to the Industrial Communications & Electronics tower on Bowens Lane tower to alleviate those problems.
The Town currently has three antennas fixed to the Industrial tower at no expense to the Town, but with changing technology, Chief Magee said adding the fourth piece of equipment is “absolutely essential for life safety.”
“Is it in your budget?” Selectman Richard Nunes asked Magee of the $250 per month cost.
Not exactly, said Magee. “We’re probably going to have to look at a Special [Town Meeting],” replied Magee.
Town Counsel Blair Bailey, on hand for two matters on the agenda including this one, said the Police budget should be able to cover the $250 per month until subsequent Special Town Meeting approval. Magee added that there are not any other options currently that could rectify the concerns with the communication system in some areas.
The vote to approve was unanimous.
Also during the meeting, concerned over the appearance of a conflict of interest, the selectmen denied Chief Dispatcher Tracy Eldridge’s request to attend a National Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in New Orleans in August without having to use earned time off – specifically, vacation days.
Eldridge, who is also employed by the Public Safety Group as a communications instructor, explained that in exchange for participation as an employee for PSG at the conference, PSG would pay all her expenses to attend. She said attending the conference would have a direct benefit to the Town without having to expend any funds.
“Is that a conflict?” said Nunes looking to Bailey.
“Uh, yeah,” said Bailey. “Short answer.” Bailey asked if the Town receives contracted services from PSG, pointing out that Eldridge has a personal financial relationship with PSG as an employee. “As long as we (the Town of Rochester) don’t contract with them,” said Bailey.
Discussion delved deeper into the realm of conflicts of interest, and Bailey voiced concerns that PSG’s cost to cover Eldridge’s attendance at the conference would exceed the State Ethics Commission limit of $50 that public entities can accept as gifts from private entities, emphasizing that the Town would somehow benefit from Eldridge attending the conference.
It boiled down to Eldridge attending the conference, on PSG’s dime, working several hours in exchange for the conference, all while on paid time-off from the Town.
“It needs a separation,” said Selectman Naida Parker.
Nunes started pushing for Eldridge to use her vacation time for the trip.
“I understand that there’s a gray area,” said Eldridge. “But there’s a huge benefit to the Town … Ultimately, it’s your decision.”
“I just think it would be cleaner to just take the vacation time,” said Nunes, adding that he could personally foresee someone in the future making a remark about a conflict.
The bottom line, according to Bailey, was that Eldridge is either on the clock for PSG, or she is on the clock for the Town.
“But they can’t meet,” said Bailey. At that, the board denied Eldridge’s request.
Also during the meeting, the board approved Eldridge’s pick for a part-time dispatcher. Heidi Stern from Missouri will begin training for the position on July 9.
The board also approved an extension for the wind power agreement between the Town of Rochester and Future Generation Wind. The process of securing offtakers for the power to be generated from the wind turbines off Route 25 in Plymouth has taken longer than the developer anticipated.
The agreement, which originally had the commercial operation of the four turbines slated for December 31, 2014, has now been amended until December 31, 2015.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is July 21 at 6:30 pm at Town Hall.
By Jean Perry