The March 24 emergency meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen served to update the March 19 meeting with new developments and information. It was the second straight Marion Board of Selectmen meeting held via live video-conferencing using the Go to Meeting web program.
A key development on Tuesday, March 24, was the board’s approval of the sale of the town’s Atlantis Drive property to Marion Antiques, subject to successful negotiations.
Town Administrator Jay McGrail credited Alan Minard with the in-depth work it took to put together the request for proposal (RFP) and preparation for the Board of Selectmen to consider.
The evaluation team made of the Board of Selectmen, McGrail and Minard determined that Marion Antiques met the minimum requirements of the RFP. Although there were a couple of “advantageous” responses to the question of the town’s rating of such a deal, the majority according to McGrail felt that all requirements were met by the “highly advantageous” evaluation.
“Our game plan is to move this forward pretty quickly,” said McGrail, suggesting a goal for before the end of the fiscal year (early June).
Selectman John Waterman said the town now needs to establish a timeline for a new Department of Public Works facility, one that cannot be directly tied into the proceeds of the Atlantis Drive property sale – he said that money goes to the town’s “free cash” account – but Marion ought to have a goal that by the fall town meeting it will have a price tag for a new DPW to take to the town for approval.
The first step in that process, said Waterman and McGrail, is to seek approval at spring town meeting for the $150,000 in funding to move the project forward.
On March 19, the town declared a shutdown of all municipal buildings through March 30. On March 24, McGrail recommended an extension of that timeline to April 7 in keeping with the order signed on March 23 by Governor Baker.
Waterman recommended the matter remain subject to review so Marion can reserve the right to alter its plan. The motion passed.
The town hall staffing plan remains for non-essential employees to stay at home. Some functions of government are critical so McGrail is asking staff to continue checking emails and voicemails on an hourly basis. “Some staff are coming into town hall to keep the critical functions of government moving,” he said.
Having noticed a person knocking on the door to the Town House, Waterman suggested notes be taped on the door. McGrail said there are two notices already outside the door, one addressing the closure with the town’s email address and the other for delivery companies with McGrail’s cell phone.
The outside mailbox is being emptied hourly, and McGrail reported an email blast on March 23 letting residents know how they could access information. The town has waived fees associated with tax bills until April 10.
A bill has passed, although the governor had not signed it at press time, giving towns the authority to postpone town meeting and local elections.
“We’re behind the eight ball already,” said McGrail. “We’re not in a position to do anything (March 24), but we’re looking at pushing the town meeting and election out by 30 days if this continues.”
McGrail’s main concern in advance of town meeting is Articles 2, 3 and 4 that deal with the town budget and two enterprise funds.
The matter of public hearings remains unresolved, but according to McGrail they can be held anytime up until town meeting including the day of. He and Selectman Norm Hills were working together on bylaw-related changes, and McGrail said the town will make a decision on town meeting by April 7.
Selectman Chairperson Randy Parker said, “We have to make a decision on how we’re going to run the town if we’re not going to have a town meeting,” citing the new situation yet to be defined.
Waterman suggested that, although normal meetings may be back in early June, the town needs some mechanism whereby residents of age 70 with preexisting health conditions making them more vulnerable to coronavirus can meet remotely.
“It’s not going to be a flip a switch and we go back to normal,” said Waterman, suggesting that Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings could be held in a place like Sippican School auditorium, where attendees can be physically spaced out those vulnerable or sick could attend remotely.
Parker suggested a scenario in which limitations on the town could circumvent legal limits on room capacity by holding town meeting on one room at Sippican School and divide attendees up among the classrooms with live video screens. Those making public comment could walk to the main room of the meeting to do so, then return to their classroom.
“We have to think about a scenario,” he said, “to keep the town moving forward.”
McGrail reported having participated on March 24 in the first of weekly conference calls with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and several key state departments and organizations.
A significant takeaway for McGrail was public hearings and deadlines with applications filed prior to the March 10 declaration of a state of emergency, all related statutory deadlines have been paused until the state of emergency is lifted. Then there will be a 45-day reprieve.
The Foodbank at the Community Center continues to thrive. McGrail reported 80 cars on March 24. The method was altered so that food bags for families of four and two were lined up on a table and the people got out of their cars and picked it up off of a table.
Marion is still seeking donations, but has been able to bring back 4,000 pounds of food per week from outside sources.
“I can’t speak to whether it’s people who have financial issues… it may be people who are scared to go to the supermarket. I’ve heard from some people that are not financially challenged but are nervous,” said McGrail.
Foodbank hours are from 1:00 to 3:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with delivery on off-days. Food donations can be delivered to the Police Station, Fire Station No. 1 and the Community Center. For more information, call 508-748-3570.
Waterman suggested a preliminary phone call with the Wastewater Management team for to establish a backup plan should staff become ill and licensing requirements. Hills reported a successful scenario when he worked for the town of Sandwich.
On March 19, the Board of Selectmen held its first online-only meeting, at which McGrail reported having met for 60-90 minutes daily with Hills, Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney and Town Counsel Jon Witten, as the town navigates its way through the constantly changing COVID-19-related challenges.
The meeting yielded news of a policy authored by McGrail and Town Counsel Jon Whitten and approved by the Board of Selectman and to be continued “until such time as deemed appropriate by the Board of Selectmen” that states any current paid or volunteer member of Marion’s Police, Fire, Health or Building departments who contracts COVID-19 virus due to exposure while working for the town and is ordered by a licensed physician to quarantine her or himself will be entitled to a paid leave without accrual for the period of time of said quarantine as ordered by a licensed physician.
Before the motion passed, Waterman asked how the policy applies to on-call firemen, suggested the policy be subject to review in 90 days, and also asked how the town can verify the facts of any such case.
McGrail said an average of an on-call fireman’s pay over six months would form the basis of the coverage. He also noted that Marion has quarantine insurance for first responders.
To ensure review, Parker suggested that discussion of the new policy be put on the Board of Selectman agenda every 90 days.
“I think it should be subject to review over 90 days because this virus is going to be around for years,” said Waterman.
The daily and sometimes hourly reevaluation that has become the new normal of town government reached a new level with the closure of Marion facilities on March 20.
The status of the Town House was discussed, and Waterman said, should the town be able to resume something closer to normal operations after the 15-day schedule of rotating essential employees, it will be important to get up and running, albeit while maintaining social distancing practices.
“Some towns have all their employees coming in… we’re trying to practice what we preach,” said McGrail, alluding to the concept of rotating staff so that people alternate based on managing certain tasks, be it the Building Department, clerks, Zoning, payroll. “The demand for a lot of things is going to slow down.”
It was agreed that McGrail will reach out to Marion’s three regulatory boards and see if there is a compelling case to work with their chairpersons to set them up to live-stream public meetings. Public hearings are considered too complicated at the present time.
“We need public participation in the hearings, otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Parker. “It doesn’t make sense to hold two meetings if you’re not going to go anywhere with the first one.”
Waterman alluded to the memo from Governor Baker, who wants a chairman and administrative assistant present for public meetings and rest participating via remote access including citizens calling in.
McGrail said it was “doable” on the town’s end and a matter of ORCTV’s capability to televise live.
Parker cautioned that there be some clearinghouse to establish real citizens versus party crashers. “It’s going to take a little more work, but it would work,” he said, asking McGrail to check with town counsel to see if public participation by phone is legal.
The Town of Marion deferred to Governor Baker’s declaration of a state of emergency and did not call its own, in contrast to Mattapoisett’s and Rochester’s respective decisions this week.
McGrail drafted such a declaration for Marion, but said town counsel had advised him that there is no material advantage so the selectmen did not move to call a state of emergency for the town.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo