How Far Can Local Government Govern?

            Board of Health member Dot Brown and Selectman John Waterman debated the role of the Board of Health and the authority of towns to devise their own rules during Tuesday’s remote access meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen.

            Everyone is getting tired of the new normal, and the disagreement on what to do about it stems from the ambiguity and lack of applicable orders at the state level for a coastal town such as Marion.

            Frustration is mounting, and while Waterman sees the state’s lack of specific directives as an opportunity to govern at the local level, Brown stated that the job of the Board of Health is not to make it up as it goes but rather enforce state laws and guidelines.

            “We aren’t even allowed to go further than the state. Some towns have more stringent rules than the state and you’re not allowed to keep those,” said Brown. “We’ve been having a lot of trouble with some of their regulations because they (contradict one another).”

            Brown says she has sat in on calls and pointed questions have been asked and not answered.

            “When the guidelines aren’t clear… if the overall goal is to get things back going and doing it safely… we need to make local decisions where we don’t have clear guidelines,” argued Waterman, alluding to Marion’s boat-launch service and access to the town house.

            “I think you give us too much credit to affect this; it’s the state’s rule,” said Brown.

            What to do in the meantime?

            “If we have room to make a decision that doesn’t contradict the state guideline, I have no problem with that. But 80 to 90 percent of the time, we have no wiggle room,” said Board of Health Vice Chairman Dr. Ed Hoffer.

            “We should be able to identify those areas so we can (make progress),” said Selectmen Norm Hills.

            Waterman said, rather than call the state for an interpretation of orders, use the wisdom in the roles that experts hold locally and make decisions on the 25-percent rule at the town house and the launch service.

            “It’s not one case, it’s what we do,” said Brown. “We sit there and ask questions.”

            Hills said, “There are things where the state (order) is gray, and we should be able to determine what is the best way to go forward as long as we don’t step on the state’s toes.”

            Board of Selectmen Chairperson Randy Parker said, “We have to make (decisions) slowly. We’re all getting a little testy and grouchy with this thing going on… How we can plan ahead? What is the proper way to open the beach (parking lot)?”

            Brown said the Board of Health has a great plan and a great sign. “I’m pretty worried about enforcement,” she admitted.

            Town Administrator Jay McGrail said that Chief of Police John Garcia will monitor the parking lot and that work being done on the site by the DPW could be ready for Friday, May 22.

            Hills noted the other, smaller public parking areas that also need monitoring going into Memorial Day weekend.

            By May 25, office businesses including barber shops and pet grooming will open by appointment only and with specific rules on social distance between chairs, etc. They are charged with self-certification, and the only way the Board of Health will learn that proper standards and sanitizing practices are not being followed will be by complaints.

            Curbside retail will begin opening on Monday, May 25, and the public library will join in but not by Tuesday, May 26, according to McGrail. First, the library will submit a plan for town review.

            Information will be posted on the town website (, on Facebook and via an email blast.

            As anticipated, the Board of Selectmen voted to host town meeting on Monday, June 22, and town election on Friday, June 26. McGrail will meet with ORCTV on Thursday, May 21, to test the technology that will allow Marion to hold the meeting in three separate rooms at Sippican School and a fourth space, the Tabor Academy fieldhouse. A press release will be issued this week.

            The board also approved the revised budget of $29,518,843 for FY21. Contrary to initial plans, town meeting will deal with the entire warrant. McGrail reported that the Planning Board chose not to go forward with one or two items that will remain on the warrant and be passed over at town meeting.

            In revising the budget, Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney cut close to $200,000. She based her goals on what happened with state aid during the Great Recession of 2008.

            “There was no pushback (from department heads) whatsoever. Our goal was to keep our staff employed, and we were able to do so,” she said, recommending the capital plan go to town meeting as originally approved, “because more (money) is going into the stabilization fund than into any capital project… State aid is our biggest concern.”

            Mooney said the 2.55 percent increase for the FY21 budget is significantly greater than increase of the FY20 budget over FY19.

            After testing out the mechanics of public hearings with ORCTV and having worked with all of the chairpersons, McGrail requested the board allow public hearings as of June 1.

            “We have an extensive list,” he said. “The guinea pigs are going to be (the Board of Selectmen) for a liquor license on June 2.”

            Public hearings will operate with a dedicated phone line into the police station. As Parker had recommended at an earlier discussion, a public hearing will not be closed until the subsequent meeting so as to allow sufficient time for public feedback.

            The Board of Selectmen will continue planning weekly meetings, and the Conservation Commission will meet every other week.

            The board passed a motion to keep water restrictions in place for June 15 to September 15.

            In his Town Administrator’s report, McGrail told the board he plans to bring back full-time staffers into the office on Tuesday, May 26. They will be equipped with a self-guidance checklist, and the Town House has been fitted with plexiglass and desks have been relocated to meet distance requirements.

            A medical emergency caused a driver to crash into the gate at Silvershell Beach, but Marion still anticipates the potential of opening the parking lot on Friday, May 22 and getting the whole Memorial Day weekend. The plan for the beach will expand in mid to late June with a beach concession stand and bathhouse open to residential stickers only with no daily fee.

            Thursday, May 28, will be the final day of operation for the food bank run since March out of the Community Center. The town will transition to more delivery service for seniors. Families in need can note that Damien’s Place in Wareham has opened up its hours and running its facility again. Fliers will be going home with students attending school lunch program at Sippican School next week. Marion’s food bank operated for three months.

            Coming toward the end of FY20, McGrail briefly summarized that 90 percent of a daunting list of goals and projects has been completed, including but not limited to work on the lagoon, contracts with waste management, curbside collection, a solid-waste contract, and Master Plan Implementation.

            There are up to 40 items on Marion’s pending projects list. Waterman suggested assigning each of them to a particular selectman who would co-own the project in terms of moving it ahead.

            In other business, the Board of Selectmen approved common victualler licenses for two businesses, to applicant Elizabeth Carter for Ansel’s Cafe and to applicants William Daly, Jeremiah Daly, and Kim Susi for Marion Golf Club.

            Carter has worked at the restaurant for nine years and is taking over, expanding hours to Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm in order to add some light breakfast.

            Jeremiah Daly explained to the board that he grew up on Old Meadow Road in Marion, and as Bruce and Sue Carlson retired, this is an opportunity to take over the lease of the property belonging to the abutting property owners known as Marion Harbor East Trust and keep “Little Marion” in business as Marion Golf Club LLC.

            The immediate plan is to invest back into the course and make use of the kitchen by serving cold sandwiches that are made off-site. Someday they aspire to restore the course to the original 1904 design of George Thomas. A restaurant inspection has been scheduled for Friday, May 22.

            The Board of Selectmen will hold its first public hearing since the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, June 2.

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Mick Colageo

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