Appointed and elected officials in Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester have held their meetings and emerged with likeminded strategies to maximize public safety amidst the COVID-19, aka coronavirus outbreak.
By Tuesday, March 17, all three of the Tri-Town communities had closed the doors of public facilities and enacted plans to deploy essential staff only.
The Marion Board of Selectmen met on Monday afternoon, the Rochester Board of Selectmen on Monday night, while Mattapoisett selectmen were scheduled to meet on Wednesday morning.
“It’s been a completely overwhelming day,” said Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail at Monday’s meeting.
Tuesday he was happy to tell the Wanderer that Marion’s reverse 911 call generated 12 responses, some in regard to the town’s new foodbank at the Cushing Community Center.
On Monday night, Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar told the town’s Board of Selectmen that she recommends a state of emergency because it is proactive, “allows the town to have access to funds,” citing emergency clauses that kick in. “Basically, this is not about panic, but placing the town in a position of greater flexibility,” she said.
A motion passed, and Rochester’s state of emergency effective March 16 will remain in effect until further notice from the town.
Only a few hours earlier, McGrail reported having sought advice for Marion about an emergency order but relented, citing the unwanted spread of panic in that community. “The advice right now is there is no value,” he told the Board of Selectmen.
Marion and Mattapoisett town halls closed at 4:00 pm on Monday, March 16, and Rochester effective March 17. All will remain closed until April 6, the common date for area communities to revisit the coronavirus threat and determine if municipal buildings or public meetings should be opened or any regular services restored.
Like Marion and Rochester, Mattapoisett is formulating plans so that the public can continue interacting with town employees, making the townspeople aware of emails, direct phone lines, drop-off boxes for payments, etc. The employees will be present, but the public will not be allowed into the buildings. For information, Mattapoisett residents can call 508-758-4100.
Marion has established a hotline (508-748-3570) for residents aimed primarily at making sure people know how to access the foodbank. People may contact the Councils on Aging for food distribution. Curbside collection and transfer station schedules will remain unchanged. The COA will be open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm only to calls.
Marion is also working on a program to allow students of Sippican and Old Rochester schools to pick up lunches, and also has the ability to expand its Meals on Wheels program.
On March 16, Rochester sent out a comprehensive notice for residents in light of its closures.
Although Town Hall and Annex offices are closed to the public until further notice, Rochester residents can call 508-763-3871 for assistance during normal business hours.
Rochester COA building is closed and all programs and activities are canceled until further notice, but meals distributed through the COA and medical transportation (for healthy seniors) will continue. Call 508-763-8723.
Plumb Library staff will be available by phone from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at 508-763-8600.
Rochester’s Conservation Commission meeting scheduled for March 17 was canceled, and all cases were continued to April 7.
Citing Governor Baker’s loosening of the state’s open-meetings law requiring a quorum and that participants meet in the same room, Marion has hired Go to Meeting to set up a function for conference call.
“Even though we’re a small group… we need our group to be as healthy as possible,” said McGrail, who hopes that the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 19, will be held on conference call via Go to Meeting. McGrail signed up Marion for the basic audio function, which can be expended to video conferencing.
While Rochester is exploring a similar option, Mattapoisett has decided against conferencing its public meetings. On March 16, Andy Bobola, the Mattapoisett’s director of inspectional services, was awaiting word from legal counsel as to whether or not the town could use a web-based platform for public hearings. That decision has been made in the negative at least for now. As of March 17, Mattapoisett has canceled all public hearings until further notice.
One concern any town would face in streaming public meetings is once applications are accepted the clock starts ticking on how quickly boards of appeal respond to applications. Failure to do so could lead to legal action against a town for not acting in a timely manner, so such wrinkles require careful planning.
Mattapoisett’s next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting originally scheduled for Thursday, March 19, was to include a public hearing on a significant solar project. That was before all public meetings were canceled in Mattapoisett.
“A lot has changed in the last couple of days,” McGrail told Marion’s Board of Selectmen on Monday. “I have no preconceived notion that things will be better and we’ll be out of this in a week.”
Police and Fire will remain open in Marion, but McGrail requests that people please call ahead.
The list of essential employees only starting on March 17 will change on a daily basis depending on the staff needed to answer phones, take emergency calls and deal with payroll and town finances.
“Some employees who are home this week may need to come in next week,” said McGrail, who will ask the staff to check voicemail hourly, first for emergency calls that may not have been routed correctly and, secondly, for cases in which it becomes possible to do some of their work from home.
Marion’s Department of Public Works will likewise be closed to the public. Some DPW staff will stay home, some will come into the office for essential duties only. “We’re still trying to operate according to DPW requirements and respond to emergencies,” said McGrail.
Marion’s Harbormaster department will stay on call, and there will be individuals making daily checks for illegal fishing.
The latest from Mattapoisett is no transportation for shopping, only for healthy people and only to medical appointments.
All such matters were subject to a Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen meeting planned for Wednesday, March 18.
For up-to-date information, visit www.mattapoisett.net, continue to check the COAs Facebook page or call 508-758-4110 with any questions.
Board of Selectmen Meetings
By Mick Colageo