The Halifax Board of Selectmen met in-person on Tuesday, Jan. 10 for what would end up being a nearly 4-hour long marathon meeting filled with resident complaints. The option to participate remotely via Zoom was also provided.
Complaints Against Morse Brothers
Brendan Moquin of Morse Brothers appeared before the Selectmen to address the numerous letters and phone calls the town had received regarding an increase in truck traffic as well as sand and gravel issues. Selectmen Chair John Bruno acknowledged that there were some permitting issues the previous spring prior to the current iteration of the Board of Selectmen.
Moquin said, “We’re simply screening an existing face that we’re bringing material closer to ground; we’re not digging under water, in the water table, etc.; we’re simply screening the above face material into by-products which is sand and stone; the sand is then being used at our Middleboro property.” Selectman Jonathan Selig asked Moquin if he had an estimate of when he anticipated being completed with this portion of the project. Moquin said “ASAP” and that there would be no trucking traffic until the end of March or beginning of April.
Bruno said that the goal of the Selectmen that night was to understand the problems on both sides of the issue and that ultimately the Board would likely confer with land counsel. Bruno implored with the public, before speaking, that they “keep the temperature down a little bit.” Resident Steve Goodman, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, disputed some of what was said by Moquin. “The bog that they… built last time they asked for a permit… is already filled with water all the time – doesn’t really create great cranberries because it is wet all the time because they dug too deep, so they’ve already broken the water table there,” Goodman said. He continued, “They’re very close to doing it again and if that happens, it’s one of the largest aquifers in Massachusetts that you’re talking about damaging. It’s a sand mining operation. They’re creating a pit and those pits can collect bacteria and those pits can collect a lot of run-off that’s going to go directly into the water table that affects almost 200,000 people’s drinking water in Eastern Massachusetts – it’s not just a Halifax problem.” He said that secondary to this concern was the truck traffic. Goodman also noted that the town’s bylaws supersede those of the State.
Resident Jeremy Gillespie spoke saying, “From Mass DEP – these are things that cover that property. Zone 2, wellhead protection area, public water supply reservoir, surface water protection supply Zone A, B, and C., surface water supply watershed boundary covers all of that property. So, we have a lake that’s been deemed impaired, we have an EPA enforceable TMDL.”
Another resident spoke saying that roads with the level of truck traffic being seen are supposed to be 25 ft. wide but noted that residents’ measurements have shown them to be otherwise. She continued, “My main concern is my kids… I can’t have my kids out there riding their bike, hit a patch of sand… if God forbid, a truck were going by… there are a lot of kids in that neighborhood.” Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward said that the road width is 20 ft. Gordon Andrews, who previously served as a Selectmen for multiple years, spoke next saying, “I would hope the Board would review the earth removal bylaw and institute the fines and penalties for this project.”
“It’s obviously a tough situation and it’s hard to find somewhere where we can make everyone happy, but I think we owe it to ourselves as a town to work together to come to a solution that we can all be okay with – that you guys feel okay with living in the area, that our environment is protected, that our farmer can make a living,” Selig said. He said that they would be doing their due diligence as a Board and would be conferring with Town Counsel.
Complaints Filed Regarding Fines Issued
The Selectmen also dealt with complaints filed regarding fines issued at 145 Cranberry Drive. Owner of the property Joseph Kehoe said he owns his own excavating company. He said he has a small excavator and a small bobcat that he sometimes brings home. Kehoe said that in 2022 he was told that he needed to remove his equipment and that he was illegally running his business from his property. He disputed this saying that he owns a business and simply lives at that location. According to Kehoe, he has been ticketed $300 a day and continues to get fines despite not having any equipment in the yard. Kehoe also alleged that the Building Inspector has not even “stepped foot” into his yard but continues to fine him.
The Building Inspector James Perry said that he did do a site walk with some members of the ZBA. According to Perry, the property owner was given 30 days to remove the equipment and was even offered a place to park his equipment. Perry said that after the 30 days were over, he began issuing fines. Perry also disputed that he had not been out to the site recently. Kehoe pointed out that he had been fined every day, including Christmas, despite Perry admitting he had not been out to the property daily. Andrews asked, if since the issue was being taken up in court, it should be discussed in Executive Session, but Bruno said, “I don’t think that’s necessary.” Bruno said they would speak to legal counsel before making any decisions. Bruno also noted that he was unsure if the Selectmen even had any authority over the matter.
Complaint Filed Against Conservation Commission Member
Stacy Villiard of 63 Carver St. appeared before the Selectmen to discuss a three-page letter she sent them regarding issues with the Conservation Commission and her house renovation and barn construction. She said that the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board had no issues with either project initially. Villiard said that she spoke to the Building Inspector who said that a neighbor complained of water encroaching on his property. “I have a catch basin… what I was required to put in to keep all of the water on my property from my property on my property… it is 40 ft., 50 ft. even maybe from his property,” she explained. She said the flooding has been occurring for 12 years, but it wasn’t noticed before because she recently took down multiple trees that had previously blocked the flooding.
Villiard said that she received a cease-and-desist order and said that a Conservation Commission member (later named as Kimberly King Cavicchi) misrepresented herself to her workers. She also said that she believes the member in question has a vendetta against Alan Dias, who she said has nothing to do with the property beyond being hired by her to do some work. “How is she allowed to be on a Board? How is she allowed to come onto my property, demand things, lie about things, lie about who she is, misrepresent who she is, not show any ID and continue to be a Board member in this town?” Villiard asked.
Goodman appeared before the Board this time as a member of the Conservation Commission. Selig asked how it became an emergency that the property need to be inspected. Goodman did say that Dias was listed as the owner based on the property map. Cavicchi also appeared before the Selectmen disputing what was said by Villiard.
“I think it’s time for this Board [Selectmen] to sort of exercise its authority a little bit and try to get some education going; I would recommend to our Board that to address this issue that we have a series of meetings – appointments are coming up at the end of the year… the fiscal year… that between now and then that we set a schedule to meet with each individual Board and go over with that Board what their protocols are, what their trainings are… some of these things are very technical… not something for a rookie to be doing… I think right now we have a little bit of a gap in our knowledge, and we need to address that,” Bruno told everyone. Bruno said that it was important to note that Villiard is able to continue with her projects. Bruno said that once they have the new Town Administrator in place, they should be able to better coordinate these kinds of issues.
Concerns Over the Pine St. Intersection
The Selectmen tackled complaints coming in from residents regarding traffic concerns at the Pine St. intersection. Police Chief Joao Chaves called into the meeting. He said that they have signs and other indicators to drivers at the intersection but noted it is difficult to get drivers to adhere to them. He also said that he does have officers that intermittently monitor the intersection but said that it is impossible to do so at all times. Selig asked about adding a Dangerous Intersection sign there, but Hayward said that too many signs are known as “sign pollution” and can add to the confusion. Town Accountant Sandra Nolan said that one option might be to have Old Colony Planning Council do a traffic study on the intersection. Chaves said that some traffic studies have been done of the town but said that contacting them about a specific intersection might be a good idea.
Town Hall and Master Key Policy
Bruno said he spoke with the head of Buildings and Grounds regarding the master key policy. “I’m going to propose to the Board that whatever the policy used to be, that we change it; that master keys only be issued to the Building Department, and they will maintain those. If we need to get into some building, we can do it through them. Police and Fire already do through a lockbox,” Bruno explained. Selectman Naja Nessralla and Jonathan Selig agreed, and they voted to pass a motion to that effect. Bruno noted that they would be collecting the master keys to hand over to the Building Department.
Bruno also addressed the access to Town Hall saying that when the building needed to be accessed during off hours, IT Director Caesar Calouro would have to be reached via email or phone to lock the building. “We’re looking into two things – using the hex key once the building has been unlocked, whoever unlocks it can use the hex key to close down the crash bar and that way the building will be open for the duration of the meeting. Whoever that person is will just need to lock it again on the way out,” Bruno explained. Calouro told Bruno there may be an issue with handicap access that it is in the process of being worked out. Bruno also said that he is interested in re-working the space inside the Town Hall and moving some offices, etc. around. Both Nessralla and Selig said they were in favor of pursuing that. Selig said he would like to see the Departments and the new Town Administrator also involved in any discussions regarding changes to space usage at the Town Hall.
Meeting with Cable
and Area 58
The Selectmen met with John Shiavone, who is on the Cable Advisory Committee as well as the Board of Directors at Area 58, as well as Rich Goulart, the Director of Operations at Area 58. Shiavone told the Selectmen that Halifax has hired an attorney for the renewal license with Comcast. Goulart said that Area 58 becomes involved through the tri-town agreement and noted that they currently have an attorney reviewing the contract before it will be presented to all three town’s Boards of Selectmen. Regarding the contract with the town, Goulart said that they would be maintaining level funding. Goulart called it a “significant deal” noting, “Halifax has, per subscriber, a much higher rate of capital provided through Comcast than most other towns of this size.” He also noted that they would be adding an HD channel.
The Selectmen and Goulart also discussed the possibility of adding robotics into some of the larger meeting rooms. They discussed cost as well and Bruno said, “I would move that we ask Cody Haddad to get in touch with the Cable Committee and Area 58 to discuss these issues that we talked about tonight and maybe… if we could put it on the budget for this year’s Town Meeting.” Finally, Goulart told the Committee that there is one opening for a Halifax member on the Cable Advisory Committee.
Bruno read a retirement notification regarding Sgt. Patrick Sterling with the Police Department. He said that Sterling would like to be considered for a Special Police Officer position upon his retirement. His last day will be in February of 2024. Special Police Officer Edward Broderick resigned from his position. Bruno read a notice from the Police Chief that said, “He has served the town admirably and with distinction during his tenure… Ted has always been a man of many talents and I’m sure he will not stop putting his talents and skills into his next ventures.” Suzanne Emerson also resigned from the Agricultural Commission. Joanne Snow also resigned from her role as the Planning Board secretary. Holly Merry will be retiring from her position as Principal Assessor/Appraiser.
A Request to Do Away with Mail-In Voting
Town Clerk Sue Lawless appeared before the Board to let them know that if they are not going to have mail-in voting, they would need to hold a public hearing 45 days prior to the election. The opt-out would only apply to local elections, not those at the State or Federal level. Lawless said that her preference was to opt-out of the mail-in voting saying that most of the ballots that went out were not sent back in and that with the town’s limited resources it was difficult to field the mail-in ballots. The Selectmen voted to hold a public hearing to discuss doing away with the mail-in voting.
Use of Town Counsel
The Selectmen fielded a request for use of Town Counsel by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Bruno made a motion to ask that Town Counsel meet in joint session with the ZBA and the Board of Selectmen related to the ZBA’s request to discuss protocols related to the upcoming 40B proposals. The Selectmen voted unanimously to hold that meeting.
Regarding various Committees and Commissions use of Town Counsel, Bruno recommended that the Town Administrator be the one to decide when Town Counsel could be used. Planning Board member Amy L. Troup spoke up saying that they were currently dealing with a lawsuit that they are already in touch with Town Counsel about. “I find it can be political,” Troup said regarding requiring permission to use Town Counsel. “Thank you, just to answer that point though, the legal budget is controlled by the Board of Selectmen… we’re ultimately responsible for it,” Bruno said. He called speaking to the Town Administrator first strictly “procedural.” Troup pushed back insisting that she felt that certain Boards and Committees should have access to Town Counsel without needing to first get permission from the Town Administrator or Selectmen.
Appointment with Veteran’s Service Officer and COA Director
The Veterans Service Officer for Halifax Steve Littlefield had an appointment with the Selectmen to discuss the termination of the Memorial Day Committee and the creation of a new Committee to assist with Veterans’ issues in the town. Littlefield said that the Memorial Day Committee currently consists of just himself. He also noted that he felt the scope of the Committee was too narrow. The Selectmen voted to reconstitute the Memorial Day Committee into the Veterans Service Committee.
The Selectmen also took up the issue of changing the Selectmen’s Assistant Position into the Assistant to the Town Administrator. Selig said that most of the surrounding towns handle the position this way. He noted that there was the potential that the position could change the paygrade. The other Selectmen agreed to investigate further the potential change.
Council on Aging (COA) Director Darlene Regan appeared before the Board to discuss the project to move the Council on Aging into the Halifax Museum and to move the museum into Pope’s Tavern. “I think the enthusiasm has come back for it,” Bruno said of the project. The Building and Facilities Needs Committee has been working with an architect on ways to reduce the cost of the renovation. Regan said that the problem lies in that 1.2 million dollars is what was supported at Town Meeting, but the actual numbers are close to 4 million. Acting Town Administrator Sandra Nolan said that she was told that it would be best to wait for construction and material costs to come down before proceeding with the project. It was agreed that the issue would be brought forth to the incoming Town Administrator Cody Haddad once he begins. Regan said that she even explored having HGTV do some form of renovation.