The Halifax Board of Selectmen met in-person on July 8 during a meeting that had both a packed house and a packed agenda.
Finance Committee Interviews
The first appointment for one of the three open spots on the Finance Committee was with Michael Bennett. Andrews began by asking Bennett if he was aware of the time commitment that he stated was from January to May. Bennett, who said he has lived in town for 13 years, said he has worked 40 years in the IT industry. “The last twenty, maybe even a little more, as a manager responsible for developing budgets, managing budgets, and dealing with changes to those budgets,” Bennett explained.
Martha Hall was next to interview for the Committee. “I’ve been working in educational publishing for the last almost 30 years. My last two jobs are probably most relevant; I worked at a company in Plymouth that was a vendor for the educational publishing industry and there I created a whole division in licensing and permissions that didn’t exist before… I ran my own P & L, budgets, RFP, all that kind of good stuff,” Hall said. She said she was then hired away by the vendor’s biggest client, Cengage Learning, where she works today and runs three different divisions. Andrews asked if she would be interested in any other Boards and Committees and Hall said she would be, particularly the Historical Commission.
Michael O’Brien was the third candidate to interview. O’Brien said he currently works in education and has been working in schools for the last ten years. “I was a teacher first and now I’m on the administrative side,” O’Brien explained. He continued, “I’ve done everything from fundraising and development to international programs and student affairs; my wife and I recently moved to the town a couple of months ago… I’m excited to serve the town in some capacity.”
The final applicant for the Finance Committee was Jon Schmaling who said he has lived in town for nearly 12 years, and is a director at a for-profit school in Plymouth. “I pretty much have run every aspect of that business for the last twelve years,” he told the Board. He said he has experience with marketing, budgets, tuition increases, payroll, etc. “I’ve also been heavily involved with debt collection,” he added.
In addition to the three open spots on the Finance Committee, Cheryll Zarrella Burke is also up for reappointment. The Selectmen agreed to put off the voting and final appointments until a later date when the Finance Committee would also be fully present.
Alison Vance Resignation
At this point in the meeting, the Halifax Elementary School Committee meeting was initiated, and Selectman Gordon Andrews recused himself as a member of the Board of Selectmen to assume his other role on the Halifax Elementary School Committee. Schmaling said that she wanted to read Alison Vance’s resignation letter from the Elementary School Committee to clear things up for the public. First, Summer Schmaling thanked Vance for her years of service. Regarding Vance’s letter and the School Committee’s reaction to that letter, Schmaling said, “We were very upset about it, to be frank.” Vance’s letter stated that she had the utmost respect for her fellow Committee members but noted, “I did not sign up for the false accusations, threats of legal action, inaccurate statements made on social media, and general nastiness from certain members of the community these last few months.” It continued, “To say that I am disappointed in their behavior is an understatement. Mostly the inaccurate and misguided social media posts made by Robert Slager and the relentless, self-serving, self-righteous, one-sided, misinformed, arrogant, aggressive, threatening, divisive, and overall disturbing emails and Facebook posts presented by Evan Smith to the School Committee have led me to feel unsafe and unfairly criticized in a volunteer role.”
Halifax Elementary School Committee Interviews
The first interview was with candidate Marline Amedee. Amedee, who has a child in the school system, has interviewed for the role in the past. She said she wants to serve her community and “learn about my fellow constituents and citizens and help them to bring a great education to the students and children in Halifax.” Amedee said she feels that her experience as a social worker and her Masters in counseling and psychology would benefit the Committee. One of the newest members of the School Committee, Jim Keegan, asked Amedee how she felt about partisan politics and personal agendas. “I just want to be part of my community. I don’t have any agenda… we need to remain neutral,” she replied. “I’m not here to represent X or Y; I’m here to represent the children of Halifax,” she continued. Schmaling asked her if she had ever been part of an elected Board before. Amedee said she had been appointed to one by the Mayor in Brockton.
The second candidate to interview for the School Committee was Jennifer Carroll who said she has been a resident of Halifax for nearly 20 years and currently has four children in the school system. “I have been a very active volunteer in this town… I have run fundraisers for the PTO, I have volunteered at just about every bookfair, Breakfast with Santa, fun runs, field trips,” Carroll said. “It got to the point where I probably should have been on payroll,” she said laughing. Carroll also said that she has over 15 years of experience with accounting and finances. Keegan also asked Carroll about her opinion on partisan politics and how it relates to the School Committee in Halifax. “I don’t believe that the School Committee has anything to do with anything political… I don’t think that it holds any place on a school committee,” she replied.
The final candidate was Michael O’Brien, who had also interviewed for the Finance Committee. O’Brien, who has no children, said he has only lived in Halifax since February. He said he has been working in education for the last decade and currently works at Boston College High School. Asked about negotiating with Teacher’s Associations, he noted that it can be “difficult to move the needle.” He added, “At the end of the day transparency is the name of the game with negotiations.” Keegan asked O’Brien the same question he asked the other candidates regarding partisan politics. “I don’t have any preconceived agenda or anything like that… I don’t believe that politics really have any role in school committees or the town,” he responded. O’Brien also noted that he is not on social media.
Summer Schmaling made a motion that was seconded to nominate Jennifer Carroll to the School Committee. School Committee member Lauren Laws spoke up and said that she felt that it was important to honor the town’s input and noted that Marline Amedee actually received the next highest number of votes during the recent town election following the two candidates that were voted onto the Committee. Keegan, who noted that he was asked by multiple people to run for the School Committee, said he had to take into consideration the people who put him in the seat and vote according to his own opinion on who might be the best candidate while noting that all were “excellent.” “I feel like we can’t ignore the democratic process of voting,” Laws countered. There was considerable debate between the School Committee and the Selectmen regarding Laws’ argument. Selectman Troy Garron spoke up in favor of Laws’ opinion. Laws said that it was her understanding that when Alex Meade was elected to the Board, it had been considered that he got the third most votes during the previous election.
The Committee and the Board of Selectmen then took a vote to appoint Carroll. The only no votes came from Laws and Garron. With the majority voting in favor of Carroll, she was appointed to the position. The Halifax Elementary School Committee then adjourned for the evening, leaving the Board of Selectmen to resume the rest of their meeting.
Board of Health Interviews
The Board of Health opened their meeting as part of the Board of Selectmen meeting to hold interviews with the candidates for the opening on the Board of Health. Administrative Assistant to the Board of Health Peggy Selter asked to speak before the interviews were conducted telling the Board of Selectmen, “Mr. Mascio submitted a talent bank form for the Board of Health for the open seat and while I don’t know Mr. Mascio personally, as an employee for the town, I have concerns. He has openly and publicly implied that the town employees are Nazis and Communists…. Why are you entertaining Mr. Mascio for any open seat?” Andrews responded that they were interviewing everyone who submitted a talent bank form.
The first interview was with Candice Greene. Greene, who has lived in Halifax for nine years and has two children at Halifax Elementary, said she has over 15 years of healthcare experience. She began as an EMT and worked as a registered nurse at Tufts Medical Center as well as at Boston Children’s Hospital. Greene has a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP). Asked by Garron how she deals with adversity she responded, “It’s about finding that common ground that works for everyone.”
David Mascio was the second to interview. Mascio said he has lived in Halifax for a little over 5 years and said he is a father of three children. He said he is a heavy equipment mechanic who has been in construction for well over twenty years. He addressed what was said about him by Selter saying a better term than “hostile” to describe him would be “enthusiastic.” He said he looks forward to guiding the residents of Halifax.
Kimberly King-Cavicchi was next to interview. She called the Board of Health “one of the most important Boards that you have to have a quorum for in a municipality.” She said she has knowledge in emergency management, sanitary housing codes, and has some knowledge of septic systems including how to read a plan. Cavicchi said she has lived in Halifax since 2001 with the exception of a four-year break. She is also an associate member with Conservation.
Marline Amedee and Tom Millias both decided not to interview despite submitting talent bank forms. Millias wrote to Seelig giving his support for Alan Dias who was the next to interview. Dias asked that Selectmen Gordon Andrews and Ashley DiSesa recuse themselves from the vote. “Based on prior rulings and Mrs. DiSesa’s activities over the internet and the fact that Mr. Andrews has followed me around, taken pictures of particular jobs, I believe both of them are biased and I don’t believe that I can get a very proper hearing with their votes,” Dias said. Andrews said, “If you want both of us to recuse ourselves, there will be no interview with you.” Andrews cited quorum concerns with the Board of Selectmen as his reasoning and the interview proceeded. Dias said he has been a Board of Health member for six years and involved in town for over 40 years on several Committees. “I think I can handle myself well and I think I’ve been very fair and reasonable to the people in town,” Dias said. He has had a lifelong business in the septic business.
Garron nominated Candice Greene and DiSesa seconded. She was voted in unanimously.
Appointment with Department of Fish and Game
Joan Pierce who was representing the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game met with the Board of Selectmen. Pierce said she was there to ask the Selectmen to please sell them what she referred to as “Parcel A.” She addressed the Selectmen saying, “So we can get you $150,000 this fiscal year.” She also referred to a deal that has been in the works between the town and the Department of Fish and Game for over a year. She said that the sale of what is called the “sliver” is ongoing and noted that the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) still had to do some work on it. Pierce also said that Halifax Town Administrator Charlie Seelig had been involved in recent conversations regarding the sale. “It is guaranteed that the town will get the sliver, but it won’t happen this fiscal year,” Pierce explained. Garron made a motion to move forward with the deal on Parcel A. After confirmation from Pierce that the other deal would definitely happen, the other Selectmen agreed with the motion.
Seelig shared that the Fire Chief wants to order another batch of rapid COVID tests. Seelig said the tests are $35 each with a minimum order of 20. The batch being used by the Fire Department had expired June 1. Only two tests were used in May. The Board of Health Agent had recommended waiting until the fall as another surge could potentially occur then. Seelig asked the Board if they were okay with that timing and Chair of the Selectmen Gordon Andrews said, “If that’s the guidance, yea, I would.”
Regarding the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), Seelig said that Halifax should expect to see about $2.3 million assuming that the Plymouth County funds are allocated on a per capita basis. Garron asked if the County Commissioner had accepted the funds yet and Seelig said they were waiting to see if the County or the State would be allocating the funds. Seelig said he would be checking on whether the Halifax State of Emergency would continue once the Commonwealth’s declared State of Emergency runs out.
Seelig told the Board, “Good news in terms of reimbursements, the Plymouth County CARES Act folks have sent $657,796.52 in a variety of checks… that’s not new money in the sense of a reimbursement; we already spent the money.” Andrews asked how much was still outstanding for reimbursements and Seelig said he believed it to be a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Seelig addressed the possibility of re-precincting. He said that he and Town Clerk Susan Lawless had met with representatives from the State as Halifax’s population was nearing the 8,000 mark. “Under State law no precinct can have more than 4,000 people… the recommendation from the State is to divide the town into three precincts instead of two,” Seelig explained. Seelig shared a map with the Selectmen showing where the three precincts would be though he noted no decision would be made that night. Seelig recommended to the Board that they send a letter to Representative Kathy LaNatra and Senator Michael Brady requesting that the State not be the ones to draw the precinct lines. “Especially as we are capable of doing it ourselves,” Seelig said. The Board of Selectmen agreed unanimously.