Hadley Select Board denies open meeting violation

Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2021

HADLEY — Members of the Select Board are denying that they violated the state’s Open Meeting Law in adopting a new COVID-19 vaccine policy related to entrance to town buildings last month.

The board voted 4-0, on June 2, with Jane Nevinsmith abstaining, to reject the complaint filed by former Select Board member John Allen about its May 12 decision allowing anyone to enter town buildings or go on municipal property, whether or not that person is vaccinated.

The vote came moments before the board made a series of decisions that, using state Department of Public Health guidelines, will open up town buildings, including the Hadley Public Library and Hadley Senior Center, with few restrictions on use.

In his complaint, Allen advocated for reposting the policy and then having a first reading and second reading at future meetings in similar ways to how councils in Northampton and Amherst handle business. This would allow significant public input on whether there should be privileges afforded to people who get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Select Board Chairman David J. Fill II, though, said COVID-19 was listed as a topic on the public agenda for several days and the policy he drafted was placed in the online packet for the public to access three hours prior to the start of the meeting.

“We never put super detail on the agenda,” Fill said. But he also noted that unanticipated business is rarely, if ever, taken up by the board.

As to having a topic discussed over multiple evenings, Fill said this would not be a good fit for Hadley and would slow the pace of business for a part-time, volunteer board. “We’d never get anything done at all,” Fill said.

Allen said Thursday that he has not yet received a formal response to his complaint and would decide how to proceed once that is in hand. While Nevinsmith didn’t say why she abstained from Wednesday’s vote, she voted against the policy when it was adopted last month.

Meantime, the new policy is in place on admittance to buildings. The library will remain open Monday through Saturday — hours vary each day — will be staffed full time and people will no longer be required to book appointments as has been the case since reopening in late winter. The strict capacity limits will also no longer be in place.

Masks for fully vaccinated individuals will not be required, but the board gave the OK to library director Patrick Borezo to have a sign that invites people to continue wearing masks to benefit those under the age of 12 who may be using the building but can’t yet receive the vaccine.

Similarly, at the Hadley Senior Center, director Hayley Wood said her staff will no longer require masks to be worn by vaccinated people and hopes that those who haven’t yet received will abide by the state advisory to wear face coverings. In addition, the senior center will maintain capacity limits for classes and rooms, and individual instructors can choose to have different policies for keeping safe.

Town Hall will continue to be open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the public.

Board member Joyce Chunglo said this can be seen as the honor system, and hopes that people continue to take the illness seriously, noting that those unvaccinated are still susceptible to infection.

With bars and restaurants and other businesses open to full capacity, and with few restrictions, though, Chunglo said there was no reason for the town to be more strict.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.