Hadley board readopts COVID policy flagged by AG

Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2021

HADLEY — Despite the attorney general ruling that it violated the Open Meeting Law, the Select Board is retaining a COVID-19 policy it adopted in May, but pledging to have a public forum on the topic next month.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted 4-1 to readopt the policy, which includes, among other rules, prohibiting any requirement that residents or municipal employees show proof of vaccine to enter town buildings or events, even though the board heard appeals from residents to get more input before making its decision.

Dr. Susan Mosler, chairwoman of the Board of Health, said the problem with the original vote on May 12 was the lack of transparency, with residents not knowing such a policy would be implemented.

“Everybody’s got their opinion, people want to be heard, people want to be listened to, and they want some sort of forum, some sort of dialogue,” Mosler said.

Michele Morris-Friedman of Roosevelt Street, who spoke during the board’s usual 15-minute public comment period, said discussion about vaccination should involve not only the Select Board, but the Board of Health and other relevant boards.

“I would strongly urge you to have a separate meeting and deliberately invite the public and not have the public go through the Select Board agenda,” Morris-Friedman said.

Senior Center Director Hayley Wood also asked the board to host a public conversation, and not just satisfy the letter of the law by re-creating the earlier meeting.

KP Law attorney Jeffrey Blake, though, said the revote would suffice following a discussion of the topic that had been on the May 12 agenda, but which had lacked specificity.

“Essentially, what we are doing is a do-over of May 12 after a more detailed posting of the agenda,” Blake said.

He advised members to re-create, as best they could, the meeting from five months earlier.

“This is retrospective and looking backwards. We are trying to re-create,” Blake said.

But board member Jane Nevinsmith, who again cast the lone dissenting vote on the policy, said replaying what happened is not enough.

“That doesn’t seem to meet the Open Meeting Law of telling people what’s going on and giving them a chance to be at an open meeting and to have a conversation,” Nevinsmith said.

The policy continues to read that “the public shall not be denied access to town buildings, facilities, property, or events based upon vaccine status unless otherwise required by law.”

It also prohibits medical documentation and any requirement by the town to be vaccinated, and ensures one’s vaccination status doesn’t affect a person’s ability to be on an appointed or elected board.

The Open Meeting Law complaint was filed by John Allen, who served on the Select Board from 1985 to 1991. He argued that residents, employees and others should have been able to offer thoughts on the policy during the May meeting, and likely would have if the posting had been more specific.

Though board member Joyce Chunglo supported the policy, she said she agreed to have the community conversation after getting through the Open Meeting Law complaint.

The board largely took no input, but rather discussed amongst themselves the policy drafted by Chairman David J. Fill II, who said it came up because employees were concerned about mandatory vaccinations, with some in May saying they would leave town employment if required to do so.

There was also a problem reported at the Senior Center where at least one police officer was asked to provide proof of vaccination.

Chunglo said it is a reasonable policy.

“Our employees of the town were asked to produce their vaccination cards to actually enter the Senior Center,” Chunglo said. “That’s where this all came about, where we felt uncomfortable asking our town employees to produce any kind of vaccination card or whatever.”

Board member John Waskiewicz said he wants to make sure a policy is in place that is not mandating employees vaccines, and that would be “piss-poor management” to do so as employees would depart.