Hadley voters to decide on health board proposal at special Town Meeting

  • Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

HADLEY — Friction over how the community is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic between two elected boards, one focused on health and the other on town policy, will culminate at fall Town Meeting.

The Select Board is bringing forward an article for the meeting, scheduled for Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. at the Hopkins Academy gymnasium, that aims to make the town’s Board of Health an appointed panel.

For health board member Susan Mosler, such a decision would mean taking authority out of the hands of residents.

“This is hard to interpret as anything but a spiteful power play,” Mosler wrote in a message to the community, which Select Board Chairman David J. Fill II posted to his Select Board Facebook page.

But Fill said making the board appointed is justified over concerns about the workload for the three members, who have taken a lead role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through contact tracing efforts and issuing a face-covering order in the commercial district along Route 9. Fill said two of the members, though, have had limited time to focus on Board of Health business in recent months.

The tensions between the boards have been illustrated in the Select Board rejecting an appeal from the Board of Health to hire a COVID-19 ambassador, paid for using mostly federal CARES Act money; issuing instructions to not allow police officers and other public safety officials to enforce the mask order; and asking the health board to tweak the face-covering order after it initially was adopted and publicized.

If voters agree with the article, it wouldn’t change the Board of Health immediately, as the town would need special legislation. But, Fill said, this would set the stage for accountability and oversight of the board. He added that the article is not directed at any person on the health board.

“This is about a long-term solution,” said Fill, as the board voted 4-1 to endorse the article. Board member Jane Nevinsmith cast the dissenting vote.

A favorable vote also wouldn’t automatically lead to new people on the board, Fill said, pointing to the process that began in 2018 for making both town treasurer and town collector appointed positions. Linda Sanderson, the elected treasurer, has since remained in the appointed position, and a similar decision will be made next spring by the Select Board when collector Susan Glowatsky’s three-year elected term is up.

The Board of Health is chaired by Emma Dragon, a registered nurse who has been hired to be the health director for Amherst; Mosler, a practicing physician for more than 35 years; and Gregory Mish, a longtime member of the panel.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said she is in favor of making sure people on the Board of Health are qualified and understand the work that needs to be done, including the current focus on COVID-19.

Residents should be allowed to decide what happens with the future of the board, said Select Board member John Waskiewicz II.

Nevinsmith said her board shouldn’t be singling out another municipal board for such a change, and that there may be an appearance that the health board members are being attacked.

Though Christian Stanley voted in favor of the article and agrees with the sentiment of having appointed people who understand their duties, he said he was having a hard time due to the idea coming at an odd juncture.

“I just really feel the people that are on the board were elected, and having to go through that process makes them committed to the position,” Stanley said.