Northfield residents reject state statute regarding board member absence

  • Selectboard member Alexander Meisner, serving as moderator, stands at the podium to the right of Town Clerk Dan Campbell and Selectboard Chair Heath Cummings during a Special Town Meeting at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • At a Special Town Meeting at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Monday, Northfield resident Joe Graveline speaks on an article that would have allowed members of a town board to vote on a matter if they have been absent from a related public hearing but had watched a recording of that hearing. Graveline suggested indefinitely postponing a vote on the article. The vote was held, though residents declined to adopt it. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • At a Special Town Meeting at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Monday, Northfield resident Charles Blanker speaks on an article pertaining to changing language regarding animals in the town’s general bylaws. Blanker felt there had not been enough public input on the matter, but voters adopted it. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2022 4:51:11 PM
Modified: 1/25/2022 4:49:55 PM

NORTHFIELD — The only one of the 16 warrant articles residents that shot down at Special Town Meeting on Monday pertained to allowing members of a board to vote on a matter if they had been absent from a related public hearing but had watched a recording of that hearing.

Passage of the article would have adopted a state statute that prohibits barring a member of a municipal board, committee or commission from voting on a matter solely due to his or her absence from a hearing session where testimony or other evidence is received. The member would have to certify in writing before a vote that he or she has examined all audio or video evidence received at the missed session.

Speaking at Pioneer Valley Regional School, Joe Graveline asked to indefinitely postpone the vote on the article. He was told such a motion would need to be submitted in writing. Alexander Meisner, a Selectboard member filling in for Moderator Nathan L’Etoile, who had a prior commitment, told Graveline the article would be called to a vote but that a rejection of the article would result in the outcome Graveline wanted.

Graveline suggested the issue the article aims to address could be resolved with board alternates, as opposed to adopting a state statute.

“As I look around here this evening, all of us got up out of our chairs, walked out on a cold January night to get in our cars and drive here to show up and be able to be heard and vote,” he said. “Article 9 is an incredibly powerful and complex piece of legislation that we’re going to have to live with for a long, long time. It’s not a mandated article, it’s one we can choose. But the solution to it already exists, and it’s called alternates.”

But Town Administrator Andrea Llamas said this matter was brought forward because there are times small boards cannot produce a quorum at a public hearing, resulting in the hearing having to be re-warned and republished in accordance with the law. She said this can be frustrating for contractors and applicants who have a pressing matter they need addressed.

Following the voice vote, Meisner ordered a hand count to ensure the result was accurate.

“I know the ‘nay’ vote represented itself as louder, but that could have been just a few people raising their voice,” he said before confirming the article had been defeated.

“I hope you all sign up to be alternates,” Selectboard member Mary Bowen quipped to the crowd after the vote.

Resident Charles Blanker stood up to speak when it came time to discuss a proposed animal control bylaw with sections outlining dog licensing, animal waste removal, leashing expectations, rabies control and more. A dog owner, he expressed concern over aspects of the bylaw, particularly the portion that states the town may require a dog to be spayed or neutered if necessary. He dislikes that the bylaw does not state who would make such a decision.

“The American Kennel Club says due process should be given before a decision is made,” Blanker said.

Selectboard Vice Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque said spaying or neutering is an option — not a requirement — after a fourth violation of the town’s dog control laws.

Blanker also said he felt there had not been enough public input on the drafting of the bylaw. Bowen said the topic has been discussed at the past few Selectboard meetings, but Blanker said he does not routinely attend or listen to those.

“There’s no lack of transparency,” Bowen replied. “We’re not keeping it from you. You’re not privy to it because you’re not watching the meetings.”

Nevertheless, Blanker said, he did not feel Special Town Meeting was the proper time or place to vote on the bylaw.

Animal Inspector Dan Gray said he felt the animal control bylaws, which were ultimately approved by voters, were an overreach.

“You have rules in here that are stepping on my toes,” he said.

According to the state, a municipal animal inspector’s primary duty is rabies control in the domestic animal population. An inspector is also responsible for barn inspections. Northfield receives animal control services from Kyle Dragon at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

The 56 voters in attendance at Pioneer Valley Regional School also opted to join the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District, to set aside $90,000 to continue funding Project Manager Colliers International for the planned emergency services facility, and to create a new assistant town clerk position to accommodate the increasing workload expected of a town clerk. The assistant will work 10 hours per week, making $10,000 a year.

Voters also adopted a new noise bylaw that states “it shall be unlawful for any person to create, assist in creating, continue or allow to continue any excessive, unusually loud, disturbing or injurious noise that annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the reasonable quiet, comfort, repose or the health or safety of others, during the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.” The bylaw, which replaces an old one, also outlines definitions, exemptions and punishment — a $50 fine for a first offense, a $100 fine for a second offense, and a $200 fine for a third offense.

The 16-article warrant can be found at: bit.ly/3G2krVf.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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