Town of West Stockbridge
21 State Line Road, West Stockbridge, MA 01266
2016 - Minutes of March 7, 21 Meetings
Board of Selectmen
Meeting Minutes
March 7, 2016

6:30 PM:        Open Meeting.
Quorum present: Earl Moffatt (EM), Chair; Peter Skorput (PS); Curt Wilton (CW). Also present: Admin Asst Mark Webber (AA). Press present: Local Yokel.

Board reviews and approves previous meeting minutes as presented.
Board reviews and approves weekly warrants.

Other Business/Action/Discussion Items:
  • Board announces that the Town's Annual Caucus will be held on March 14, 2016 at 7:00 PM.
  • Board will hold a business meeting on March 9, 2016 at 3:00 PM for the purpose of continuing FY 2017 budget discussions.
7:00 PM:        Library Trustees make a presentation to the Board regarding the construction of a
vestibule at the southwest exit door of the Library. Trustees state that an enhanced entrance at this location would be a shorter distance for patrons and deliveries from the parking lot and would offer protection from the elements. EM points out that a car parked in a H.C. spot at the front of the building main entrance would be 100' closer to the Library main entrance than the proposed new entrance use.

Trustees note that they wish to add some outdoor seating adjacent to the new entrance to create an indoor/outdoor feel. The Trustees have hired EDM, Inc., to furnish conceptual drawings. EDM the architects that designed the current Library and Village School renovation. Trustees add that the project would be funded privately through gifts to the Library Trustees. They ask that local permitting fees be waived by the Selectmen. Both EM and CW respond that fees are the responsibility of the inspectors and that the Board would support whatever decision are made by the inspectors.

Board asks whether there are any issues with the private funding of an addition to a public building and who would have ownership and custody once installed. Trustees answer that they contacted the Attorney General's office and were told that there wouldn't be any problems and that the Town would assume ownership. CW asks if the Trustees have consulted with the Chief of Police and notes that there could be concerns with security. CW states that public buildings are vulnerable and most have a single main access with multiple exits. This proposal creates a new public access which can only be monitored by the Librarian whose desk faces away from the proposed new entrance. Trustees reply that they will contact the Chief of Police.

Trustees are seeking a vote of support from the Selectmen so that they can proceed with         developed drawings and bid package. Until that time, they won't know the exact project cost. EM makes a motion to approve the concept of the Trustees proposal  in order for them to move forward, conditional upon final Board of Selectmen approval. CW seconds the motion. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor. Board thanks the Trustees for their presentation.

7:25 PM:        EM makes a motion to enter executive session per GL ch 30A, sec 21(a)(1) to discuss
the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than the professional competence, of an individual, or discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual and not to return to open meeting session following the executive session.

CW seconds the motion. Voice vote taken: CW, aye; EM, aye; PS, aye.

PS informs the Chair that he wishes the executive session to be held in open meeting.

Chair acknowledges PS's request and asks that PS remove himself from the Selectmen's front table and to sit in the audience since the executive session has been called to discuss PS in his role as the Town's Fire Chief, not as a member of the Board of Selectmen. PS moves to a seat in the audience. Chair notes that the meeting is now in open session and asks that those in attendance not speak out of turn and to be recognized by the Chair prior to speaking.

EM states that the purpose of this meeting is to follow up on accusations critical of the W.S. Fire Department and Fire Chief Peter Skorput made by WSFD Lt. Jim Hallock as submitted to the Board in writing at their 2/8/16 meeting and a follow up letter hand delivered by Mr Hallock, dated 2/29/16 (attached).

EM recaps the events to date leading up to the reason for tonight's meeting, including: previous WSFD safety issues raised by resident Dom Luchi and the two letters from Mr Hallock and the termination process of Mr Hallock. EM adds that the Board has been in contact with Town Counsel David Jenkins of Kopelman and Paige. Atty Jenkins has been furnished with all information related to tonight's meeting along with conflict of interest and ethics concerns regarding the Fire Chief. Attorney Jenkins is in attendance.

EM notes that Town Meeting had previously accepted GL Ch 48, sec 42, which provides for a 'strong chief' (attached). EM notes that Chief Skorput was elected to the Board of Selectmen in May of 2013 and the Board, at its subsequent meeting, approved all Town Officer appointments. EM notes that it is inappropriate for a sitting selectmen to appoint himself as fire chief. EM states that he did not vote on the fire chief appointment but that a majority of the Board did. Chief Skorput then states that he did not vote for himself.

EM then states that the AA was instructed by the Board to contact Town Counsel for advice on the validity of the fire chief appointment. Town Counsel Janet Pumphrey responded that no matter what the vote tally was, MGL requires that an affirmative Annual Town Meeting vote is required for a selectmen to also be appointed as fire chief and that Mr. Skorput had been informed of this on two prior occasions but failed to request such an article be placed on an annual town meeting warrant. EM adds that as of 1/29/16, the Town Clerks has received no Ethics Commission waiver/conflict of interest forms from Chief Skorput.

CW states that he appreciates Chief Skorput's many years of service to the Town and that he seems to have a large showing of supporters at tonight's meeting. CW goes on to say that his primary job as a Selectmen is to protect the Town and that the Town is now being threatened with a lawsuit based on recent actions by the Chief. CW then reads a letter given to the Board by WSFD Lt James Hallock dated 2/29/16. CW states that the Town adopted a non-retaliation policy back on 9/24/2004, which was distributed to all department heads at the time. CW then says that events following Mr Hallock's criticism of the Chief and his Department at the Board's 2/8/16 meeting sure seems like retaliation because he was removed from the Department.

PS responds that Mr Hallock was summoned to a meeting of the WSFD membership on 2/26/16 and a vote of the membership was taken resulting in an 8-3 vote of non-confidence in Lt Hallock and was asked to resign from the Department. Both Lt Hallock and Chief Skorput were present and neither of them voted. PS stated that he assumed the action was taken by the membership association and not by him as the Chief.. CW notes that the timing of the vote was bad. PS responds that many of his volunteer members were begging him to remove Lt Hallock and that he has lost members in the past because of Lt Hallock and that he wished that Lt Hallock had come and met with him prior to airing his complaints at a public meeting.

Town Counsel Jenkins responds to an audience question answering that, yes, volunteer firemen are considered to be Town employees. Atty Jenkins goes on to say that the AA contacted him recently regarding recent issues with the WSFD and states that the Town needs and deserves a strong fire department. However, there are several items that would be considered ethics problems, including the Chief's appointment process, absence of disclosure forms and inappropriate signing of warrants. Attorney Jenkins says that Chief Skorput recently called and spoke with him regarding the Town's non-retaliation policy and Atty Jenkins informed the Chief that it does apply to him. Atty Jenkins also spoke to the Chief about the whistle blower act which would likely apply if the Chief took action against Lt Hallock because Lt Hallock was considered to be a Town employee. Counsel Jenkins goes on to say that due process was not followed and that any meeting should have been between the Chief and Mr Hallock only without membership or anyone else present. Attorney Jenkins is more than willing to assist the Chief with the required Ethics Commission filings and related issues going forward but, for now, the Town is in a compromised position PS responds that his only intent was to remove a problem firefighter. In response to a question from Counsel Jenkins, Chief Skorput states that he has no record or file on Lt Hallock that might contain prior instances of problems.

AA asks if there are remedies available to avoid a lawsuit.

CW states that he appreciates tonight's great dialogue and calm discussion. CW asks Counsel Jenkins if the Town was at risk of a lawsuit. Atty Jenkins responds yes under a number of areas including the whistle blower act and 1st Amendment violations.

George Allen, WSFD member since 1971, says that if Lt Hallock is reinstated then the Town will have a fire department of one.

EM makes a motion to place Chief Skorput on administrative leave for a period of time to address problems in the Department. CW seconds the motion for the purpose of continuing the discussion.

CW states that there is no conspiracy among he and EM to get rid of Chief Skorput and reiterates that his job is to keep the town from being sued and to do what is best for the town, including the Fire Department. CW wants to stop the bleeding now.

Chief Skorput states that he will take Lt Hallock back on the Department.

CW says that the whole situation has been an unpleasant experience and would be equally unpleasant if the Chief was placed on administrative leave.

Resident Joe Roy states that there is only one person in the room who could make a lawsuit disappear and that is Jim Hallock. Jim Hallock responds that all he wants is to be reinstated to the Department.

Resident and former WSFD member David Pearlson states that the membership is fully behind Chief Skorput and that it would be helpful if Town Counsel could come up with a fix things list.

At the suggestion of Town Counsel, EM informs the meeting that the Board will take a five minute recess and resume the meeting afterwards.

Meeting resumes and Counsel Jenkins states that if the Chief and membership are willing to reinstate Mr Hallock unconditionally then Mr Hallock would need to accept. Mr Hallock requests that he be given 24 hours to give his response. Attorney Jenkins cautions the Chief against taking any future retaliation if Mr Hallock accepts reinstatement.

Counsel Jenkins then suggests that the earlier motion to place the Fire Chief on administrative leave be withdrawn. EM makes a motion to withdraw his previous motion for administrative leave. CW seconds the motion. Vote taken, 2-0 in favor.

EM closes that this has been a difficult situation and that corrections need to take place in the Department going forward, specifically better record keeping and merit based stipends for membership rather than equal for everyone. EM pledges support and assistance from the Board.

WSFD member George Allen reverses his earlier statement and says that the WSFD supports the Town and are willing to improve.

CW notes that Jim Hallock is always responsive to WSFD calls and that everyone needs to work together and that we all need to be bigger than what happened this evening and wants to see the Town move forward and 'here's to higher hopes'.

9:05 PM:        CW makes a motion to adjourn the meeting. EM seconds the motion. Vote taken, 2-0 in

Meeting minutes approved by:

__________________________      __________________________      ________________________
Earl Moffatt, Chair                            Peter Skorput                                    Curt Wilton

Date: __________

Board of Selectmen
Meeting Minutes
March 21, 2016

6:30 PM:        Open Meeting
Quorum present: Earl Moffatt (EM), Chair; Peter Skorput (PS); Curt Wilton (CW). Also present: Admin Asst Mark Webber (AA). Press present: Local Yokel

Board reviews and approves weekly warrants.

7:04 PM:        EM opens the regular meeting.

AA notes that the Finance Committee met jointly with the Board of Selectmen on 3/18/16 and reviewed the Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Town Meeting Warrant and budget. The Finance Committee recommended approval of all items as presented.

CW informs the Board that the Highway Department has been able to spend some time over the past few weeks doing tree cutting and clearing at the Town's old landfill as per directives from the MA Dept of Environmental Protection. To date, Highway Dept crew has spent approximately 14 hours at the site.

CW states that he'd like to keep the process moving regarding the Harris Street/Center Street/ Depot Street layout discussion, which began at a recent Selectmen's meeting. CW has spoken with a few of the abutters to Harris Street and they've expressed an interest in further discussions. CW suggests that a future meeting be held specifically with the direct abutters of the roads being discussed. Board agrees and sets a tentative date of April 18.

Per request of the Planning Board, EM makes a motion to adopt the provisions of 940 CMR 29; 01-10 inclusive, to allow for the remote participation for meetings of public bodies. CW seconds the motion. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor.

AA informs the Board that he will be attending a workshop/seminar hosted by the Office of the Inspector General as a requirement to maintain his Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Officer status on 3/24/16 in Boston.

7:15 PM:        EM opens a continuation of previous meetings' discussion on West Stockbridge
Volunteer Fire Department and Fire Chief matters.

EM begins with a review of past meetings on the topic and notes that the Board received a letter from Jim Hallock's attorney, dated March 9, 2016, which states that Mr Hallock would like nothing more than to be a member of the WS Fire Department but not until certain conditions are met.

EM then begins to read a list of questions to Fire Chief Skorput from lists posed previously by both Mr Hallock and resident Dom Luchi. EM asks if the Chief has a current roster list. PS says no, he didn't bring a list but could furnish one but didn't anticipate being asked tonight. Mr Hallock then offers a current list to the Board.

Resident Michael Skorput asks EM why he continues to ask questions about the Chief and the Department. EM responds that he's asking because some of the previous questions haven't been answered.

CW states that the last meeting on the subject was unpleasant and he'd like to get the matter resolved. Chief Skorput has agreed to reinstate Mr Hallock to the Fire Department and the Board is not going to impose any conditions on his return to duty. CW states that it would be best if the 2 men work out their differences together. Both Chief Skorput and Mr Hallock seem to be in general agreement to move forward.

Resident Dan Romanello states that he has spoken with both Mr Hallock and Chief Skorput and that he is friendly with both men. He recommends that an independent review of the Department be coupled with mediation.

Following further related discussion, EM makes a motion to contact Town Counsel in order to seek recommendations on professional firms to conduct an independent departmental review/audit/mediation along with recommendations going forward. CW seconds the motion. Vote taken, 2-0 in favor.

Other Business:
  • Representatives of the Farmer's Market note that their season will open on May 19th and asked about temporary placing of signs as in past years and asked that the public restrooms be open and stocked by that date. They would also like to continue with music from 3-7 PM as in past years. Board in is general agreement. Resident Robert Powell notes that the public restrooms were installed with the specific understanding that they would be maintained by downtown merchants and not the Town. CW adds that further discussion needs to be had on the topic of the bathrooms.
7:40 PM:        CW makes a motion to adjourn the meeting. EM seconds the motion. Vote taken, 3-0 in

Meeting minutes approved by:

__________________________      __________________________      ________________________
Earl Moffatt, Chair                            Peter Skorput                                    Curt Wilton

Date: __________