Williamsburg selectmen debate building reopening, meetings

June 8, 2021 | Dennis Hackett

The Williamsburg Board of Selectmen met remotely on June 3.
Screen capture by Dennis Hackett

WILLIAMSBURG – During the Williamsburg Board of Selectmen’s June 3 meeting, the board discussed reopening town buildings on June 15 and returning to in-person public meetings.

Board member Dave Mathers said he was in favor of reopening town offices on June 15 and said one of the concerns he has heard is residents want to come into the offices to pay their bills.

“If we are going to open the town offices and buildings on June 15, I do not have a problem meeting in person once we do that. The biggest thing I hear is there are people that do not like doing everything online and they want to come in to pay their bills and do their taxes,” he said.

Board member Denise Banister said she had heard from Town Collector Bonnie Roberge that she may be hesitant to return and suggested hiring an assistant to work in person in the office once it reopens.

“It is mostly the collector who is reluctant I think, but if she does not want to come in for regular hours, I think we should have an assistant collector who comes out of her salary that has to be here for say 4 hours a week. I think that is important because you have to have a face in that office,” she said.

Mathers said that eventually the town must return to normal, in-person functions.

“My only fear is that once people get used to working from home, they really like it and do not necessarily want to come back. We cannot run a town remotely for the rest of our lives, we have to get back to a normal availability to the people in town. At some point we have to get back to where we were, that’s my opinion,” he said.

For virtual meetings, Town Administrator Nick Caccamo said there was legislation filed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to allow meetings to continue virtually into September, but the decision was ultimately up to the board.

“The governor did file emergency legislation to allow for remote meetings to continue after the state of emergency. I would imagine it is likely to pass in the State House, but I do not know the current status of it,” he said. “I think the consideration is you can decide what you want your meetings to look like.”

While the board would meet in-person, Chair Bill Sayre said he was in favor of offering hybrid participation for people that want to attend the meetings.

“My preference is that we offer meetings both in-person and virtually. I think we have seen that there are advantages for people being able to attend a meeting for 10 or 15 minutes virtually and they can go right back to what they need to do, they do not have to make the travel time,” he said.

During the discussion, Caccamo said Council on Aging Director Melissa Wilson was excited for the council’s programming to return with town buildings reopening soon.

“It sounds like the Council on Aging is really excited to get back to programming. Melissa feels like they are taking all the necessary precautions, they are excited to get the ride service back, they just sent a tent up behind town offices for some community activities, as well as the meal program,” he said.

Ultimately the board unanimously agreed to reopen town buildings on June 15 according to recommendations set forth by the Board of Health, while also agreeing to experiment with hybrid in-person and virtual meetings in the future.

The Board of Selectmen next meets on June 17.

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