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Cheshire Selectmen Hear From Highway Superintendent

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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The Selectmen hear from Highway Superintendent Robert Navin, who was upset that his name and job was discussed at a meeting he did not attend. 
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The relationship between the Board of Selectmen and recently hired Highway Superintendent Robert Navin has been a work in progress since his hiring last fall. Perhaps no more so than the past couple meetings.
 
Navin was not present at the prior Selectmen's meeting to give his weekly recap of activities when a discussion arose about the possibility of him providing a "look ahead" for future projects. It was part of a larger discussion, initiated by Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi, about town departments in general being more proactive when providing the Board of Selectmen with information rather than just recapping their previous actions.
 
Navin wasn't opposed to the idea but made it clear that in the future, when his name or department is brought up, he would like to be present. Also he feels a recap of the week's doings is an effective way to keep the public informed.
 
"My name was brought up numerous times, my job was brought up. I have the right to be here if I'm discussed. I feel I was violated with that. I'm not pursuing it in any way, shape or form as long as the board's aware that I was not OK with some of the things I heard on the tape," He said. "I know it's always an issue of what we're doing and how we're doing it. If somebody sees one of our trucks down in Deerfield ... why would one of the trucks be down there? That's why I throw things like that (dropping a truck off for repair, picking up material) in there. So if anybody does have any questions it justifies it in the open meeting."
 
Navin also feels an airing of ongoing mechanical issues with vehicles might soften the blow when he brings a request for a new vehicle in front of the board.
 
"By the townspeople hearing me talk about Truck 2, which is retired now with the motor [issue], for weeks I kept saying I had to put more money into it. I was referring to it as a money pit, because it was. When something big finally came it wasn't worth doing it and people had already heard me saying that so they understood," he told the board.
 
Francesconi made it clear that her original intention was not to discuss Navin or his job specifically but to hit on a broader topic of how town departments could better inform the board and residents of upcoming goals and projects.
 
"The discussion was never about you. It was a broader scope. The focus became ... solely the Highway Department reports. It was intended to be all different reports including the town administrator's report. It became all about you. It wasn't supposed to be that," she told Navin. "I felt it would be more helpful to us as a board to project what we are anticipating or what are your broad reaching goals. Moving forward, what are some cost issues we might encounter? Where are we going to have to appropriate money?"
 
Navin said he will try to incorporate some look ahead in the weekly reports but does not want to stop the practice of recapping his crew's activity from the previous week.
 
"I think there should be a combination. I still believe in reading it out so people get to hear it. Seeing it in the minutes, sometimes it's 2-3 weeks later. The few minutes it takes to read [the report] I think is beneficial," he said.
 
While Navin had the board's attention, he asked them to start the hiring process for a general laborer position on his crew. 
 
"To get another person in before we get into the spring season, to get us back up to a full crew, would be incredibly helpful to us."
 
No vote was needed but the board agreed to start the process with Navin, Selectman Ron DeAngelis, and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV vetting the candidates.
 
Francesconi wants to keep the town's feet to the fire when it comes to transparency and the Open Meeting Law. The Board of Selectmen ran afoul of the law last year in it's Department of Public Works hiring process and she wants to make sure it doesn't happen to them, or any other town body, again.
 
The Selectmen routinely post their meetings on the town website and also in paper form at Town Hall. Other boards and committees post their meetings at Town Hall but not always on the website. Although this meets the attorney general's standards, Francesconi feels the town could do better.
 
"As a policy it's a promise to the public that we're going to conform to a certain criteria. A decision by the Board of Selectmen that this is how our town is going to handle the posting of meetings."
 
Meetings of boards and committees must be posted through the town clerk and then posted in a prominent place. Using a website alone is not sufficient. Cheshire has historically posted its meetings by the back door of Town Hall but is currently looking into getting a lock box to install outside Town Hall to make the postings more accessible. The website would be used as a supplement to this method.
 
Francesconi's concern stemmed not only from last year's violation by the Selectmen but also a recent Planning Board meeting regarding the controversial Stafford Green marijuana proposal that some residents felt was not properly posted or sufficiently publicized.
 
"There have been a few Planning Board meetings that the residents felt like they didn't get enough advance notice. And then they didn't know what was on the agenda. The only copy of the agenda available was on the handicap back lower entrance window of Town Hall," she said. "I went the day before the meeting and it wasn't there so I don't know how long it was actually on that window. There are some hot-button topics, especially with the Planning Board, right now and people want to know when those meetings are. You aren't just going to keep driving by Town Hall on the off chance that you might find the time of the meeting. But you might check the website."
 
St. John has been researching other towns' policies and said he would get back to the board at a future meeting.
 
The next Board of Selectmen meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 6:30.
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Cheshire Finalizing Plans For Appalachian Trail Tent Site

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Staff

Appalachian Trail Committee's Eileen Quinn talks to the board Tuesday night regarding the new hikers tent site.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday looked to finalize plans for the new Appalachian Trail tent site. Trail Committee Chairwoman Eileen Quinn was in attendance and had some news for the board as well as some questions to be answered before the anticipated early May opening.
 
The tenting project has been in the works for a while but gained serious traction in early 2019 when a site was agreed upon and some other logistical issues were sorted out. 
 
Quinn and the board covered several topics large and small, including utilities, rubbish, and perhaps most importantly, lavatories.
 
"It's not too early to start thinking about our transition and setting up our new site that the town approved last year. There are three books out there for hikers and there's an app that people use all the time. We changed all that to remove St. Mary's (the local parish had been an 'unofficial' campsite for trail users) and to put the new site on there and to advertise that it will be open by May 1st," she said. "I've already lined up way ahead of time the porta-potties so we could get the color green, which is better than the brighter colors. I was able to get them for the whole season."
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