ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health endorsed a report from Code Enforcement Officer Mark Blaisdell stating that the Parks Commission's allegation that the Little League did not enforce mask-wearing during its season was baseless.
"Mistakes may have been made and this is just our way of saying let's understand and let's move on," Chairman David Rhoads said Wednesday.
Late last year, the Parks Commission Chairwoman Cynthia Bird told her colleagues that she received reports that the Little League did not enforce mask-wearing. She said she received this information from the soccer league, which shares the field with the baseball league.
The commission took no action because the Little League season was over. But it did agree to discuss the issue with the league at some point.
Blaisdell first noted that the Parks Commission is not an investigative or enforcement entity in regard to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. He said this responsibility lies with himself, the Board of Health, and -- outside of business hours -- the Police Department.
He then read that he was unable to find any evidence via photos, videos, social media postings, or communications that would indicate that there was a clear violation.
"The Adams Little League was accused, tried, and convicted on mere hearsay, conjecture, and speculation by an individual or collected layman interpretations," he said.
Blaisdell referred to the iBerkshires.com article that stated Bird had discussed the matter with Blaisdell prior to the December meeting. Although he agreed this was insinuated at the Parks Commission meeting, he said this never happened.
He added that Bird was wrong to bring this up at a public meeting without it being on the agenda. He said it would also have been better to reach out to himself and the involved parties before the Dec. 14 meeting.
Blaisdell said he began his investigation on Dec. 21 and reached out to the Parks Commission for any evidence it may have that backed up the statement. He said he also asked them to call a meeting to discuss the subject. But, he said, he was provided with no evidence and a meeting was never called.
"This strongly suggests to me that their ... conclusions were seriously flawed and the determination of their findings and determinations at the public meeting were markedly premature and not consistent with the mask and face-covering exemptions allowed within the COVID-19 orders," he said.
Blaisdell said there are exemptions to the face-covering guidelines that are situational and that differ from sport to sport and from season to season. He said there are medical and conditional exemptions and, at the time, families were allowed to view sports together without masks if they were part of the same household.
He said professionals, like himself, are responsible for making these determinations, not the Parks Commission.
He said he also reached out to the Soccer League and the Little League but only heard from the Little League.
Blaisdell said he thought the point of contention was use of the field between the leagues. He believed that the Soccer League did not want to share the field and was specifically concerned about the only entrance to the field that "bottlenecked" and compromised social distancing.
He suggested that the field not be used because of this in the future while the state of emergency is still active.
In conclusion, Blaisdell said the Parks Commission refused to cooperate with his investigation and alleged that Bird went as far as to go to the town administrator asking him to "quash" it.
Blaisdell asked that the Board of Health endorse his report, extend an apology to the Little League, and that Bird abstain from future discussions connected to the Little League and Soccer League.
"Ms. Bird should be required to abstain from any future input or approvals pertinent to the facility use by the Soccer League and the Little League due to an obvious prejudice and bias," he said.
He added that if any organization be "called out" it should be the Soccer League for not cooperating in the investigation.
Parks Commissioner Jacob Schutz was on the call and did not disagree with Blaisdell's findings but felt his report was wrongly accusatory.
"I operate under the impression that people are working with good intentions and people make mistakes," he said. "But this report sounds very accusatory and does not look to find a better path forward to correct any mistakes."
He felt Bird was on trial and noted that the statement that the commission did not cooperate was incorrect. He said he did not provide evidence because he did not have any.
"I did not provide any evidence because I didn't have any," he said. "That does not mean I did not cooperate with this investigation. It is statements like that in this report that I take objection to."
Rhoads agreed with Shutz as far as the "absence of evidence was not evidence of absence."
Rhoads agreed that Bird's intentions were most likely good and added that misinterpretations often arise during these remote meetings. He also reflected on his own learning curve when it came to the Open Meeting Law and sympathized with the commission.
Schutz still asked that these accusations be struck from the report.
Blaisdell reiterated that when he asked the commission to reconvene it did not. He also noted that he did not bring charges against the commission which, in this context, would be facility managers. Per regulations, facility managers can be charged if they violated COVID-19 restrictions.
Schutz felt this statement was out of order and Rhoads regained control of the meeting.
Rhoads felt the meeting minutes would reflect Shutz's concerns and moved to endorse the report with the amendment that the "accusations at least be considered actions with good intentions."
The vote passed unanimously and Board member Laura Grandchamp asked that the Parks Commission make sure and follow the proper protocols in the future.
"I do want to recognize all of the work you [Blaisdell] put into this," Schutz said. "I won't speak for the commission, but we will take this as a learning opportunity."
Blaisdell stopped Rhoads from moving on to the next agenda item and asked that the Board of Health issue an apology to the Little League.
Rhoads said he would do this, but Blaisdell wanted the board to vote on it.
Board member Peter Hoyt did not see a reason for this and noted the Board of Health did nothing wrong.
"I think this came from a poor choice at a meeting and a report in the news and we are getting involved after the fact," Hoyt said. "Why are we apologizing? I feel bad, but this is not our fault."
Rhoads understood his point but moved to a vote. Hoyt abstained.
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