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Cheshire to Address Emergency Lighting, Signage in Public Buildings

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will address broken emergency lighting and signage in public buildings. 
The Selectmen met again with the Finance Committee on Tuesday night to go over the draft budget and they discussed further building maintenance and some immediate concerns over safety.
Specifically the lack of working exit signs and emergency lighting in town buildings.
"We definitely need to address this," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said. "We can't have employees working in this situation and we have to address it."
Francesconi said much of this became apparent after a recent building walkthrough with a contractor.
Emergency lighting does not work in Town Hall, the fire station, and the community center. She said some fire extinguishers throughout town are not compliant.
She said the Selectmen were made aware of some of these issues years ago but nothing was ever done.
Smoke detectors are also a concern and Francesconi said there is a single smoke detector in the community center.
She said she is awaiting a quote for the project but anticipates it will beyond town staff. She said the item will likely have to be a warrant article.
"I can't imagine that it is going to be cheap," she said.
In general, the Selectmen felt the town needed to keep better track of various town projects and how much is spent on different town buildings.
In other business, the Selectmen continued their discussion on the harbor master and whether he or she should be appointed for life.
Selectman Robert DeAngelis said he talked with the West Stockbridge harbor master who agreed that appointing someone for life was odd. 
He added that in his discussion with the West Stockbridge harbor master he found that harbor masters have a slate of important duties.
"They have quite a bit of power and have a lot of duties," he said. "They can carry a firearm and they are almost a police officer on the water."
He said the mayor or select boards in most communities appoint the harbormaster. He said this appointment is renewed every few years and that the governing body often sets duties and salaries.
Francesconi felt that a new job description was important and goes along with the town's goal of cleaning up job descriptions town-wide. 
"It is something that we are working towards," she said. "It is hard to hold someone in negligence of duty if we don't have those duties listed. We need a written document so I think this conversation needs to be continued."
There is no word of this on the books in Cheshire and the Selectmen had no idea why the position is appointed for life.
"No one knows where it came from," DeAngelis said. "Maybe someone had the job for a long time and made it up so no one bothered them." 
Interim Town Administrator Mark Webber said it was an ongoing joke that town employees and elected officials were appointed for life because they tended to stay in their positions for long periods of time.
DeAngelis said maybe the joke became the status quo.
"Maybe it was a joke and it stuck because people heard it so much," he said.
The Selectmen agreed that a larger discussion in regard to the job description needed to be had with the Lake District and the police chief. DeAngelis suggested that the harbor master lives near or on the lake, or at least in town. 
"If there are accidents and what not and we need to make sure everyone is following the law," he said. 
The current harbor master is the former Highway Superintendent Blair Crane. Although he no longer lives in town, he does return to address his harbor master duties.
Before closing, the Selectmen thanked DeAngelis for his service.
"Thank you for your time and your service to the town," Francesconi said.
DeAngelis will not seek a new term.
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Cheshire Selectmen Discusses Town Meeting Results, Considers Job Descriptions

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Staff

CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen is excited to welcome a new full-time town administrator to Cheshire.

The board discussed at its regular meeting Tuesday the results of the town meeting earlier this week. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said that Monday's town meeting brought "amazing news with the approval of the town administrator position."

The rest of the board agreed. Member Ray Killeen said that "early on … you knew which way [the vote for the full-time town administrator] was going," based on the comments by the town members and the applause that greeted those who supported the measure.

Francesconi said the town's selection for the post, Jennifer Morse, will be able to start soon after July 4. The board, however, has not yet negotiated her contract.

Some board members expressed disappointment that the recall measure, Article 17, did not pass. They said that in hindsight, they should have had some guidelines as to what type of behavior rose to the level of recall. They also said they should have upped the required signatures to oust a current member to more than 3 percent of registered voters, or 100 signatures, whichever was lower, as many of the criticisms of that measure centered around the low number of signatures.

Killeen said some voters may also have been confused about the change of some town officials (town clerk, tax collector) from elected to appointed. He said they may not have been aware that this would come up for a vote later, and that their vote at the town meeting was not final.

In other news:

  • The board reviewed job descriptions for some of the appointed officials in town. Members spent a lot of time discussing the harbormaster position, saying they wanted it to be a more educational position, rather than a punitive one.
  • Francesconi asked Police Chief Tim Garner if they could re-letter the harbormaster boat to say "Harbormaster." Currently it says it is owned by the Police Department, but because the harbormaster position is not a law-enforcement officer, Francesconi argued that the current boat-lettering could confuse some swimmers and boaters.
  • Garner reported that he is retiring next year, in 2022, and that he should be succeeded by a full-time police chief.
  • Garner also said police reform efforts in Massachusetts could have some drastic consequences for small-town police departments like Cheshire's. Since Cheshire's department is staffed by mostly part-time officers and its budget is a relatively small part of Cheshire's overall budget, additional training requirements for police departments will likely eat into Cheshire's police staffing.
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