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Posting confusion confounds meeting

Sturbridge officials delay decisions to avoid violation

July 14, 2009
STURBRIDGE — Miscommunication was only the beginning.

At a meeting between the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health Monday, July 13, nearly everyone in the room had a different understanding as to why they were all together — and if that was OK.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Mary Blanchard first alluded to the joint meeting being called to discuss a Board of Health issue dating back to February.

Linda Cocalis, chairman of the Board of Health however, said that the undisclosed issue pertained specifically to former Town Administrator James Malloy, and that like Malloy, the problem has all but vacated Town Hall.

"They're issues that I think somewhat have been resolved already," Cocalis said.

Freshman Selectman Thomas Creamer indicated that not being on the board in February, he was not even aware of the issue they spoke of, and was under the impression that the Board of Health was present for a requested update on the status of their operations.

The legality of the meeting came into question as well when it was announced that the Board of Health did not post the date as an official meeting, as they were invited to the selectmen's meeting by Malloy prior to his departure.

Cocalis initially suggested recusing John Degnan from her board to the audience to avoid violating the open meeting law with a quorum participating in the meeting. Interim Town Administrator Michael Racicot explained that as long as the Board of Health did not vote or make any official decisions, they would not be in violation of the law.

Degnan ended up being the first member of the Board of Health to make a presentation to the selectmen, speaking on the issue of H1N1 inoculations.

Degnan, who is also the program consultant for the Massachusetts Region 2 Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coalition, explained that 20-percent of the H1N1 vaccine being produced will be available to different municipalities by September, and that Sturbridge will have to coordinate operations with the Tantasqua Regional School District to see that the immunizations are distributed to all staff and "kids from high school all the way down to preschool."

"There will be supplies coming from the federal government," including the vaccine itself, along with syringes and the proper equipment to dispose of them, as well as gloves and masks according to Degnan.

One population that will have to be closely monitored by the schools Degnan said, is that of the students who do not receive the immunization for whatever reason.

"There will be no field test, so the first administering will be to the people actually getting the vaccine," Degnan said, a fact that may make some parents shy away from the two-shot immunization.

Because the vaccine will be in such high demand — especially if outbreaks of the flu become more prevalent — stipulations on the federal assistance require 24-hour police presence wherever it is stored.

Rather than paying an officer round the clock for the two weeks the vaccine is in town — recipients must wait up to a week in between the two injections — Selectman Scott Garieri suggested locating refrigerators or cold storage units to the Police Department for storage since there is already 24-hour security there.

"Anything recoverable has to be returned to the federal government," Degnan said of any unused vaccine.

Segueing into the Board of Health's next topic, Degnan reminded selectmen that the biggest vulnerability to Sturbridge is not the potential of a flu outbreak, but is actually the vehicles traveling on the MassPike and Route 84.

Cocalis then brought up the issue of the town's food and accommodations inspector Ron Woolhouse's responsibility to respond to truck rollovers in those areas when foodstuffs are involved.

Cocalis cited a recent incident during which Woolhouse had to place n embargo on a truckload of pound cake made its way to the pavement following an accident on the Pike.

The concern she brought up was the board's inability to properly compensate Woolhouse for his emergency work such as the pound cake incident beyond his allotted stipend despite the fact that a revolving account was established for unexpected expenses incurred by the Board of Health.

Referencing e-mail correspondence between herself and Malloy, Cocalis explained that they did not have the authority to use those revolving funds to pay Woolhouse.

The Board of Selectmen will review the wording of the account's regulations and explore possibilities of having money more readily available for the inspector when called during what would otherwise be off-hours.

John Booth, manager of the Sturbridge Recycling Center also addressed the board on some improvements made at the center, including stabilizing the overall building — which Booth said was built with no foundation — as well as upgrading the electrical system.

"We're living in the '70s and it's not the '70s anymore," said Booth, indicating that the building was constructed before there were blanket building codes.

Both boards said they are currently considering either instating a fee for recycling or adopting a pay-as-you-throw method of collection in order to increase revenue to the town from the Recycling Center.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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