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Select Board discusses priorities for upcoming fiscal year

by | Jul 21, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board met for nearly two hours on Thursday night to discuss members’ most pressing priorities, reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and brainstorm about overarching town goals.

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer led an icebreaker exercise over pizza called Rose, Bud and Thorn. It prompted Select Board members, Town Manager Norman Khumalo and Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus to share what they considered to be working well in town, challenges encountered and new ideas.

Members Mary Jo LaFreniere and vice chair Shahidul Mannan cited the town’s economic stability as a challenge. Future spending concerned LaFreniere the most.

“It’s just looking like it’s going to be outrageous,” LaFreniere said, noting that public outreach and support will be critical.

Positives she mentioned included the recognition of community volunteers and the activities at the Senior Center. The MWRTA senior shuttle has been helpful as well. She would like to focus her work on senior housing as well as advocating with state legislators for a home rule petition for a tax exemption for older residents during the time period when the town connects to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority system. Some older residents already are discussing leaving town, she said, and she does not want to see them depart for economic reasons.

Said LaFreniere: “We’re going to lose our seniors.”

Mannan said passing this year’s budget was a success, while not knowing about future economic resources is a detriment. Having a new staff member working on economic development issues is a positive, and working on a capital plan may help jump-start economic development.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, he will bring up the possibility of forming an economic development council. The council could review commercial opportunities that will help the town without disrupting its character.

Focus groups can be formed regarding water quality and PFAS issues as well as regarding the Eversource LNG facility to increase transparency and information sharing, he said. LaFreniere raised the possibility of getting state aid if it is determined that the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy training operations in Hopkinton in the 1970s and ’80s contributed to the spreading of PFAS into Well 6 on Fruit Street.

Both Mannan and LaFreniere also raised affordable housing as a goal. LaFreniere suggested looking at other towns to see how they are tackling the issue.

PFAS has been a challenge that is being managed, Mannan added. A focus group could be formed regarding the state of the town’s water quality, with quarterly reports issued to the Select Board.

Hopkinton’s senior leaders have had a positive impact on the town, according to Khumalo. They will engage in a retreat on Monday. Another good thing is that recent vacancies are being filled with qualified people.

“The pain is I have the front seat in getting information about the community’s aspirations,” he said, noting that he continually hears from students and commercial developers about what they envision for Hopkinton.

Said Khumalo: “The painful part is, do we have the resources to address those aspirations?”

Member Amy Ritterbusch shared that while the board and committee appointments were going well, a negative would be the ongoing debate about the future of the Upper Charles Trail Committee. The recent appointment of a sustainability, economic development and equity project manager in this newly created position, she said, holds future promise.

For member Irfan Nasrullah, the progress on the Main Street corridor project has been a rose, with the exception of a delay in receiving the transformers that need to be installed.

A thorn, he said, has been trying to implement policy changes in the Police Department, which has been understaffed in recent months. There has been no active deputy chief since John Porter was placed on administrative leave and eventually charged with child rape. He resigned in May and pleaded not guilty to those charges the following week. Later in May, Sgt. Tim Brennan was placed on paid administrative leave.

Climate change was addressed by Lazarus. She also spoke of the need for a strategic plan for the town, which Khumalo echoed.

Kramer said her positive is that the Select Board works constructively together as a team. A negative is the “divisive times that we live in,” which necessitates building connections for better trust and understanding.

The board discussed focusing on a few key goals. Mannan said he would work on spearheading economic development, a process he called “overdue.” Forming the strategic plan is another one, which Khumalo said will help departments and committees align their goals. Nasrullah pledged to help the UCTC reorganize its structure to “instill more confidence in the public as to what they’re doing” and spoke of the need for downtown revitalization.

One problem Kramer noted is that people talk about the need for commercial development, but individual items have been voted down consistently at Town Meeting. Mannan said that South Street has about a 30% capacity for new businesses without the need for rezoning.

“We really do have to change the mindset of the townspeople,” said LaFreniere. “Because we’ve had a number of chances, good chances.”

One of them is the land across from Hopkinton State Park, which had been proposed for office buildings, as well as another property on Lumber Street.

Members will speak about the goals they would like to spearhead at the next meeting on Aug. 1.

“We can’t any of us do it in a vacuum,” Kramer stressed. “None of us can boil the ocean.”

Police special projects consultant hired

In other news, Chief Joseph Bennett appeared virtually before the board to announce that retired Holliston Police Chief John Moore will serve as a special projects consultant. Moore also is an attorney who worked in an advisory capacity for the town in the past. He retired from the force in 2017.

“His credentials are outstanding,” Bennett said, noting that Moore also has held teaching positions at multiple colleges. “He’s already hit the ground running.”

Moore was brought on to help the department with administrative work and support the command staff. He also will be helping with the department’s accreditation and policy development, particularly on recruitment and promotion, for a department that is younger than in years past and is serving a growing town.

Khumalo noted that he has worked with Moore twice in the past in Hopkinton when there was a previous chief search and in the development of the department’s strategic plan.

Bennett added that Moore will be developing and implementing policies on body camera use and drug testing, as well as public records requests.

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