TOWN MANAGER REPORT FOR MAY 15, 2020.

Photo:amherstma.gov

Source: amherstma.gov

Editor’s note: Town Manager Paul Bockelman submits a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 12 to 15 pages, provide up-to-date information on what is happening within and across Town departments. The Manager’s Report is usually one of the last items on the agenda and is often taken up late at night, leaving little time for the Manager to do more than mention a few highlights and this is usually all that gets entered into the Council minutes.

This week we present the Town Manager’s Report in full and unedited.

Town Manager Update:

  • Top Line:
    • ARHS Graduation: We will be providing assistance in many ways to help the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2020 celebrate this one-of-a-kind graduation. There are many types of celebrations in store including a car parade through Town and temporary signs placed throughout the community to celebrate the class.
    • Memorial Day: The Director of Veterans Services is working on creating a virtual Memorial Day ceremony in cooperation with the American Legion and VFW. He has invited a Vietnam Veteran who grew up in Amherst to be the main speaker.
    • ADA Survey: We are asking people, especially those who are living with a disability or who work with or live with a person with a disability, to complete a survey form as we work to update our ADA Transition Plan. More information below. Here is a link to the survey forms: https://www.amherstma.gov/3530/ADA-Self-Evaluation-Transition-Plan
    • Health Director: Health Director Julie Federman announced her retirement from service to the Town effective in the Fall. She had anticipated an earlier date, but decided to stay with the Town during the most intense part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • COVID-19: New developments:
    • MMA Reopening Advisory Committee: I am one of thirteen local executives (managers and mayors) who were tapped to serve on a working group to provide feedback about concerns, priorities and resource needs, and to share that information with the administration. A copy of our PowerPoint report is attached. The Committee will extend its role to serve as a policy-making group for COVID-19 related issues for the MMA.
    • Town Hall Reopening Committee: I have established a staff reopening committee led by the Director of Human Resources to determine the steps we need to take to bring staff back to work – especially in Town Hall – as safely as possible. This group will also determine the steps we need to take to reopen the building to the public such as installation of Plexiglas and social distance markings.
    • Committee meetings: I have established a team from I.T., Town Clerk, Town Manager, and Clerk to the Council to develop protocols for (a) scheduling a Zoom meeting and (b) scripts for convening a Zoom meeting. This group will also provide training to all staff who support Town boards and committees and chairs, as needed. We are working off of the work done by the Town Council as the first group to be meeting actively.
    • Summer Events: I expect to be making an announcement about Independence Day Fireworks, summer camps, and other summer activities in the very near future. I want to stay aligned with the guidance from the State.
    • Case Numbers: The case numbers reported previously as wrong have been corrected. Cases in Amherst continue to rise, however, with one cluster (defined as >4 cases) at the Center for Extended Care.
    • Governor Baker issued an order that requires face coverings for all who are in public or in a business. Enforcement will fall to the Town. The Police Department is working closely with the Health Director to ensure education and enforcement is done properly.
    • Stay at Home Advisory: The Governor will review and likely lift his Stay at Home advisory on May 18th. As stated previously, the Town aligns its policies with those of the Center for Disease Control, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and directives and advisories from the Governor.
    • The Town continues to stay ahead of the game with regard to our stock of PPE specifically to address the pandemic.
    • Values. These are the core values that I have used in decision making:
      • Public Health, Public Safety. All of our decisions are based on what is the best decision for the public’s health and the public’s safety.
      • Rely on the science. I and my team read and listen to as much as we can to be aware of the changing nature of this event. But we aren’t experts on everything so we rely on the built-in expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and Massachusetts Department of Public Health to provide broader guidelines.
      • Depend on my people. We have superb, experienced staff working daily in every aspect of our Town government. I trust their judgement and rely on their frank give-and-take to ensure I am making the best decisions in the Town’s interest.
      • Each Person has a Role. We all know our roles. We all speak to our roles. The Health Director speaks to the primacy of public health. The Fire and Police Chiefs and Superintendent of Public Works focus on public safety and the delivery of essential services. The Interim Finance Director keeps an eye on all things financial. And the Assistant Town Manager is central to every discussion.
      • Town is our Focus. The health and safety of our Town – taxpayers, residents, businesses – is our staff’s primary mission. Our taxpayers pay us to make the best decisions we can for the Town and community at large.
  • Outreach:
    • Coffee with Town Manager: 
      • The last Cuppa Joe was on Friday, May 8th with Tony Maroulis from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as our special guest. We had a great turnout and it turned out to be graduation day at the University, graduation day for our Communication Manager, AND Mr. Maroulis’ birthday.
      • The next Cuppa Joe will be on Friday, June 5th at 8:00 a.m.
    • Call-in shows: We will reduce the frequency of our twice-weekly call-in shows and go to once per week. The Communications Manager organizes and runs the shows. On Tuesdays, I and a special guest participate. We have had the Police Chief, Director of Senior Services, and the Emergency Management Director/Fire Chief, the Assistant Town Manager/Director of Conservation and Development, and Superintendent of Public Works. Every Thursday features the Health Director.
  • Appointments:
    • I will be reviewing reappointments for July 1st and begin to forward them to the Town Council for its review. I anticipate having a list to the Town Council by Memorial Day.
  • Outreach and Community Participation Officers (CPOs): 
    • There has been an overwhelming response to the initiative by the CPOs to make and distribute masks and face coverings which are now required for being in public when social distancing is not possible. Many people have jumped into action by making masks and donating them or material to the Town, which we then distribute for free to those in need.
    • In response to one of our social media Tweets, Dodo Case from San Antonio, Texas contacted the Town and offered to provide a box of masks at no charge. Dodo Case is a company that makes high quality phone and iPad cases. They switched production to cloth facemasks and pledged to provide one free mask for every mask they sell. This is a very generous offer. Here is the company’s website: https://www.dodocase.com/products/cloth-mask 
    • Complete Count – United States Census: The Town received a grant of $25,000 from the Secretary of State’s office to expand our efforts to ensure all people in Amherst are counted. Our Census team is working with the Secretary of State’s office to determine how to utilize these funds in a relatively short timeframe. These funds must be expended by the end of the fiscal year.
  • Town-Gown:

Departments:

  • Information Technology (I.T.): Even though the department has limited hours on-site, the staff is able to service all needs either virtually or through socially-distanced hand-offs. For instance, a server at LSSE was damaged by a leaky roof in the Middle School and I.T. were able to be on-site and work remotely to repair the damage so that registration for Cherry Hill Golf Course could continue.
  • Town Clerk:
    • The Clerk’s office is busy certifying nomination papers for those running for state-wide office. The recent change in legislation regarding signature requirements for candidates running for State seats and the extension of the deadline to submit nomination papers has resulted in a daily surge of submissions to the office.
    • Residents continue to renew business certificates and dog licenses.
    • The office is receiving more requests for absentee ballots for the upcoming fall elections amid concerns with COVID-19.
  • Public Safety:
    • Police have responded to more frequent requests to enforce complaints about the lack of social distancing on private parties and the failure to wear masks in public. The Police always respond and typically use the opportunity to educate all involved about the law and the value of proper social distancing and mask wearing.
    • There have been reports of increased speeding throughout the Commonwealth. Officers continue to patrol Town roads for compliance with traffic laws, including speeding. The public is encouraged to notify the Police Department if there are areas that you believe needs additional enforcement efforts.
    • The Town will continue to have a police presence at Puffers Pond, especially as the weather warms up, to prevent gatherings and educate visitors about social distancing.
    • The Fire Department is still answering calls for service and encourages people not to wait to call for help. They have seen people waiting to seek care because of fears of contracting COVID-19 if they go to a hospital.
    • Recent storms have created a small surge in calls in response to tree limbs falling on houses.
  • Human Resources: 
    • The Health Director announced her retirement effective in September or October. Julie Federman had been on a schedule of gradually reducing her hours (5 days to 4; 4 days to 3) as she wound down a stellar career. Then, COVID-19 hit and she agreed to move back to full time – will, really, 7 days a week – to coordinate and provide medical leadership for the Town’s response to the pandemic. She now intends to actually retire and has given me ample notice to find a new Health Director and time to provide for an overlap. There is so much more to say about Julie, but that needs to come at a different time.
    • All Human Resources functions continue including providing support to employees and managing union relationships.
  • Public Works:
    • Hydrant Flushing. The Water Division will begin its annual systematic water main flushing program to clean the distribution system on May 18th, weather permitting. This is an annual chore to flush the water mains and exercise the fire hydrants.
    • Paving.
      • East Hadley Road. Sidewalk work is continuing by a private contractor.
      • South East Street. The paving is complete. Line painting is next.
      • Pelham Road. The paving is complete. Line painting is next.
      • Bids are being reviewed for new work utilizing existing funds including a full depth reclamation with asphalt injection of Henry Street.
    • Staffing. DPW will return to its regular shift schedule for most divisions on May 18th
    • Work. Street cleaning is underway. 
  • Finance: 
    • Budget:
      • The Interim Finance Director and I made a presentation on May 11th to the Town Council, School Committee, and Board of Library Trustees.
      • The Interim Finance Director is reviewing options for FY20, FY21, and beyond. I characterize these options as bad, worse, and worst case scenarios. These options, in more detail, were presented to the Town Council’s Finance Committee on May 12th.
    • The new Finance Director started work on May 11th.
  • Sustainability:
    • Community Choice Aggregation has received funding through the efforts of our State Representative and State Senator. These funds will support the development of an aggregation plan that will be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and the creation of a legal Joint Powers Agreement that would be entered into by the Towns of Amherst and Pelham and the City of Northampton. The purpose of the Aggregation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and the development of local renewable distributed energy resources. 
    • The Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEA) if funding work by Linnaen Solutions to hire technical assistance, interpreters/translators, and to engage a community liaison in the development of a Climate Action, Adaptation and Resiliency Plan. These advocates and advisors will work closely with the Town’s Sustainability Coordinator and other staff with advice from the Town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC). 
    • I am hoping we can open the Valley Bike Share service on or around June 1st. But can not guarantee that can happen.
  • Community Services:
    • Leisure Services: LSSE has opened Cherry Hill Golf Course after the Governor gave permission for golf courses to open. We have reassigned full-time staff to the golf course and will not be hiring part-time staff this year. The Governor’s order has strict rules of how golf courses may operate. LSSE staff have been doing a great job of maintaining the course during the time it has been closed.
    • Senior Center: The Senior Center continues to provide creative and innovative programming for seniors and offering home delivery of food. We have reassigned parking enforcement officers to assist with the delivery of meals.
    • Health Department: As I’ve mentioned, the Health Director announced her retirement to become effective in the Fall. The Health Department, especially the Health Director, is at the center of every major decision being made by the Town be it the Shelter, cloth face coverings, or swimming pools.
  • Conservation and Development:
    • ADA Transition Plan. The Town is updating its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan. The project is grant-funded through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The existing Self Evaluation Plan & Transition Plan was last prepared in 2006 and is now outdated. Utilizing a consultant with expertise in this area, the Town will conduct a thorough self-evaluation of the Town’s public facilities, programs, services, activities, and events to determine compliance with the ADA and any barriers to accessibility. Once the Self-Evaluation is complete, the Town will develop a Transition Plan to prioritize the identified barriers and how they will be corrected.  We are seeking input from the community, organizations assisting persons with disabilities, and Town Staff to assist in addressing and prioritizing current and future accessibility needs. Here is a link to the survey: https://www.amherstma.gov/3530/ADA-Self-Evaluation-Transition-Plan The deadline for completing the survey is July 11th.
    • Supportive Housing at 132 Northampton Road: The Town Attorney conducted a training session for the Zoning Board of Appeals on the ins-and-outs of a Chapter 40B, comprehensive permit. Deadlines for this project are can be adjusted due to the tolling of permit dates granted by the State.
    • Housing Choice Designation: The Planning Department is submitting an application to renew its Housing Choice Designation. This designation makes the Town eligible for funds that benefit low and moderate income people.
  • Economic Development: 
    • The Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District made a presentation to the Town Council.
    • Staff will present a proposal to the Town Council that would provide for a temporary moratorium to expedite the permitting of restaurants as part of the reopening of the local economy.
    • Staff is reviewing options to utilize CDBG funds to provide support for local businesses during this difficult time.
    • The Amherst Farmers Market, working with staff, will present its latest proposal to place the Market on the Town Common on Monday.

Delegated Authority (April 2020):

  • Short-Term Event Uses of Town Commons: None
  • Short-Term Parking Requests: None
  • Short-Term Road or Sidewalk Closures: None

Major Capital Projects:

  • Groff Park: Construction continues. Work on the project continues.
  • DPW/Fire: No developments
  • Schools: We met with staff of the MSBA review the timeline and expectations for the MSBA funding. I will be seeking applicants to serve on a building committee for this project.
  • Library: A small group reviews the library project and scopes out options for the future.

Project Update:

  • Destination: Amherst!
    • Kendrick Park Playground: LSSE, DPW, and the Planning Department continue to move this project forward. 
      • All material can be found on the project page found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/3527/Kendrick-Park-2020 
      • On May 6th, there was a well-attended virtual Public Hearing before the Planning Board for Site Plan Review of the design of the playground with the opportunity for public input.
      • The Town must submit its plans to the State by June 1st.
      • Construction is expected to begin in September with a completion date of June, 2021.
    • Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: No developments.
    • Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: No developments.
    • North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: No developments.
    • Infrastructure Improvements: The Town will be working on other infrastructure improvements so that we are prepared to apply for “shovel-ready” project should the government seek to jump-start the economy.
  • Hickory Ridge: No developments.
  • East Street School: No developments
  • North Amherst Library: The anonymous donor has expressed interest in continuing with this project so we will be moving this forward.
  • Solar on the Landfill: Slow, steady progress continues to be made as we work through the permitting and interconnection approvals. We are projecting construction to begin in November of 2021 and operation to begin in April of 2022. 
  • Dog Park: The dog park is moving forward with significant funding from the Stanton Foundation. Bids for construction are in and an award will be made soon.

Upcoming Meetings and Events:

  • May 25th – Memorial Day holiday
  • June 1st – Town Council meeting
  • June 15th – Town Council meeting
  • June 29th – Town Council meeting

Other events:

  • May 21st – 12:00 noon – COVID-19 Call-in Show
  • May 28th – 12:00 noon – COVID-19 Call-in Show
  • June 4th – 12: 00 noon – COVID-19 Call-in Show
  • June 5th – 8:00 a.m. – Cuppa Joe with Paul
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