The board met once again with public participation largely limited to online platforms. The board approved the minutes of our June 18 meeting. No opening public comment was offered.
A routine approval of a driveway permit release of bond for 17 Tatetuck Trail was granted. The board approved the award of the bid for a new police car to Gengras Ford LLC in the amount of $33,586.00. There was one other bidder which was for more money but was for a 2021 vehicle.
The board appointed Frank Pagliaro to the Cemetery Commission to fill the unexpired term which runs until Dec. 1, 2022.
Diversity and Inclusion Task Force
A draft charge for an Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (EDIT) was presented by resident Lise Fleuette. The task force is an outgrowth of the heightened awareness of racial bias in our country and the sense that every community has a duty to do its part to address the issue. The proposal calls for a five-member body with two alternates. The body would be charged with helping the town and the boards of education in addressing various aspects of racial bias and how it impacts our community. Many towns are looking into adopting similar entities.
Racism — Public Health Crisis
Resident Elaine O’Keefe presented the board with a request to adopt a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. About a dozen towns around the state have already done this or are actively considering doing so. Easton would be the first town in the southwestern part of the state to do this. She will provide the board with proposed language and she will contact Westport and Weston to gauge their interest since we will shortly be associated with them in the Westport Weston Health District. The first selectman indicated the town of Westport is already looking into something similar.
Selectwoman Sogofsky proposed adopting a flag policy. The basic notion would be that only the United States, state of Connecticut, or town of Easton flags may be flown at Town Hall, absent approval of the Board of Selectmen. The other selectmen expressed support for the concept. Sogofsky will provide a draft policy for a future meeting. She will look at the policy on the use of the town seal as a template.
Park and Recreation ordinance
The board further discussed the proposed revised Park and Recreation ordinance. Sogofsky reminded the board that her research shows that most towns house field maintenance in the Park and Recreation Commission, but noted there are various ways to structure how the field maintenance is completed. For example, some towns hire private contractors for the field maintenance and some others have staff that is employed less than 12 months of the year. However, almost all have field maintenance under the jurisdiction of the Park and Recreation Commission.
Selectman Lessler repeated his prior comments about accountability for field conditions needing to be under the jurisdiction of the organization that is responsible for the field, i.e. the Park and Recreation Commission. First Selectman Bindelglass pointed out that some members of the Board of Finance have expressed a strong sense that field maintenance should be moved to the Department of Public Works. The first selectman will arrange to have the views of the Board of Finance presented to the Board of Selectmen so that the selectmen have a clear understanding of the concerns of the Board of Finance.
Westport Weston Health District
The board approved the contract with the Westport Weston Health District and the Memorandum of Understanding. Easton will receive public health services from the WWHD beginning Aug. 1. The term of the agreement is for one year, but could be extended upon agreement of the parties. Easton will receive the full panoply of public health and sanitarian services from the WWHD, although we will not be formally joining the district at this time. WWHD staff will be on site in Easton at least two mornings per week, usually Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 to 11:30. These hours correspond to the current days and hours of the town sanitarian. There will also be a more extensive on-site support staff presence.
Land Use ordinance
The board further discussed the proposed land use ordinance which is intended to require town meeting approval for the sale, purchase or lease of town-owned real property. Lessler and Sogofsky continued to express reservations regarding including lease proposals. The major concerns are this could politicize business opportunities and limit interest in renting space from the town. The board debated whether there is any need for a town-wide vote as to purchases since approval for funding already requires a town-wide vote if the cost is in excess of $20,000. This leaves only the issue of sales of town-owned land. There was a sense that a land use ordinance limited to town-wide approval for sales over a minimum acreage and a minimum sales prices may be appropriate for consideration by the Town Meeting.
Emergency Services consultant
The first selectmen updated the board on discussions regarding the hiring of an emergency services consultant. The Board of Finance and the fire chief have indicated they would like to fund this project in this budget year. Among other considerations, this project could streamline emergency services in town and reduce insurance premiums for residents in the three-acre zone. In prior conversations, members expressed concern about making this expenditure during a budget year kept unusually lean by the Board of Finance due to uncertainties surrounding the impact of the pandemic on town finances.
South Park Avenue property
The town has submitted to the state the proposal to sell approximately 19 of the 29 acres of the South Park Avenue property to the Aspetuck Land Trust. If approved, the state would provide substantial funding for the purchase to the Aspetuck Land Trust. The appraisal for the sale came in at $470,000, which is less than expected. There were concerns about the timing of this plan. However, the South Park Avenue Committee has endorsed the plan to sell this portion of the property now and is not overly concerned about its impact on the value or marketability of the remaining portion.
The first selectman updated the board on plans for a revised nuisance ordinance, but there was no significant new information to report. The first selectman reports that playgrounds are now open, the library is open in a limited fashion, the Town Hall is open for the public to make tax payments, the schools are actively working on re-opening plans, a search for a new superintendent is moving forward, and plans for a pickle ball court are under consideration.
Closing public comment was received from two residents. One expressed the hope that the board would allow some version of a land use ordinance to come before the Town Meeting for its consideration. This person expressed the view that the public hearing process is not sufficient because sometimes boards ignore the clear majority sentiment at a public hearing. This person also wants leases to be included in an ordinance. This resident also urged caution in pursuing a nuisance ordinance and recalled the strong opposition to such a proposal the last time it came up. Another resident wanted to know if we could have outdoor town meetings at this point.