TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Board of Selectmen met for a virtual meeting via WebEx on Feb. 9, 2020.
The board observed a moment of silence for senior Town Counsel, Attorney Charles Zaroulis, who died on Jan. 31 of complications from COVID-19. A long-time resident of Lowell and Tewksbury, Zaroulis served as town counsel from 1968 to 2021.
“His knowledge of municipal law can never be matched,” reflected chairman Jay Kelly.
The board also recognized the 49th anniversary of the 1972 Lowell gas explosion.
Resident and business owner Susan Amato called in to the meeting to share her frustrations over license fees during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The businesses in this town have suffered immensely, that’s who we should be taking care of,” she said, emphasizing that businesses bring revenue into town.
She explained that though business is down, she’s continued to pay fees, and explained why she felt the town should think about helping businesses.
The board opened a discussion about license fees. Member Mark Kratman said he had heard feedback from many local businesses and had given guidance about how to receive state and federal aid. He reiterated his view that businesses are being asked to pay a full fee, but the fee is for a fully operational license that can’t be used to its full capability due to coronavirus restrictions.
Kratman noted that many communities have reduced or waived fees, and asked for the board to consider how the town might adjust fees to compete with surrounding communities, noting that the Economic Development committee is working to bring more businesses into town.
Town Manager Richard Montuori reported that to date, the board has waived fees for entertainment licenses and amusement licenses for several businesses.
Member Anne Marie Stronach said that she was not opposed to supporting businesses, but emphasized the need for a process to determine which businesses need the most help, including those who don’t serve alcohol, and offered the possibility of a hardship waiver.
Several board members supported lowering the fee cost, but some were not in favor of a hardship waiver or abatement support.
The board voted to waive fees to 50 percent for club licenses, all alcohol licenses, and wine and malt liquor licenses. Resident Dawn Callahan of TJ Callahan’s Pub thanked the board for lowering fees, saying that it would have a meaningful impact on businesses.
The board returned to a discussion about the proposed human rights committee. Member Jayne Wellman gave an overview of the committee’s mission to educate, advocate, recognize, respond, and celebrate Tewksbury’s diversity, and put forward the possibility of changing the name to the Tewksbury Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to better reflect the mission.
Montuori sent the proposed charter to town department heads where it received support.
Wellman explained that the committee would first embark on a listening tour of the town once formed.
“This is not coming from a place of deficit, but a place of positivity and growth,” she said. “It’s a way for us to engage the community inclusively.”
“I’m looking forward to the work,” said Stronach. “There’s a lot of room for growth in this committee.”
Member Brian Dick asked if there was a specific problem in the community the committee would address: “Can you give me a little bit more direction on why we need this committee?” he asked.
Wellman said the committee would be focusing on education and individual experiences, rather than preconceived problems. Kelly, who felt the new name was “fancy” and “heavy,” proposed the name “Common Ground Committee.”
He felt that the proposal contained “very strong language... it’s almost like this committee would have some authority to be like the police or FBI…[the language] is allowing this committee to do something over the top” in facilitating the resolution of human rights conflicts through referral to the appropriate agency.
Kelly added that he felt the phrase “politically non-partisan” was “scary,” and wanted to take it out to avoid politics; he called for the memo to be “watered down.”
Wellman said there are other committees in town that engage in political advocacy, but the town’s new committee will not be political; she felt that taking out the non-partisan designation would invite politics in, adding that the committee can invite people in to discuss issues in a respectful, confidential way.
Kelly emphasized the need to observe open meeting laws. Stronach said that changing the title would change parts of the mission, and agreed with Kelly that parts of the document should be removed and revised, emphasizing that the committee should focus on being proactive rather than reactive.
Member Brian Dick said he “didn’t want to rush such an important committee,” and proposed making changes and edits.
Kratman shared concerns over the makeup of the nine member committee, remarking that he hadn’t heard from the public yet and wanted to gather comments.
“I don’t want to leave anyone out,” he said.
The board voted to continue the issue to the next meeting to allow time to gather feedback and edits from members.
Montuori gave a report on the recent nor’easter that dumped 19-inches of snow on Tewksbury in a 14-hour period. The DPW had 24 vehicles working for 32 and one-half hours to move snow, alongside 47 contractors who worked an average of 19 hours each.
The town is working to improve dispatch operations. The DPW received 50 complaints during the storm, and 10 complaints after. Montuori said the storm was the worst since 2015, and the town had lots of new contractors and smaller equipment, resulting in some streets being missed or delayed.
Members thanked Montuori and the DPW for their hard work through the storm. Montuori encouraged residents with non-emergencies to email the DPW through the town website in future storms, but emphasized that they should contact the DPW during emergencies.
Montuori reported that coronavirus vaccinations are moving in a good direction. The town recently moved from the red zone of positive cases to the yellow zone, and the governor returned capacity limits to 40 percent.
The town is developing a plan to have a vaccination clinic at the senior center and will be receiving 40 initial doses, followed by 100 doses per week. Residents can use the state’s website to register for appointments or call into the state’s hotline at 211 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Only eligible residents may receive vaccinations at the senior center. Montuori added that Lowell General Hospital will be opening a vaccination center for Tewksbury residents, who may start registering at lowellgeneral.org/covidvaccine.
In committee reports, Stronach shared that the Public Events Committee is working to see what events might be possible to hold in the coming months.
Wellman shared that the Small Business Association is extending the deadline for economic injury loans; she recently held virtual office hours and had several attendees. Wellman added that the Beautification Committee is working to develop design guidelines for South Tewksbury and is considering discontinuing the Adopt-an-Island program.
Kelly said that the North Street and Trahan Reuse Committee is meeting with town committees and talking to residents to discuss what might happen with the old elementary school lots.
Members noted that residents had raised concerns over Verizon Internet charges increasing.
Montuori said that the town’s contact at Verizon said that the company is providing notice for a new plan, and residents may be charged extra for going over their data limit. Residents are encouraged to watch their data usage and check their plans.
The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2021. Residents wishing to comment may find the call-in number on their screen and on the meeting agenda on the town website. The meeting may be viewed on Comcast channel 99 and Verizon channel 33.