TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Council on Aging met on Wednesday, May 13 via teleconference. It was the first teleconference for the COA since the governor’s stay at home orders due to COVID-19.
Chairperson Marilyn Murphy welcomed the members to the meeting, which was also joined by Town Manager Richard Montuori. New members Arthur Costa and Donna Bell were welcomed.
A review of the financials was conducted by treasurer Bob MacInnis. The center has issued refunds for trips that were planned but not able to be executed due to the pandemic.
The COA discussed the status of Senior Center director Nicole Hutcheon. Hutcheon is on unpaid administrative leave related to a criminal investigation and arraignment regarding charges of animal cruelty and witness intimidation.
Montuori explained to the board that Janice Conole, the center’s executive secretary, has been provided an upgrade in salary while she takes on additional responsibility. Montuori has appointed Conole the Acting Director of the center for the interim.
Montuori said that due to the criminal nature of the issue that all matters are confidential. Some members raised concern that the COA was not involved in the decision to appoint Conole, and Montuori explained that the moved had to come very quickly in order to keep operations moving without interruption.
Hutcheon was arraigned via telephone in Lowell District Court on May 6 on three counts of animal cruelty and one count of witness intimidation, according to a press release from the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. Hutcheon was released on personal recognizance and is due back in court on June 23.
At this time, the Senior Center will remain closed to the public. Limited services are being provided and there is outreach happening via telephone, said Conole, explaining that staff is making calls from home.
Conole said grocery shopping was handled for some of the seniors in the early weeks of the stay at home orders. Montuori said that re-opening is an unknown at this time, and will be guided by Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening plan as well as local health officials.
Montuori stressed that the senior center will likely be one of the last places to reopen given the sensitive population it serves. The town will look to other communities and evaluate options, seeking to create social distancing and sanitation guidance.
“We want to have the center run with the utmost safety, hygiene and comfort for the seniors,” said Montuori. “We don’t want to rush it.”
Member Joel Deputat asked for more involvement with the reopening process. The board discussed meeting weekly and has moved its schedule to every Tuesday at 1 p.m. via teleconference. An agenda must be posted and the meetings will take place via teleconference for the foreseeable future.
Residents may watch the meetings on YouTube/TewksburyTV or on Verizon channel 33 and Comcast channel 99. Some members expressed a desire to meet in person at the center and Montuori explained that all COA meetings must be open to the public, and with the limit on 10 person-gatherings, an in-person meeting would not be possible.
The COA reappointed Murphy as chairperson via a roll call vote. There are re-appointments to the board which are due in July, and member Deputat asked that the bylaws be checked along with attendance records for those up for reappointment.
Final comments for the meeting included confidence by members in Conole to assume the role of center director, and praise for Montuori for the handling of the community response during the pandemic.