The Board of Aldermen held its first remote meeting Thursday, giving water users a break on late bills and establishing a mayoral order of succession.
Mayor David Allaire called the special board meeting and it was the first to be held via telepresence to conform to the social-distancing guidelines intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Despite some technical glitches — Board President Matt Whitcomb repeatedly called on participants to mute their phone while not speaking due to a variety of noises and occasional echo effects — the meeting appeared to proceed in an orderly fashion, with participants largely hearing one another.
Allaire told the board that he decided at a department head meeting Wednesday to go to “minimal staffing” in City Hall and through all departments.
“Pretty much, police and fire are fully staffed and up and running,” he said. “The offices here, each department has put together a plan of their own ... allowing some folks to go home. Everyone will continue to be paid.”
Allaire said he felt this was the best way to secure the safety of city workers while still providing services to the public.
“We’re going to do as much as we can and the majority will be telephonically or electronically (connected), but there’s still going to be a case or three where someone has to get into the building,” he said. “We’re just kind of going day to day, relying on the messages we’re getting from the state, the health department.”
City Treasurer Mary Markowski asked the board to approve a measure delaying penalties and interest on water bills by a month. Bills go out next week and are due May 1. The board was in favor, with the discussion centered on whether to delay further. The motion was unanimously approved with a motion to revisit the question before the interest and penalties would come due.
City Attorney Matthew Bloomer noted that the actual due date was not changed, saying the city does need some revenue coming in and that it would like water users who can pay their bill on time to do so.
The Board also approved an order of succession for the mayor’s office. The president of the Board of Alderman serves as acting mayor if the sitting mayor leaves town or is otherwise incapacitated. Beyond that, Bloomer said, the charter calls on the board to vote in one of its members if needed.
“Given the nature of the emergency, I thought it would be prudent to pre-select three folks,” he said.
Bloomer said he solicited the board’s choices to he could “aggregate them offline” and present the board with a slate. That slate was Alderwoman Sharon Davis, Alderman Chris Ettori and Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey, in that order. The slate was unanimously approved.
The board also sent a proposal to the Charter and Ordinance Committee to take $100,000 from the city’s business incentive fund and create a disaster loan program for local businesses.
Finally, the board voted unanimously to extend the lease on the former College of St. Joseph gym, which was set to expire at the end of this month, through June 30. Bloomer said the terms with the building’s new owner, Heritage Family Credit Union, were essentially the same as the ones with the college.
“Once we get a month or two in here, we’ll be discussing what the potential next leg of the lease would look like and whether there’s an interest in purchasing the property,” Bloomer said.