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Fairhaven delays government changes pending study

FAIRHAVEN – Town Meeting Saturday delayed making any changes to government, instead voting to create a government study committee to review recommendations made by the state’s Department of Revenue.

Last November, the DOR made a series of 34 recommendations for how to save Fairhaven money by streamlining town government.

This spring, selectmen wrote two articles for Town Meeting based on those recommendations that would have consolidated the roles of town treasurer and collector, halved the Finance Committee, dispersed the Board of Public Works and replaced the position of town executive secretary with a town manager.

Town Meeting preempted any discussion of those changes with a debate about instead creating the government study committee to further research the changes.

That committee would consist of seven members appointed by selectmen who would review the DOR recommendations and make recommendations for what to adopt.

Phil Washko, who proposed the government study committee, said that the DOR recommendations needed more time to be analyzed and discussed by the community because its changes “will affect how the town is organized, how it works, and how you as townspeople interact with town government.”

“My interpretation is that (DOR) gave us their report as a set of recommendations and did not intend for us to implement them before doing a study of our own,” he said. “You as Town Meeting deserve to be reassured that all options have been considered with the benefit of a comprehensive study to really know what’s right by our town.”

Washko’s article originally proposed to have Town Moderator Michael Sylvia be the one to appoint the study committee. Town Meeting voted to change that to give the Board of Selectmen appointing authority after some members voiced concerns about Sylvia having too much power.

“The moderator was elected to moderate town meeting, and giving him this authority, I believe, would be beyond the scope for which he was elected,” Ann DeNardis said. “It would be a more appropriate task for the three members of the Board of Selectmen rather than one person having control over the whole thing.”

Despite the creation of the government study committee, selectmen tried to move forward with the creation of a Town Manager position.

That attempt failed, despite an explanation by Selectman Bob Espindola that current Executive Secretary Jeffrey Osuch has announced his intention to retire “in a couple of years or so.”

“When it comes time to replace him, if we expect someone of the same caliber as Mr. Osuch, we need to post the job as Town Manager,” Espindola said.

In addition to the study committee, Town Meeting also approved a bylaw to halve the height and power output of future Fairhaven wind turbines.

The article passed despite objections made by multiple members of Windwise, a turbine opposition group, who said the constraints were not strong enough.

Curt Devlin had argued that the bylaw contained a “loophole” because it allowed an exemption to setback requirements for a proposed turbine as long as project neighbors signed off on it.

“Imagine being one of five neighbors resisting that,” he said. “There would be a lot of peer pressure.”