Town Manager Preps Select Board for March 17 Meeting on COVID-19

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The following was written by Town Manager Jodi Ross.

As you know President Trump declared a National State of Emergency and Governor Baker declared a Massachusetts State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 situation. I am recommending the Board of Selectmen also declare a Local State of Emergency in Westford at the meeting on March 17, 2020. The Westford Board of Selectmen has done so at least three times in the past 11 years, but all of the former declarations were because of major winter storms when our operations were significantly impacted. Please see attached for the implications of this declaration.

In my opinion, our town’s primary goals right now should be to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by doing our part locally, to ensure our first responders have the appropriate equipment and protocols in place to protect themselves, so we may continue to provide emergency response and other public safety services to our residents and others, and to protect our town officials and staff in order to continue our local town government operations.

As of Friday (March 13) at noon, town offices were closed to the public. These offices included the Town Hall, Cameron Senior Center, Water Department, Highway Department, and the J.V. Fletcher Library (as of March 16).

As you know our schools are also closed, including Nashoba Valley Technical High School, and the Roudenbush preschool programs. Our goal is to decrease social contact and increase the positive effects of social distancing to reduce our community’s spread of the virus and to enable us to sustain town operations. If our town employees become ill with this virus, or an outbreak were to occur and spread through our town offices, town services could be seriously impacted.

We need to be able to continue payroll, accounts payable, purchases for our first responders, highway department operations, individualized assistance for our seniors, and other town services to the best of our ability. Our town employees will continue to work to provide our town services, however in a different manner. This will include a combination of working in our public buildings or working remotely where it makes sense to do so. We are working on procedures to ensure we are providing the services our residents require.

I have asked all boards and committees to temporarily postpone nonessential meetings for now. We need to continue our local government, but in ways that reduce the risk of exposing our officials, staff and residents to this virus. Those boards who have time sensitive or essential functions will begin meeting remotely and virtually. We are working on the methods for this with the Board of Health who are conducted its meeting on Monday, March 16 at 8:30 a.m. using this method, followed by the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17  at 7 p.m. We hope to have video available, allow streaming by WestfordCAT, and allow participation from the public as much as possible. Please bear with us while we work out any technical difficulties.

Decisions to be considered on March 17 include:

  • Supporting recommendations above – consider expanding to include cancelation of all non-emergency or time sensitive meetings.
  • Consider implementing other actions – should the board limit usage of town fields for organized sports, limit large events on the town Common, etc.
  • Delaying town meeting to a date certain – possibly May 2, 2020, before the scheduled town-wide election – may be revisited up to 14 days prior to town meeting when posting is required.
  • Consider seeking legislation to change town election date – may not be necessary if Governor declares order related to such.

It would be my suggestion that any decisions  Select Board members make be revisited in two weeks or at their next regularly scheduled meeting. As you know that would be Tuesday, March 24.

Please let me know if you have questions.

Here is a recap of other local community actions:

  • Groton (closed to public, delayed Town Meeting and election)
  • Dracut (closed to public, article says there will be staff onsite to answer phones)
  • Lowell (closed to public, city employees still working within city buildings)
  • Littleton (closed to the public until 3/29)
  • Tewksbury (nothing posted yet)
  • Burlington (still open as of Friday)
  • Acton (Town buildings closed to public until 3/23)
  • Tyngsborough (nothing on website)

Reference: https://www.lowellsun.com/2020/03/13/lowell-and-groton-close-buildings-to-public/

Jodi Ross is the town manager of Westford.