Deerfield Select Board commits to hybrid meetings, lays out fiscal year priorities

  • From left, Deerfield Select Board members Carolyn Shores Ness, Trevor McDaniel and David Wolfram during annual Town Meeting in June. The board committed to hybrid meetings for the foreseeable future and laid out its priorities for the new fiscal year during its Wednesday meeting. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2021 6:55:04 PM

DEERFIELD — The Select Board committed to hybrid meetings for the foreseeable future and laid out its priorities for the new fiscal year during its meeting last week.

As the town emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and meetings return to in-person formats, the board stated its intention to continue to attempt hybrid meetings despite any technical difficulties that may arise.

Select Board member David Wolfram said hybrid meetings are allowing for more public participation than he’s seen in years.

“I’m in favor of continuing hybrid until the glaciers come back,” Wolfram said jokingly. “In the number of years that I’ve participated in local government, we’d have an average of two people. Right now we have 19 people signed on (to this meeting). Even though they might not be participating, they’re listening and better informed on what’s happening in Deerfield.”

Sound feedback, low volume and unmuted mics on Zoom are a few of the issues Select Board member Trevor McDaniel said the board will work through, much like how they adjusted on the fly to the pandemic last year.

“We’re doing the best we can with technology,” McDaniel said. “We learned all along last year and we’ll figure this out, too.”

Last month, the Select Board authorized $7,500 to buy improved audio and video equipment for the ease of conducting hybrid meetings.

McDaniel said the board is willing to take the time and money to pursue hybrid meetings because it facilitates public participation, but he mentioned if someone really wants to have their voice heard then they should physically attend the meeting.

“We’re going to do the best we can to make sure you can hear us,” McDaniel said. “If there’s something really interesting to you and you want to participate in democracy, come to Town Hall.”

While the Select Board is choosing to hold hybrid meetings, it is up to each board and commission in town to decide which format to use for meetings. Assistant Town Administrator Jennifer Gannett said each board has the choice to be in person, hybrid or fully remote.

Town Administrator Kayce Warren said hybrid meetings are the most difficult to hold because of issues that arise when dealing with technology.

“In terms of dealing with technological issues, we respectfully request people’s patience,” Warren said.

The board also laid out its priorities for fiscal year 2022, which include the wastewater treatment plant, senior housing, and a possible social worker position.

While McDaniel said the wastewater treatment plant is the highest priority, it was the preliminary talk about the social worker position that generated the most discussion on Wednesday.

Resident Annie Curtis, who is a social worker, said she sees a “huge need in the community” for a mental health professional. She mentioned how many people don’t suffer the mental health consequences of a traumatic experience, like the pandemic, until months later and that surge may be coming to Deerfield.

“After this year especially, we’re all hurting,” Curtis said. “For a very low cost, we could save lives.”

The town is still far away from creating a social worker position because of budgetary and contractual reasons, but both McDaniel and fellow Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness said it would be better for the town to partner with an existing organization, should the position be created.

“Partnering with somebody with experience is better than ourselves,” Shores Ness said. “We have too much on our plate already.”

In other business, the board thanked Highway Superintendent Kevin Scarborough for doing everything he could do to help repair damages caused by all the rain in the past week.

“There’s a lot of things unstable, particularly trees,” Wolfram said. “There’s only so much you can do. The town of Deerfield has more than 100 miles of road in it.”

River Road was damaged by the heavy rains and the board highlighted its repair as one of its priorities.

“If we drag our feet any longer, we won’t have River Road anymore,” Wolfram said.

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