Complaint: Hadley vaccination policy passed without public input

  • Hadley Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2021 2:06:49 PM

HADLEY — A former member of the town’s Select Board is alleging the current board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when it adopted a new policy related to COVID-19 vaccinations and access to municipal buildings.

The complaint, filed by John Allen of Middle Street last week, cites the board’s action at its May 12 meeting, coming during a topic titled “COVID-19 update,” that has typically been an opportunity for a discussion between the Select Board and Board of Health to get updates on the COVID-19 caseload, the outlook for the pandemic and actions to stem infection.

The vaccine policy was presented and adopted as written by Chairman David J. Fill II during that agenda item.

“This caught many by surprise and created considerable confusion,” Allen wrote in the complaint.

The 4-1 vote in favor of the policy, with board member Jane Nevinsmith casting the no vote, was aimed at safeguarding public access, with the policy reading that “the public shall not be denied access to town buildings, facilities, property, or events based upon vaccine status unless otherwise required by law.”

Fill explained that he drafted the policy out of concerns expressed to him that people, including town workers, could be denied entry to Town Hall and other town buildings if they didn’t present proof of vaccination.

Allen, who served on the Select Board from 1985 to 1991, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he believes residents, employees and others should have been able to offer thoughts on the policy, and that the Select Board should follow models used in Northampton and Amherst where an item is publicized and then a first read and second read are done, and public comment is taken, before taking a vote.

“They changed a town public health policy without letting people know what they were doing,” Allen said.

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said the Select Board will respond to the complaint when it meets June 2.

According to the state attorney general’s office website, the public body must respond to the complaint in writing and must send the complainant a response and a description of any action the public body has taken to address it. Afterward, if the response is not deemed suitable by Allen, he would have the opportunity for the attorney general’s office to investigate.

At the meeting, Board of Health Chairwoman Dr. Susan Mosler told Select Board members that she had not seen the proposed policy in advance and that it might be too broad and not geared toward public health.

Nevinsmith, following the meeting, said she was upset with the way the matter was handled and that she and her colleagues might have committed a violation in adopting the policy because it wasn’t in the packet of online materials until the night before the meeting.

“It offered no opportunity for public input from the taxpayers in advance because there was no sense that it was in the offering,” Nevinsmith said.

The adopted policy had an immediate impact on the senior center where Nevinsmith is active because some elders have only been comfortable using the building knowing that people in it are fully vaccinated. An instructor was also worried about teaching an exercise class, and some activities are being moved outdoors as a precaution.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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