Athol Selectboard defends support of Municipal Decarbonization Task Force

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-23-2023 4:20 PM

ATHOL – Lee Gersch, a member of the town’s Energy Committee, took the town’s Selectboard to task for failing to name a representative to the recently-formed Municipal Decarbonization Task Force and that the vacancy is delaying its efforts.

Gersch made it clear he was not representing the Energy Committee, but speaking on his own behalf. For their part, board members said the task force could in fact begin holding meetings without a Selectboard participant.

“You guys—the Selectboard—has, I believe, endorsed the Municipal Decarbonization Plan,” Gersch said. “It was recommended by the state that each town employ a climate resilience officer. (Town Manager Shaun Suhoski) did the courtesy of showing up to the Energy Committee where he made it clear that he would not support—he thought there were other more compelling reasons for the town to spend its money.

“So, the secondary recommendation by the state was the formation of a task force; a task force that had two members from the Energy Committee, two members from the FinCom, two members of (Capital Planning), I believe members from EDIC, and a representative from the Selectboard.”

Gersch then pointed out that the Selectboard in recent months has endorsed that plan.

“Frankly, the Energy Committee first requested the formation of this task force 11 months ago and we’re sitting on our hands right now,” he said. “I know not everybody thinks the climate change is a big deal…Maybe you’re willing to take a risk but I won’t. It’s a big risk.”

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He then claimed there has been an “unwillingness” by any member of the Selectboard to serve on the task force, adding he had heard the board intended to appoint someone “who will not be a member of the town executive” to the panel.

“Just to clarify, to bring you up to date and take this right out of the rumor mill, we did have that meeting here, we endorsed the plan, we did try to see if any of the current members seated would have the time to add that committee to what they do,” said board Vice Chair Rebecca Bialecki. “Most of our committee—the Selectboard—all have day jobs, so we’re trying to juggle this.

“We did have someone who had some interest; we do have the right to have someone who is our designee, but that person can’t commit to it. So we are back to try and figure out which one of us can serve. Right now, we are down one member because of Mr. Dodge’s absence and the election coming up in April.”

Bialecki expressed surprise over Gersch’s contention that the lack of a Selectboard member was keeping the task force from beginning its work.

“That’s where it stands,” she continued. “We never said we didn’t want to serve.”

Gersch, however, was insistent. He said the task force has one at-large member and most of the others, but none from the Selectboard, which he sees as critical.

“Why do you have to have a member of the Selectboard?” asked board member Kala Fisher.

“Why is it critical? You have to come to us with anything you’re going to do anyway.”

Gersch then repeated that the makeup of the task force, as approved by the Selectboard, is to include a member of the board.

“And because none of us can do it at this point, it shouldn’t be holding you up,” Fisher replied.

Gersch added the task force hasn’t been able to meet because a second at-large member, as stipulated by the Selectboard, has yet to be appointed.

“(That position) has been advertised,” said Suhoski. “I know it’s been put in the newspaper, I know Bridget posted it, it’s been posted at Town Hall. We can’t make people volunteer for a task force. So keep reaching out; find another citizen.”

Suhoski added that it was three months ago, not 11 as Gersch said, that the board endorsed the task force.

“I speak with the Town Planner every day,” he said. “He does convey concerns as they come up and he is hopeful there will be additional appointments to that.”

“Well, we’re reaching out,” Gersch said. “As far as I know, we’re missing one at-large member and one member from the Selectboard. I think the Selectboard member is critical because it’s the executive authority of our town. I thought they had endorsed the idea of decarbonization, but maybe I’m mistaken.”

“I believe we did,” said Bialecki. “I don’t think we’re at as much conflict as perhaps has been portrayed by this.”

Bialecki suggested that the town Planning and Development Director, who is coordinating the task force, could schedule meetings for another day since all current Selectboard members have other commitments on Tuesday, the day the Energy Committee currently meets. She also suggested board members could sit in on meetings on a rotating basis.

“I think there are ways that we can fix this,” Bialecki insisted.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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