The Winthrop Town Council met remotely on Tuesday, May 5, where it heard updates from department heads, hosted two guest speakers and passed two emergency motions related to COVID-19.
The meeting opened on a somber note, with Council President Phil Boncore asking for a moment of silence for the 11 Winthrop residents who have succumbed to COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic.
“This dreaded pandemic has taken 11 lives,” he said. “Thank you to everyone who is following all the protocols.”
-Dept. of Health (DOH) Update
DOH Director Meredith Hurley reported that only two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed that day and that there are presently more people in recovery (97) than those in quarantine (80). She is “cautiously hopeful” that Winthrop will see a “leveling off” of new cases beginning May 6. Testing access in town has increased significantly. Those who are known to have had contact with a COVID-19 patient are sent to two outpatient clinics in Chelsea that are currently conducting walk-up and appointment-based testing.
In addition, the Mass. Dept. of Public Health is rolling out a new contact tracing initiative.
“I’m curious to see how it will go,” said Hurley. “I hope it’s as impactful and helpful as it’s projected to be.”
-Police Chief Update
Police Chief Terence Delehanty reported that his department has been “inundated” with 911 calls about residents not complying with the face-covering order. He urged the public not to call 911, but to call into the station at (617) 846-1212. Furthermore, the department has received reports of residents accosting one another about not wearing masks.
“The longer this pandemic goes on, the more frustrated and hostile people become,” said the chief. “We need to make sure the public understands they shouldn’t be confronting people about masks.”
Councilor Rob DeMarco said that his children were the target of a profanity-laced attack for not using face masks.
“I understand people are scared,” he said. “If you have a problem with someone,
speak respectfully and show some class.”
Council voted to transfer $50,000 from Free Cash to the Special COVID-19 Fund. The money will go toward overtime pay for town employees working extra hours to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Council also voted that Town Manager Austin Faison reach out to the town’s utility companies to request discounts for all ratepayers during the state of emergency. The motion was filed by Councilor Tracey Honan, who cited that other cities and towns have taken similar actions.
Professor Michael Goodman, an economic sociologist from UMass Dartmouth, gave a presentation about economic projections for the state and town in the wake of the pandemic. Charles Southworth from the Zero Waste Committee presented a list of recommendations for how Winthrop can reduce its waste as a community. Both of these presentations will be explored in detail in the May 13 issue of the Transcript.
-Town Manager’s Report
Town Manager Faison sent out a survey to the community two weeks ago to gauge public opinion on the public health crisis. He said the response rate was high and called the results “eye-opening.”
Ninety percent of respondents reported that they are following safety protocols “most of the time or always.” Half of the respondents said the town’s social media and press releases were their first source of COVID-19 information, and two thirds believe the safety measures taken by the town were balanced.
Residents’ top concerns were economic recovery, food and supply shortages, and personal loss of income. They reported needing more information on parking enforcement, as well as parks and open spaces.
A copy of the full survey results will be posted on the Town website. The Transcript may also examine the document in greater detail in an upcoming publication.
-School Department Update
The district is now in Phase 3 of remote learning, focusing on transitioning students to the next grade level. The scholarship program continues to bolster students’ college dreams, and summer school programs will be available remotely.
Measures are being explored to allow both teachers and students to gather their personal belongings from school property prior to the summer recess. Senior graduation plans are underway, and could involve a televised event in which family members are not physically present.
All Winthrop Public School students are eligible for free lunches Monday through Friday from 11am to 1pm at the loading dock. Superintendent Lisa Howard will be meeting with the Finance Committee on Thursday at 6:30pm to examine the school budget.
The Finance Committee met on May 4 and is currently examining the FY21 budget and making amendments.
A joint meeting of the Committee on Rules & Ordinances and the Economic Development Committee was called to discuss zoning of the middle school site with the civil engineer group VHB. There will be a lengthy public input period regarding the project.
The Committee on Appointments, Commissions & Committees discussed the employee evaluation forms that were mailed out. Phone calls will be set up prior to May 8 to follow up and a final report will be submitted to the council at its next meeting.
The Miller Field Committee has started work on the shed at the golf course and the dog park.
The Council is currently in the public participation phase of approving the FY21 Budget. Department heads will be available at future council meetings to answer the community’s department-specific questions. Meanwhile, residents are urged to explore the interactive online budget on the Town website.
Councilor Boncore is looking for additional members for the Charter Review. Interested individuals should reach out to him or fill out an online application. Approximately half of the members have been chosen.