March 25, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Selectmen declared a state of emergency for Hingham last night -- backdated to March 13 -- in keeping with earlier similar declarations at the federal, state, and local levels in response to the coronavirus threat.
At the same time, there were high praises for town officials and town department staff for their extraordinary efforts to help keep the town government up and running as much as possible and to maintain essential services during this crisis.
"As with all things in life, a calm, measured response to even the worst situations wil most often result in the best possible outcomes," the selectmen agree. "We ask that citizens follow government guidelines -- including social distancing -- with typical poise. Let's continue to be civil, to look out for our neighbors (especially the elderly), and we will get through this crisis together."
The meeting was held remotely by telephone as an alternate means of public access pursuant to an order issued by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the coronavirus challenge.
This declaration was made as a practical measure to ensure that the Town of Hingham is in the best position "to take all actions necessary to protect the public health, safety, or general welfare of its residents, businesses, and employees" and to further ensure that the town "may fully coordinate with and obtain any available assistance and resources from the state and federal government" as needed.
'Ordinary and extraordinary actions'
The declaration authorizes Town Administrator Tom Mayo and his designees to, as necessary, take "ordinary and extraordinary actions for the purposes of emergency management to protect the residents, businesses, and employees of the Town of Hingham."
The declaration also appointed Mayo to act as the director of the local organization of civil defense, under the Civil Defense Act, and also authorized Mayo and his designees to exercise all emergency powers on behalf of the town as necessary.
"During Hingham's nearly 400 years of existence, this town has always cared for our neighbors and friends. We look out for each other," the selectmen said in a statement about the state of emergency declaration. "Our social bonds and cultural awareness set us apart."
Along those lines, the board is asking all citizens to take the state and federal guidelines surrounding social distancing seriously and to avoid even small gatherings to help prevent the inadvertent spread of COVID-19.
As a result of this threat, many Hingham government offices are now closed or their operations altered in an effort to help slow this pandemic and to help keep residents and town employees safe.
"We'll do our best to accommodate citizens' requests at this time," said Assistant Town Administrator Michelle Monsegur.
"Our emergency management team has been hard at work behind the scenes, meeting daily," she said, "and Executive Health Officer Susan Sarni and the health department team are working tirelessly and doing an amazing job."
Town social worker Cheryl West is available to talk with members of the community who are struggling. There's also an employee assistance line for town staff.
The IT Department was also praised for working "night and day" to get town department employees set to work remotely. Town staff check and respond to voicemails and emails regularly.
"While we would never wish for something like this to happen, the Town Hall staff has risen to the occasion," said Selectmen Chairman Karen Johnson. "Tom Mayo's leadership has been essential to the town in his comprehensive response to this unprecedented health emergency."
The town is receiving new information on a daily basis -- from the Health Department, the Hingham fire and police chiefs, state officials, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and other sources. "There will be new issues every day, and we're doing our best to stay on top," Selectman Joseph Fisher said.
The Selectmen also voted to adopt the town website as the official method for posting public meetings as required under the Open Meeting Law due to the coronavirus issue. They are currently "officially" posted at Town Hall, which is not open to the public at this time, but they are also posted on the town website anyway.
There was some good news to share: The town received a $9,000 Department of Public Health grant with another $9,000 grant expected to help offset the additional costs to Hingham of addressing the coronavirus issue.
Updated information about town departments -- which are open and which are closed and how to request information, documents, etc. -- and available services is available at hingham-ma.gov. You can also access information and updates at hingham-ma.gov/COVID19.
In other business:
* The Selectmen approved a request from the Hingham Congregational Church Men's Group for the annual Taste of Hingham event planned for Saturday, Aug. 29, from noon to 3 p.m. The raindate is Aug. 30. This early approval will allow for preliminary planning.
* Selectman Mary Power expressed appreciation for Selectmen's office staff member Sharon Perfetti for "completing the [Town Meeting] warrant on schedule. "There is a lot of discussion about when Town Meeting will take place," Power said. While the planned date is April 27, that could change due to the coronavirus threat.
Another Selectmen's office staff member, Heidi Gaul, was recognized for helping a number of committees by taking minutes.
"Many of our employees have been stepping up and doing things they haven't done before or by [completing tasks] in a different way," Power said.
* Power also mentioned the new hinghamlink.com website, which connects people who would like to help, or make phone calls, to other members of the community who need help with grocery shopping or other tasks or who would like to receive a friendly call during this difficult time.
"An off-shoot group of citizens calling themselves 'The Face Mask Task Force' is working tirelessly to produce face masks for healthcare workers and first responders," Power said. "This is an example of how this community pulls together and supports one another. I'm grateful for everyone who is stepping up during these very unusual times."
* Johnson offered "a bit of normalcy" when she mentioned that the Massachusetts School Building Authority recently reached out to ask if the town remains on-track with the proposed Foster School project for either a renovation or new building.
"We told them we are pulling together the required materials," Johnson said. "This is an example of people ensuring that the essential functions and expectations of the town are met to the very best of their ability."
Even with acceptance into the MSBA Eligibility Period last December, the town would not be committed to file an application for funding with the MSBA unless through an affirmative Town Meeting vote.
The MSBA partners with Massachusetts communities to support the design and construction of educationally-appropriate, flexible, sustainable, and cost-effective public school facilities.
Supporters remain hopeful that the project will reach completion.