The Medfield Board of Selectmen approved MEMO’s request for permission to hold Medfield Day on Sept. 17 with an alternate date of Sept. 26 after controversy and debate between the selectmen.
The vote is still pending approval from Town Counsel Mark Cerel because selectman Ann Thompson opted to vote on the issue despite being an active member of MEMO after selectman chair Osler “Pete” Peterson and selectman Mark Fisher debated the issue of town fees being billed to some private companies and not others.
Peterson opposed the motion to approve MEMO's request while Fisher was in favor of the permits and licenses “as is.”
With the vote split, 1-1, Thompson, who always abstains from votes and discussions involving groups and committees she is actively apart of, asked Town Administrator Michael Sullivan, with Cerel not present at Tuesday's meeting, if she could vote on the issue.
“Do you have a financial interest in this at all?” Sullivan asked Thompson, referring to MEMO and Medfield Day.
Sullivan said he did not know the town policy for handling a split vote and with Cerel absent from Tuesday’s meeting and unable to explain how the situation should be handled, Sullivan suggested the selectmen vote on the issue and he would follow up with Cerel.
“I suppose if you wanted to take a vote, I could check with the counsel and if he says you should not have voted then [we’ll address that issue],” Sullivan said.
As a result, Thompson, who remained uncertain if she could appropriately vote on the issue, did so, voting with Fisher in favor of the motion and approving MEMO’s request as is, pending review from Cerel.
Peterson said his opposition to MEMO’s request was not a permit issue and that he wanted more information on the service fees that groups pay to the town.
“There’s not a question of whether they are going to get permitted or not, it’s a question of what conditions will go with the permit,” Peterson said. “Whether they will pay for the town fees or not and have them come in [to meet with the selectmen].”
Peterson's “annual issue” with MEMO and Medfield Day is the town should not have to pay for services that the event requires from police detail and the Highway Department. Peterson said as a private organization, MEMO should be responsible for paying “the bill” and covering all costs of the event.
“The town should not be underrating private groups by paying for police details or for the Highway Department to set up and take down [Medfield Day],” Peterson said.
Fisher told Peterson that MEMO has paid what it has been asked to pay for the “past couple years” and that if the town is going to ask MEMO to cover all costs, then the town needs to ask all organizations to cover all costs.
“I think what we should do then, [MEMO has paid the bills when asked to], but I think we should start billing every other group,” Fisher said. “I mean the Little League parade, I think we should bill them for the fuel for the fire trucks. We should get right down to the penny for every single thing to make every event revenue neutral. If that’s what we are going to do then we should do that. Every group that uses any type of town thing should be [billed]. Fuel for the police cars if they’re doing duty and stuff like that.”
Peterson responded to Fisher’s remarks, saying “a lot of people are paying for the police details.”
Fisher reiterated that Little League isn’t paying for it and he said he was sure “other groups aren’t either” and said “before you know it, we will have two departments billing each other for the times they swapped things and we just go down that slope and things get out of control.”
Sullivan agreed with Fisher, pointing out that in order to be fair, every group would have to be billed and said he saw no problem with how the situation is currently handled.
“We need to be fair, if you’re going to charge one group, you should charge every group,” Sullivan said. “It’s part of being a small town, everybody pitches in. [The current policy] seems to have worked out very well so far. Nobody has complained about it. “
Sullivan pointed out the town provides services to events that do not provide anything in return to the town like bicycle races and the town does not charge those groups, but MEMO in return to the town providing services, gives back to the town.
“MEMO provides the concert series, Medfield Day and Christmas carols,” Sullivan said. “
Peterson acknowledged MEMO’s impact to the community, saying “MEMO does good work for the town.”
Sullivan furthered his point that Medfield, being a small town, often helps provide services for its groups and organizations.
“We provide services for New ‘N Towne for the truck show and the kids go down and ride the fire trucks and highway trucks,” Sullivan said. “There are a lot of events like that we provide town help with and I think it’s part of being a small town.”
Peterson requested six different times to hold off on voting until the selectmen received the information he requested Sullivan to gather from Medfield Police Chief Robert Meaney Jr.
“My suggestion is that we just get some feedback from the Chief about what groups they provide services to [and what groups they do not],” Peterson said.
Sullivan said he would “be glad” to gather that information for Peterson but didn’t see why that should impact MEMO’s pending permits and licenses.
“The question is do we want to hold up MEMO from being able to move forward with its schedule [because of this issue]?” Sullivan asked.
Selectmen Fisher and Thompson agreed with Sullivan.
“I just think it is crazy to hold them up,” Thompson said.
Said Fisher: “They’ve been booking things and trying to get people set aside and dates and make reservations.”
When Peterson maintained his position and continued to suggest the selectmen hold off on voting until the information from Meaney was received, Fisher became frustrated.
“If you don’t want to have Medfield Day then say it,” Fisher said to Peterson. “It is just very irritating because [MEMO] has consistently communicated to us that they would pay any reasonable bills that the Highway Department and Police Chief give to them.”
As Peterson and Fisher continued to debate the issue, Thompson called the situation “awkward.”
Peterson told Fisher this is the first time he had heard MEMO paying its bills to the town for services and said he was "very pleased” to hear it.
Fisher disagreed with Peterson’s statement and said the chairman has had issues with MEMO for years.
“It’s the fourth year in a row,” Fisher said. “I know you don’t care for, sometimes, some of things that MEMO does. It is true and it is OK, but you are always picking on them and singling them out as if they are a for-profit group and they are not, they do a lot of good stuff for the town. I just get sick and tired of it sometimes because it gets brought up every year. It’s like a broken record. I have just had it. I can’t stand it.”
Peterson disagreed with Fisher’s statement.
“The unfortunate thing is that you are absolutely incorrect,” Peterson told Fisher, who expressed further frustration towards Peterson.
“So you are the only one that is correct and the rest of us are incorrect because you have all your facts straight,” Fisher said.
Peterson offered an explanation for his position on MEMO.
“You are accusing motives to me that are incorrect,” Peterson said to Fisher. “I can tell you what my correct motives are, which, the last year that I was involved in MEMO, I was running Medfield Day and people in MEMO that year were suggesting money be taken from the profit, generated from Medfield Day, be taken and used to advance the business needs of people who are members. They were going to look to take the profit from Medfield Day for their own, individual benefits. That was not appropriate.”
Fisher said that is not what is being done at MEMO and suggested that a few members from the organization come in to explain to Peterson where the money goes. Peterson was in favor of the proposal.
“If they explained what their profit is and that it is going back into the town for different things then I have a different position on it and I have a different feeling,” said Peterson. “I still think every organization should be treated the same. I think that would make sense to have [MEMO] come in and explain that to us.”
Sullivan will follow-up with Cerel on the town’s policy regarding the legality and conflict of interest regarding a selectmen with direct connection to an issue voting on that issue.
Medfield Patch will update this story when Cerel has reviewed the vote and makes his decision.