On February 14, the Hopkinton Select Board voted against entering into the Inter-Municipal Agreement with Westborough, Southborough, and Grafton, which would form a Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC). The motion failed by a vote of 3-2. with board members Amy Ritterbusch and Ifran Nasrullah voting for, and Muriel Kramer, Mary Jo LaFreniere, and Shahidul Mannan voting against.
This was a contentious issue for many in town, with residents showing up week after week to voice their objection and flooding the board’s inboxes with emails. Tonight was no exception, as several residents spoke during the Public Forum and urged the board to vote no.
In their statements, all board members indicated that they had struggled with this decision.
Ms. Ritterbusch opened with her belief that RECC centers are the “way of the future” and she would prefer Hopkinton be on the “ground floor” rather than joining an established center. She noted this agreement would allow Hopkinton to join with neighboring towns, and by delaying we may not have that luxury. She added that she was opposed to the “dark station” and that, if the motion passed, she would introduce an additional motion to require the Hopkinton police station to be staffed at all times.
Ms. Kramer spoke next, saying there was simply not enough comparative data to justify this decision. She urged the town to continue to study the matter, to be prepared in the event that Hopkinton is forced by the state to join a RECC. Kramer also felt that the town did a poor job communicating. “The implications and options needed to be socialized with our residents, and we did not do a good job of that.”
Mr. Nasrullah’s comments were mixed. Though he “hadn’t heard a reason why we need to do this now”, his primary concern was that the feedback he’d received had been overwhelmingly negative. “Usually the people opposed will have the loudest voices, and those that are supportive will not be as passionate,” he said. He indicated he’d vote affirmatively, and asked for the matter to come before the voters at Town Meeting so that “all sides have the opportunity to speak”.
Mary Jo LaFreniere was a hard no. “This might be the future, but it’s not right now,” she said. She said she was very disappointed with the data the state had provided, and that she was not impressed by her visit to the Norfolk RECC. “They are having trouble getting people to work for them, and we aren’t,” La Freniere said. On the other hand, La Freniere was “very impressed” by her visit to the Hopkinton dispatch center. “They are very good for the town,” she said
Shahidul Mannan was the last to speak, and had a ten-point rationale for his no vote. Among other objections, he felt there was no clear economic benefit to the town, no data on operational efficiencies, and that there would be a huge cost to the town in loss of talent. “We will lose the familiar faces, voices, and knowledge that we have today, and those are tremendously valuable,” he said.
After the motion failed, the board took the opportunity to thank Town Manager Norman Khumalo, Fire Chief William Miller, Police Chief Joseph Bennett, and the many others who worked on this project.
“The Select Board did the right thing tonight, prioritizing the safety of our officers, dispatchers, and residents,” said Greg DeBoer, President of the Hopkinton Police Union. “We are pleased to continue partnering with our local dispatchers and the town to provide our citizens with the excellent service they are accustomed to.”