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Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland greeted visitors at the front door of the Brattleboro Municipal Center on May 4.

News

Brattleboro reopens town offices — a bit

The town will resume normal operations slowly and carefully, town manager says

BRATTLEBORO—As of noon on Monday, Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland had seen approximately six people enter the Municipal Center.

Moreland was staffing the Town Manager’s office in the Municipal Center on Monday, the day the town began to slowly reopen town departments to the public after more than a month of most town employees working remotely.

Resuming daily onsite staffing is in line with Gov. Phil Scott’s lifting areas of the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. Or, as Scott calls it, reopening the economy “one quarter turn at a time.”

The reopening is not a complete throwing wide open the doors to the Municipal Center, however, and it comes with multiple limitations.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said he appreciated the slow and deliberate steps the state is taking.

He said that allowing limited access to the town offices is “100 percent” to benefit the community. Despite the town’s success at moving more of its services online and shifting employees to working remotely, some community members still need to conduct business in person, Elwell said.

Speaking for her department in an email, Town Clerk Hilary Francis said two residents entered the Clerk’s Office on Monday to access land records. A third person was met in the parking lot for a certified vital record request.

Maintaining social distancing protocol was easy, said Francis.

“We would like to remind people that for masks to be effective, they must be covering both the mouth and nose,” she said.

Most of the Town Clerk’s services can happen through email, postal service, phone, or fax, Francis said.

“We ask that people try to work with us remotely, and only come into the office when absolutely necessary,” Francis stressed. “Because our books and records cannot safely be sanitized, we are not allowing anyone in our vault, and we will be pulling records for customers and making copies for them.”

She noted that keeping on top of everything was tough with only one person in the office.

“It is slightly awkward and time consuming to process requests that could normally be done by the customer themselves, specifically regarding land records,” she wrote. “We are now back in the office and needing to develop different habits and using a different protocol than we are used to. But we will get the hang of it.”

Elwell said the town is following guidance from public health experts. Going forward, the town’s reopening will parallel its gradual closing in March.

Eventually, members of the public will have full access to the physical town facilities, he continued. Still unknown: what exactly the future will look like or how long practices like social distancing will stay in place, he said.

Selectboard meetings will stay online until the number of people allowed to gather reaches close to 50, Elwell said.

In Elwell’s opinion, the experience of continuing to operate a municipality under a stay-at-home order has taught the town a lot about remote working. The town is in the early stages of drafting a remote-work policy so that it can offer more flexibility to staff.

Some staff — like firefighters and police officers — will never be able to work remotely, he said. But for those positions that can do so, offering the option as a benefit will make the town a more attractive place to work, he said.

“We look forward to when we can resume more face-to-face interactions with the public,” Elwell said. “Most of us who work in public service do so because we like working with the public.”

Limited access to town facilities and visiting protocol include:

• The exterior doors to the Municipal Center (and all town facilities) remain locked.

• Signage at all the doors states that no one experiencing respiratory illness may enter the buildings.

• Only one employee may work in each office at any one time unless tasks require more people. Employees not scheduled to staff an office will continue working from home.

• Members of the public are asked to continue to conduct as much town business as possible through email, internet, phone, or mail. Such business includes payment of property taxes and utility bills. Envelopes with checks can be dropped into the town’s drop box, located on a large wooden light pole in the parking lot behind the Municipal Center.

• If visiting the Municipal Center, members of the public should arrange their visit in advance. Visitors to any town building must wear a mask or face covering.

• Staff are regularly cleaning the areas of their officers that people are prone to touch.

Visit the town’s website, brattleboro.com, for up-to-date information.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #560 (Wednesday, May 6, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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