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Tri-Town health board plans public hearing to weigh a possible vaccine mandate for indoor diners

Vax proof

At a public hearing to be scheduled soon, the Tri-Town Boards of Health will ask whether restaurants in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge should require patrons to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination before entering for indoor dining.

Should restaurants in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge require patrons to show proof of full vaccination before entering for indoor dining?

That’s the question to be presented for public discussion by the Tri-Town Boards of Health at a public hearing to be scheduled soon. The meeting would include extensive discussions, but no decisions on potential regulations would be made at that time, Tri-Town Executive Director Jim Wilusz pointed out at Thursday’s board meeting.

The idea first emerged during an informal presentation by retired physician Dr. Charles Wohl, of Lenox, an invited guest at the regional health agency’s Dec. 15 session.

Since the brief discussion of a possible vaccination card directive was not on the agenda, it led to an Open Meeting Law complaint by Lee resident Gary Willey, one of two people who tried to speak. While it was determined that the meeting did not violate the law, Wilusz said public comment will be included on every meeting agenda.

“It’s a learning moment; we want to have an opportunity for respectful, good public dialogue,” he said, adding an apology for not including it at the Dec. 15 meeting. “We’ll do a better job.”

Tri-Town board Chair Dr. Charles Kenny also apologized and accepted responsibility for confusion on the matter. He described any proposal to mandate vaccination cards as “such a controversial topic in our towns” that it warrants a meeting dedicated to airing the issue.

“It should be on the agenda so that everyone in the public gets the same opportunity to speak,” he said.

Board member JoAnn Sullivan, of Lee, strongly supported inclusion of a “public voice” because residents of the three towns directly are affected by Tri-Town Health directives. “They have a right to speak,” she said.

Kenny agreed, but noted that it’s “not proper to have public input for an item that hasn’t been posted on the agenda, published or publicized, when other people in the public may have a different viewpoint and aren’t given the advance notice to be able to speak in contrast.”

Board member Dianne Romeo, of Lenox, suggested time limits for meetings, and for individual commenters. And retired Dr. Noel Blagg, also of Lenox, urged that anyone commenting should identify themselves and the town where they live.

Jim Castagnaro, a Lee resident and a former 37-year town meeting representative, warned that “if you want any money from the taxpayers of Lee, you’re going to let people speak, at least 3 to 5 minutes, no matter what the topic is to do with health. You can’t control the narrative. People have questions on other health things, like that PCB dump coming to town.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter

@BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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