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The Richmond Select Board has voted to require municipal employees, not including Richmond Consolidated School staffers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

RICHMOND — After a brief but vigorous, unscheduled debate more than two hours into its Wednesday night meeting, the Select Board voted 2-1 to require municipal employees, not including Richmond Consolidated School staffers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

“We’re seeing a pandemic among the unvaccinated, putting at risk health care workers and, frankly, the vaccinated,” Select Board Chairman Neal Pilson said, citing a limited number of mostly mild or moderate “breakthrough cases” among those inoculated.

“We recognize that where mandates have not gone into effect, we’re killing health care workers, which is totally unacceptable,” he said, citing as a “national tragedy” the fact that 95 percent of hospitalized COVID patients currently are not vaccinated.

The issue was raised by resident Harley Keisch, a member of the town’s Conservation Commission. He cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent full authorization for the Pfizer COVID vaccine and a growing number of cities, towns and private companies mandating inoculations for all employees.

He suggested consideration of a policy requiring vaccinations for all town employees, as well as “a clear message about the value of masking” since the CDC guidance recommends face coverings for indoor events in areas with high transmission rates such as Berkshire County and the rest of the state.

Pilson pointed out that the town’s School Committee would have to rule on vaccination requirements for teachers and staff members at Richmond Consolidated School, since they are the majority of town employees but also are subject to collective bargaining.

On Thursday, Pilson told The Eagle that since the issue had been raised late in the meeting and had not been on the posted agenda, he has advised Town Administrator Danielle Fillio not to implement the policy, pending a discussion at the Sept. 9 Select Board meeting as part of the posted agenda, at which time the board will take another vote.

Selectman Roger Manzolini, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the vaccination policy, asserted that “there’s a difference between leadership and ‘followship.’ ”

Manzolini, a Select Board member for 24 years, strongly advocated personal choice.

“All I’ve heard all my life is pro-choice, pro-choice, pro-choice, pro-choice,” he said. “What happened to pro-choice with respect to choosing what you as an individual will inject into your own body or how you manage your own body?”

He described his position as not to “dictate or mandate” to town employees how they manage their health.

Pushing back, Pilson noted that school districts in New York, bars, restaurants, many large companies and municipalities are mandating vaccinations for employees.

“Unvaccinated people are spreading, not just to their own families but, from time to time, to those who are vaccinated,” he added. Pilson also stated that there are multiple required inoculations against smallpox, polio and against childhood diseases.

“The Select Board is totally vaccinated,” board member Alan Hanson said.

“Yes, we are,” Pilson agreed.

But, Manzolini said that he has not disclosed his vaccination status publicly.

During the animated discussion, Pilson noted that Manzolini has told him personally that he has been inoculated.

“But, it’s nobody’s business,” Manzolini told Pilson. “You don’t have to volunteer it to the public.”

“It’s everybody’s business,” interjected Keisch, the resident who raised the issue.

At that point, Pilson recommended that since all Town Hall staffers and Highway Department members have taken the shots, any new municipal employee should be asked to do the same as a condition of employment.

“It’s important that we all be vaccinated, creating an environment where we’re all safe so people are protected from each other,” Hanson said.

Pilson then called for a vote on a policy requiring municipal employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Hanson seconded the motion and it passed, 2-1, with Manzolini dissenting.

“The science doesn’t support the actions being taken nationally,” Manzolini insisted. “I believe in science.”

Ending on a note of harmony, Pilson described his colleague as “a thoughtful, kind gentleman; you’re entitled to your view; I just don’t happen to agree on that one.”

“Yes,” Manzolini replied. “And you’re entitled to your view and I respect it.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.