In June of 2012, I was elected to the board of health. My first year on the board of health was full of frustrations. Dave Kowalski was the chair. I found that there was no filing done, there were piles of paper work on the floor and every flat object in the office. In addition, Mr. Kowalski, as chairperson, was also taking all the minutes on his personal computer and flash drive. I was not comfortable with this but was told this was the way it is. Our meetings started at 7pm and were adjourned by 7:30 pm most of the time. Throughout that first year I received calls from many people with concerns of health problems with their neighbors or homes that they were renting. I told them that I would address their concerns and called the chair to report the situation at hand. His response to me would be to start yelling at me and telling me not to do his job and leave it alone. Within a couple of days the same person would call me and ask why there health problem wasn’t being addressed. This was the norm and my frustrations for the first year on the Board of Health.
On August 5th, 2013, the board of health was notified that the water in Hamilton Reservoir had been tested on Brandon Road and failed. Dave Kowalski was notified by a selectmen, that there was a problem. Four days later, the water was tested again. This time the water tested safe to use. The water of Hamilton Reservoir was therefore deemed unsafe and no one was notified.
In August 2013, we the town, were featured on channel 22 for a hoarding situation which had been going on for ten years according to a letter signed by the board of selectmen and dated 2002. The Holland board of health had to go look at this situation. Our BOH was in contact with the health agent from North Hampton on this situation and on August 16th, we went to evaluate this situation. This person desperately needed help. He knew he needed help, and he wanted help. The two houses were emptied and the owner was told we would monitor him and get him the help he needed. In the interim, I had injured my knee to the point knee replacement was the only option. I was not able to monitor the situation of the hoarder while I had surgery and was in recovery. No other person from the BOH monitored this person from October 2013 to February 2014. I repeatedly contacted Mr. Kowalski with my concern about the monitoring the situation. “No” was Mr. Kowalski’s answer. He said, “I haven’t got the time I’m in New Jersey,” or, “I’m at my doctors” [ at 7 pm….]. I went to visit this person at the earliest possible time at the end of February 2014; the house was filled again. In March, I contacted the state and again revisited this home. A time-line was implemented for this person for things to be done. He followed the instructions and I’ve been monitoring this situation ever since. So far so good.
At the beginning of my second year on the board of health Dana Manning was elected in June of 2014. By August she was just as fed up as I had been for my entire first year. There was no other choice but to remove Dave Kowalski as chair. I was nominated and voted in as the chair of the board of health, taking over the position that was held by Mr. Kowalski for many, many years. This happened on August 26th 2014. Mr. Kowalski’s immediate reaction was to call the town engineer and report, “We just had a little coup here…” Prior to removing Mr. Kowalski as chair, a full board discussion took place on the reasons Dave Kowalski could no longer continue as chair. Discussion included asking Mr. Kowalski why he had not followed up on permitting septic haulers and septic installers (which is thousands of dollars of lost revenue for the town.) Mr. Kowalski was asked why no agendas were done, why no budgets were kept and about a situation where a septic system was installed without permits. He was also asked why the folder with the address of that property was missing from the office, he was asked why checks were always left out spread all over the BOH desk. Kowalski was also asked again to return his personal flash-drive which contained all the BOH records for many years and left the office together with his personal laptop computer after ever official meeting rendering all the records under his personal control. Instead of following the majorities request by the board, Mr. Kowalski stormed out of the office while throwing his keys on the desk. He did not attend any other BOH meeting until December 9th 2014.
Throughout this fiscal year the board of health has:
On nights that we meet, the norm is NOT to be out the door by 7:30. Many Tuesday nights our meetings run until 11 pm or later. We work dedicated for the people of Holland.
On the rest of the nights and days that the board is not in session, Dana and I spend personally about 14 hours a week each, researching laws and answering phone calls and are assisting or addressing health issues of the town. Even while on vacation these problems don’t go away. I still answered phone calls and helped to resolve any BOH issues.
There have been times when people have come in front of us for permits or approvals. Some have had to wait for decisions. Per MGL we have 45 days to make a decision. But when it takes this amount of time it is only because we want to do our due diligence and do the required and necessary research to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of the public as well as the individual applicant. Permits are issued and approvals are granted the proper and legal way. Each time we do something lawfully, we meet resistance and are taken to task by Kowalski.
In late August of 2014 ,just prior to removing Dave Kowalski from the chair position, I received a phone call from a resident of Union CT that on her walk around the lake she observed a house in Holland where sewage was running out of a tight tank cover. The raw sewage ran down the driveway into a public street, down the curb, and was headed towards the lake. I called Mr. Kowalski, I told him what the situation was and the property address. He said he’d write a letter to the owner the following Tuesday. It was Friday when we spoke. Only after a call from a selectman to Dave Kowalski did Dave make the effort to address the problem immediately rather than put it off until the following Tuesday. The tank was pumped, but instead of being glad that the situation was resolved Kowalski berated me during phone call that followed, “why are you doing my job? I can handle it!”
In November 2014, a citizen of the town came in who was not on the agenda and asked questions about a variance for his septic system. Questions were asked by both sides, they were answered by both parties, the citizen left.
On December 9th 2014, Mr. Kowalski, after not attending a BOH meeting for nearly four entirel months attended the meeting because it was the night his paycheck was due to be signed. A new septic plan was also presented to the BOH that evening. The plan proposed seven variances; four of those variances for the distances between the leach field and four different wells. The plan was not approved on the spot (something that was the norm in the past.) An abutter had sent the BOH a letter and expressed concerns for his water quality should this system requiring seven variances be allowed. The fact that the plan was not approved on the spot caused Mr.Kowalski to again storm out of the BOH office. His pay voucher inadvertently was not signed by the time he left. Mr. Kowalski later went to the town clerk and the town clerk added his name to the pay voucher. Remember, he hadn’t attended BOH meeting since August 26th, 2014.
In late December, the BOH received a notice from the ZBA asking for input in form of questions, comments, or concerns. The notice by the ZBA was in reference to an application for a project for the property located on 61 Stafford Road. The ZBA is required per MGL c.40A, s.11 and town zoning bylaws, to request comments and allow for a comment period from these boards or board members to comment before the ZBA can approve a certain project that is before them. Dana Manning replied to the request for comments. She commented as an individual member of the BOH. However, the property owner of this address, another town official, became angry that Ms. Manning dare to comment. He filed an OML complaint against Ms. Manning accusing her of violating the Open Meeting Law.
On January 24th 2015, we received notice from the Attorney Generals office that we were in violation of an the Open Meeting Law (“OML”) and requested a rebuttal.
The OML rebuttal was mailed to the Division of Open Government on February 2nd, after all members of the BOH received notification that there was an OML complaint filed.
On March 10th we received a copy of a letter sent to the above citizen that since they did not receive the original complaint from that complainant, “the matter is considered closed.” No other OML complaints have been filed against the BOH.
During a meeting of the Board of Selectmen (“BOS”) in February 2015, Mr. Kowalski accused the other board members of improper behavior and of stonewalling the Shepherds Gate Farm's application for needed permits to operate said farm.
I spoke to the BOS and explained to them that we had been in contact with the Department of Public Health, to make sure that the licensing and inspections were done correctly. This process included inspections, licensees, licensing fees, and I assured the BOS and the owner of Sheppard Gate that her license was valid until the new license was issued because she had applied for a new license. The owner told the BOS she was not in production and was only nursing babies at the time. The next day Mr. Kowalski without the approval from the majority of the BOH, or even their knowledge, went and issued Shepherd’s Gate a permit on his own. Mr. Kowalski not only issued the wrong license and permits, he also over charged the Shepherd’s Gate goat farm. MGL Chapter 94 section 48A states the minimum amount for a pasteurization license to be $10.00, and the maximum to be no more than $40.00. Dave Kowalski charged $150, and this and other overcharges goes back for eleven years that Shepherd’s Gate has been in business. The next day I spoke to the owner of Shepherds Gate and tried to explain to her that the wrong licenses and fees had been collected and I would like to come to her place of business to provide her the correct license and explain to her that if she could provide the town with her canceled checks or bank statements, I would go to the town and try to get her a rebate.
In addition to all the deficiencies listed above, Mr. Kowalski is currently supporting a property owner that wants to flip a property for profit and who wants to put in a septic system with a leach field instead of a tight tank required in such a situation. The public health would be better protected utilizing a tight tank and Kowalski would agree if public health would be Kowalski’s priority. To assure the proper outcome is reached, the BOH, by unanimous vote, (included Mr. Kowalski's vote,) the BOH used an Environmental Health Consultant to assist in reviewing the plan. The Environmental Health Consultant agreed with the rest of the board by determining installing a tight tank would be the best solution for this property. The property owner was adviced to redo his septic plan and re-submit the revised plan to the BOH. At the time of this letter he has not yet submitted a new plan, but he has been looking for an attorney to sue the BOH. Protecting the public health means you can’t say yes to every variance request that gets presented. Dave Kowalski has stated (and believes) that his job is “to protect businesses.” Dana Manning and I believe that our job is to protect the public health.
Now you make your decision! Who’s the bad guy here? We think it’s retaliation! What do you think?
March 29, 2015, Kenneth Ference, chair of the Board of Health