BOS Powers Through Heavy Meeting Agenda — New Cannabis Policy for Town Employees, Ambler Farm Renovations, Scribner Hill Rd. Repairs, and Much More

photo: Town of Wilton, Zoom recording, June 21, 2022

The June 21 Board of Selectmen meeting — one of the longest BOS meetings in memory — covered a lot of ground, with a packed agenda of wide-ranging topics.

GOOD Morning Wilton already reported on one of the key topics in the meeting: a request from residents for the Town government to issue a proclamation in support of the LGBTQ+ residents.

Now GMW has updated the other important news that came out of the meeting, including a new cannabis policy for Town employees, a plan for much-needed investments at Ambler Farm, details on the compromised roadway on Scribner Hill Rd., a job offer to a Town Administrator candidate, and more.

The BOS regular meeting scheduled for tonight, July 5, has been canceled.

Town Employee Cannabis Policy

Recreational use of cannabis is now legal for adults in the state of Connecticut. But what does that mean for Town employees on the clock?

The sweeping legislation that legalized cannabis last year has prompted the need for entities like the Town of Wilton to adopt employment policies specifically regarding usage and possession of the substance, according to attorney Rebecca Goldberg, of law firm Bercham Moses.

During the June 21 meeting, Goldberg walked the selectmen through a draft substance abuse policy document. (She noted that employees such as police and fire personnel have separate policies that apply.)

The Town takes a clear position on why the policy is needed. It clearly states,

“The abuse of controlled substances (including alcohol, cannabis, and illegal/prescription drugs) is inconsistent with the behavior expected of employees, subjects all employees and visitors to our facilities to unacceptable safety risks, and undermines the Town’s ability to operate effectively and efficiently. It is the Town’s intent and obligation to provide a substance-free, healthful, safe and secure work environment.”

The policy goes on to specifically include cannabis among other substances that are strictly forbidden for Town employees under certain circumstances.

“It is strictly forbidden to manufacture, distribute, use, possess, purchase, sell, plan for sale or transfer illegal drugs, cannabis, drug paraphernalia, or any prescription drugs that have not been properly prescribed on Town property, in Town vehicles, during working hours, while working for the Town, while on breaks or while engaged in Town activities.”

Goldberg noted an exception for employees who are legally entitled to cannabis for medical or palliative care, which pertains to possession but not use. As the policy states, employees cannot be “under the influence” while at work.

“Even in the case of use of cannabis in accordance with Connecticut law for palliative use, employees must not report to work under the influence of cannabis. The Town will not make accommodations for an employee or allow an employee to perform his or her duties while under the influence of cannabis or to possess, use or otherwise consume cannabis while performing such duties or on the premises of the employer, except [for] possession of palliative cannabis by a qualifying patient in accordance with Connecticut law for palliative use.”

The policy calls for an employee to be sent home or for drug/alcohol testing if there is reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence while at work. Goldberg discussed the fact that this can be challenging for the Town as the employer, and emphasized that any action by the Town should be tied directly to an employee’s performance and not penalize an employee for legal use of cannabis on their own time.

The selectmen unanimously approved the policy with some changes for clarity discussed during the meeting. The revised policy document may be seen in its entirety in the meeting minutes posted on the Town website.

It should also be noted that the BOS held a special meeting on Monday, June 27, to fine-tune the language of the policy in two areas: one to permit possession of alcohol (e.g., to allow an employee to give a bottle of wine, for instance, as a gift to a colleague); and another to expand the gender references and pronouns associated with the Town’s highest office (First Selectman/Selectwoman), an update that is ongoing in the Town’s documentation.

Ambler Farm Facilities Renovations

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice introduced two representatives of the Friends of Ambler Farm organization to provide an update on the building needs at the Farm. She first reminded the selectmen that Director of Facilities Chris Burney has recommended a lead abatement project for the Yellow House on the property.

“At our last meeting, we talked about the fact that the Yellow House needs significant investment,” Vanderslice began. “And so we want to hear from [the Friends of Ambler Farm], both about the [Yellow House] and the other properties,” namely, the white Raymond-Ambler House.

Representing the Friends of Ambler Farm, Jay Charles, president of the board, and Ashley Kineon, executive director, gave a detailed presentation of the current status of the buildings, as well as an overview of programming and activities on the property — making the case for why investment in the facilities is worthy.

“It’s really important to know that the development and growth of the Ambler programs and events have really established Ambler Farm as that asset of the Town of Wilton,” Kineon said. “It’s really where people come and connect to one another and to the land.”

“I think that’s been really an important thing since COVID,” Kineon continued. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of visitors annually. We’re up to close to 17,000 people [annually]. It just really shows what a powerful, special, incredible, important part of [Wilton] Ambler Farm is — it separates us from other towns.”

The entire presentation can be viewed on the Town website, including a proposed timeline for phased renovations at the Raymond-Ambler House beginning in 2022-2023 and prioritizing spaces used for programming. Ambler officials anticipate full completion by 2025-2026. Cost estimates were not yet available.

Vanderslice urged the Friends to obtain cost estimates for the desired work at both the Yellow House and the Raymond-Ambler House by January, in order to have a plan that could be presented for bonding at the May 2023 Annual Town Meeting.

Scribner Hill Roadway Instability

Director of Public Works and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio appeared at the meeting to brief the selectmen about a problem on Scribner Hill Rd.

“What we noticed in the last few weeks is that part of the northbound lane was settling,” Smeriglio said, further describing it as “a little bit of a depression” in the road.

He attributed it to a steep slope on one side of the road, with rock ledge on the other side, and the flow of water under the road.

He sought the board’s approval for Vanderslice to execute a contract for an engineering study to investigate the problem and determine what could be done to stabilize the road.

In addition to the $42,150 for the engineering study, Vanderslice predicted a significant cost for the eventual repair work.

“We do not have any idea what the cost will be for this repair,” she told the selectmen. “But we expect it to be an amount that we’re not going to be able to cover in our budget.”

She advised the selectmen that funding the cost would likely require dipping into the Town’s reserve budget. Depending on the amount, using the reserve could mean seeking approval from the Board of Finance — and potentially needing to raise additional funding through bonding.

In the meantime, the road has been partially closed down to an alternating single lane in the area of the settling.

… And More

  • Vanderslice reported that a key milestone has been reached in developing a new monopole cell phone tower. Verizon has signed the lease with the Town for the area where it will be erected, located near the school bus depot at 180 School Rd., opposite Middlebrook School. The next step requires Verizon to submit its application to the state.
  • The BOS also reached a milestone of sorts of its own: finalizing the list of projects that will be prioritized for the $6.6 million available from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and the Town’s infrastructure fund. While some projects were earmarked for funding at previous meetings, over the past few months the BOS has gone through an iterative process of deciding which of the many requests from Town departments would receive funding. The final list can be seen on the town website. While not prioritized for ARPA/Infrastructure funds, some projects — like renovations of Ambler Farm buildings and a new turf field — could be considered for bonding at the next Annual Town Meeting

    Notably still without funding is the proposed $300,000 investment in 100-yard dumpsters for the Transfer Station. Though expected to yield cost savings for the Town, the project did not make the final cut for the selectmen’s top priorities, in part because it was judged to be less consistent with the spirit of ARPA’s intended use for the funds compared to many other departments’ requests.

  • After discussing the matter in an executive session, the selectmen unanimously voted to authorize Vanderslice to extend an offer of employment to a candidate for the new town administrator position.