January 21, 2021

The Year in Review

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2020 was a tough year for Rehoboth, as the novel coronavirus impacted personal lives and public institutions. Last March, the Board of Selectmen ordered all town buildings closed after cases of Covid-19 began to spike in Massachusetts.

Various town boards and committees were able to meet remotely due to a change in the state’s open meeting law.  Selectmen meetings were closed to the public due to the virus.

The pandemic also resulted in the town election being postponed from April 7 to June 30. Incumbent selectmen Dave Perry and Jim Muri were re-elected with no opposition. Aaron Morse and Richard Barrett were elected to serve on the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee.

Meanwhile, the annual town meeting, usually held in June, was postponed to December 1. Residents who attended the meeting were required to wear masks due to fears of spreading Covid-19.  All of the articles were related to town finances, which included setting the salaries of town officials such as the Board of Selectmen, the Town Clerk, the Town Treasurer, and the Tree Warden.

The schools were closed for the last few months of the 2019-2020 calendar year. The 2020-2021 school year began on September 18 with remote learning. The Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District made the transition to hybrid learning in October.

Cases of Covid-19 were reported in the district’s schools, which prompted some parents to opt for remote learning for their children. “We have at least one positive Covid-19 case in each school,” Superintendent Anthony Azar said at a November school committee meeting. “There are several more in other schools that we’ve reported out. What we’re monitoring now is how many parents are choosing full remote over hybrid.”

For the second consecutive year, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has assumed control of the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District. In a December 3 letter to Azar, school committee chairman Thomas O’Connor, and various town officials, DESE’s associate commissioner John Sullivan said if a budget was not accepted before December 1, DESE “shall establish a budget for the year and assume fiscal oversight of the district.”

Disaster struck on September 12 when the town’s senior center became an inferno.  The fast-moving fire started in the rear of the building where the kitchen and boiler were located and spread within 10 minutes to the front of the structure. Firefighters were forced to fight the blaze from the outside after the ceiling collapsed. The building was unoccupied at the time and no firefighter injuries were reported.

The $1.4 million facility at 55 Bay State Road, which opened in 2003, was deemed a total loss. The cause of the fire remains undetermined. Local businesses provided assistance to the Council on Aging staff, who had offices in the senior center. Tim Johnson, the owner of Propane Plus, agreed to lease space in a plaza he owns to the town for a two year period. The COA staff has been performing administrative work in the building on Taunton Avenue. Meals on Wheels are now being distributed from that location.

The Board of Selectmen have announced their plans to build a new senior center. Chairman Skip Vadnais explained the process would take up to two to three years.  “We’re going to move forward and we’re going to try to give (residents) a better senior center than they had before,” said selectman Michael Costello, who is chairing an advisory board which will oversee the project.

The town also mourned the loss of Michael O’Hern, a former member of the Board of Selectmen and a longtime building inspector. O’Hern, 82, passed away in September. O’Hern served as a selectman for two terms in the 1980s. He was first appointed as Building Inspector in 1980. In 2002, he served as the Building Inspector and Chief Zoning Officer. He also served on the Town Building Study Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Communications Committee, the Local Emergency Planning Board, the Bylaw Study Committee, the Veterans Memorial Relocation Committee, the Police Facility Building Study Committee, and the Police Chief Search Committee. Last July, O’Hern was sworn in as a Constable for the sixth consecutive year. He had served in that role a total of 30 different times over four decades.

“Even if I didn’t always agree with (O’Hern), I always found his opinions interesting and well thought out,” said Muri. “He was a good man.”

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